WAYNE — When Lloyd Irland went to war, it was 1968.

Irland, who was at the University of Arizona working on his master’s degree, knew that graduate school deferments were coming to an end and existing deferments were being capped at a single year.

So he wrapped up his thesis, and knowing that he would be drafted shortly, opted instead to enlist.

Irland, now 70 and president of the Irland Group, based in Wayne, who has worked as a professor, economist and director of the Maine Bureau of Public Lands, among other things, spent about an hour Sunday, on the last day of the Veterans Day holiday weekend, recapping his two years with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in “Soldiering in a Monsoon,” a talk at Cary Memorial Library’s Williams House.

Irland signed up in the first year of the wind-down of the war in Vietnam. He was an artillery fire direction specialist stationed between Danang and the demilitarized zone. The region, he said, has been classed among the top 10 most scenic sites on Earth, and even then it was breathtaking.

He first served in the field with the infantry, then at several fire bases with the battery, and finally at the battalion fire director center at the end of his tour.

“I had an easy time compared to a lot of people,” he said. “There was no hero stuff, no PTSD. I just did what I was supposed to do.”

His recollections ranged from those of the day-to-day life of a soldier in the jungle, carrying a pack weighing about 45 pounds and four quarts of water to keep hydrated, to the kinds of things that take root in your memories over decades.

“You lived for your next meal break,” he said. Sometimes a sergeant would scare up an onion to liven up the monotony of C-rations, or someone had Louisiana hot sauce, he said.

He never could get used to the canned eggs in the C-rations, he said. They were green and he couldn’t stand to eat them.

Irland said he eventually did get used to the leeches that he and his fellow soldiers picked up from the jungle. When they returned to camp from their operations and shed their gear, leeches engorged with the soldiers’ blood would drop off them.

Aside from the slog of soldiering and the bureaucracy of the Army, there were more personal recollections.

“You could get mail on the fire bases in three days,” he said. “My mother would send a cake with the frosting separate.” It wouldn’t last long; anything left over would be eaten by other soldiers while he was out on patrol.

What kept the soldiers connected to each other and outside world was the radio. In one instance, a soldier and everyone else within earshot got news that the soldier’s wife had had a baby back in the States and both were doing fine. In another, a network of ham radio operators managed to get the news to Irland that he had been accepted at Yale University to study for a doctorate in forestry.

The soldiers counted the days the had left with hash marks on their helmets, and when it was his turn to return to the States, he said, he neither expected nor received any applause for his service. He was able to leave the Army when he returned, and he picked up his life again. From time to time, recollections would surface of his time there.

“My mother kept all my letters,” he said. He discovered them in a box after she died.

And through the years, he has felt a sense of incompleteness, from coming home while other members of his outfit remained behind in Vietnam.

More than 20 years after his return, in May 1991, Irland said he heeded the call of President George H.W. Bush to welcome home the soldiers of the Gulf War, and he decided to march in Wayne’s Memorial Day parade.

Amid the celebration and the applause that day, he said, “That’s the first day I felt I was really home, when I did that parade in Wayne.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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