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Table of contents
- Interview with Walter James Dexter [1/10/2011]
- Books by David Laing Dawson (Author of Don't Look Down)
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David Laing Dawson Connect. He doesn't understand why his family has abandoned him, why his friends have turned against him. He struggles to find his way through the horror that has become his life but it all looks hopeless until he meets a young woman suffering from schizophrenia.
An engrossing psychological thriller that is also an accurate and honest depiction of serious mental illness. Dawson and Alex Chapple: A one person play written and directed by psychiatrist David Laing Dawson. I didn't even know it. Yes, I'm think because with the noise and everything, I'm thinking I might have hit a branch because I had my head down and there was a lot of brush there where they had trees down.
So my mind was like I hit a branch and it came off. I just picked it up and put it on my head. So come to find out that I actually got shot in my head.
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Bullet went through my steel pot and creased my helmet liner. And it's the funniest thing, they had some representative from, it's called Sepia Maaazine, they just happened to be over there. But they actually put that article in the paper. That was in , Sepia Maaazine. My family seen it, but I never seen it. I was still over there during that time. Actually got shot and a bullet went through my steel pot.
At that time, then I knew it was real. That brought reality in. This is real here. And that's when I really started getting scared. I'd never fool with drugs over there, but they had a lot of troops that were indulging in marijuana, heroin. In the villages, they had it. It was plentiful over there. They called it consol, that's what they called it over there, consol.
It being so plentiful and so cheap, a lot of troops were getting caught up on that. You're responsible for your life, why would you want to put yourself in further danger? Maybe stress, maybe trying to get away from Trying to get away from reality. Reality of it and a lot of them, it just made them feel good because it wasn't a good feeling to see death, to see someone that you care about laid out.
Then maybe three or four days later, we had another firefight, but we were going to the Can Tho Province, like mountains. It was close to the, what's that border? It was close to the Cambodian border. We weren't supposed to cross into Cambodia. I remember it was close to the Cambodian border. That was like a neutralized country. NVA weren't supposed to be there, and we weren't supposed to be there. I think the NVA were still sneaking over there some kind of way.
A friend of mine named Major and his best friend was name Minor, we were going up to Can Tho. We were going up there to get on level ground. And we were helping each other up the hill and everybody was extended their hand reaching out to the next person to get up. Major was right behind Minor, and Major instead of him sticking his arm out, he stuck his M16 out for Major to grab hold of and what Minor did, he thought he had the M16 on lock, but it wasn't locked.
So when Minor pulled, right in front of my face, he got a 6-round burst in his chest, and it killed him. And that did it. I was like, from then on out, it was like cold blooded. Then you get angry because you say, hey you know, you want to get back so bad for what happened so it gets personal then, you know. And that stage you're probably better prepared to take care of yourself because you're angry, rather than scared half to death.
And then you just become immune. Things that happen, you just deal with it, whatever happens. We had a lieutenant that came from OCS. He was fresh out of OCS, officer candidate school. He had a bad habit of kicking things, you know. So we told him, we said, that's not a good idea on a trail. You know, on a trail, sometimes the Vietcong will booby trap stuff, you know.
But he just wouldn't listen. He just had a bad habit, he would just kick it. One particular day, I forgot what was in the trail, there was something left out there in the trail and he kicked it. It was booby trapped and it blew half his body up. That was a terrible thing to see. He was hollering and screaming and screaming and screaming, screaming. They called the medic and that's the first time in my life I ever seen what that medicine that they shot him with, what was that medicine they had?
His whole torso was actually almost missing. I know his right leg was missing and part of his other leg. So you see nothing but flesh up here. They gave him whatever the medicine was, the medic shot him with it. We were standing over him and all of sudden about two minutes later, he just started laughing, laughing. I just couldn't believe a person can be messed up like that and start laughing.
I kept saying whatever medicine they gave him They gave him morphine. He just started laughing. They sent him to the rear, and we found out that he did die. Then what happened after about maybe six months, I came down with malaria. I ended up at Cameron Bay. They have a hospital called Cameron Bay. They had three different types of malaria. They had vivax malaria. They had falciparum malaria and then they had black malaria. If you got black malaria, you wasn't never coming back. Falciparum was treatable and vivax was treatable.
But I had the virus. I had the vivax malaria. So I got shipped to Cameron Bay Hospital. I spent 30 days there. Actually, it was supposed to have been 30 days there, but I spent 40 days, like 10 days longer than I was supposed. It wasn't nobody's fault but my own. I stopped taking, we had malaria tablets that we were taking that were to prevent the troops from getting malaria in the jungle.
And what made me stop taking them was I seen other guys stop taking them, they would get malaria. And they would come back telling all these fantastic stories about Cameron Bay being in the rear. About it's beautiful, you know, I'm not taking my either. So I stopped taking the malaria tablets and I came down with vivax malaria. I went to Cameron Bay for 40 days. Really, it was supposed to be 30, but I'm young at the time, and I wanted to stay as long as I could.
They would take your temperature. Your symptoms was, you ran a fever, eat and stomach pains. Those were some of the basic symptoms. And your fever was the main thing. So once your fever went down, they would release you and send you back to your unit. But what I was doing, I know it wasn't right, but when I was in the hospital, when the doctor come by, I would take the thermometer out of my mouth and I would take the thermometer I would rub it on my pajamas.
It was wrong, I know. I rub my pajamas and by the time he come back round, my temperature was still there. So I stayed a little longer. One particular day, about 10 days, they decided to take the thermometer and put it in my rectum and it gave the right reading and they shipped me back. I shouldn't have told that. My wife said, "Don't tell that. So what you're feeling now about going back? You finally get checked out of the hospital, and what do you feel about going back?
Oh, going back to my unit. I went back; they wasn't in the field. They were at base camp. They was in Play Cu at the time. I went back to the base camp and we stayed in base camp for about. At base camp they had the mortar platoon that was there. I got to fool around that. They taught me about the coordinates, elevation.
You're probably a vet yourself, right? They taught us all about the elevation and I got interested in that. And sometimes I would, when they found out that I knew something about it, and sometimes I stayed back and worked with the mortar platoon. Sometimes the mortar platoon stay in the rear, and sometimes the mortar platoon went with the company out there in the field. Typically in a mortar operation, you're not hand to hand type stuff. It's from a distance and the bad part of it is you've got to be damn accurate or you end up blowing up your own people.
And there takes some smarts to operate the elevation and all that other kind of stuff. That's no place for a dummy. We were in base camp, Play Cu for about maybe a week. Then we moved out and we went on patrol. Because you know, when we go on these missions a lot of time you don't find out what the mission is about until it is all over with or you are there. But ahead of time, they don't tell you anything. We were going on patrol. So I remember at one point we had to walk in this what was a lake, because they didn't want us to leave tracks for the VC or the NVA to find us.
So we had to walk in this lake. The water was like up to here, so we had our weapons up here and our equipment up here walking through the water. I wasn't really a big person at that time, like I said earlier. We were walking through the water and I was walking point that day because we all took turns walking point. Point man is you had to walk in front of the element, I guess if there was a Cong our there, you was going to get hit first.
They didn't want everybody together. It took me awhile to realize what was the reason for a point man. Anyway, I was walking point that day so I had a weapon up here. I remember I was walking and I had slipped on this green slimy rock or something. I went backwards and I couldn't pull myself up.
Interview with Walter James Dexter [1/10/2011]
It was a nightmare. I'm down there under water and I'm trying to pull myself up and nothing was happening. I couldn't move or anything. It just seemed like you're down there so long. I was smart enough to know that if I breathe, I'm going to die. It got to the point where I just couldn't hold my breath anymore. I said, I just know I'm going to die. I knew that was the end of it.
Just about the time I get ready to breathe, someone grabbed me on the back of my collar and pulled me up. And I was breathing and it was like a miracle. A guy named, I still remember his name, we called him I can't think of his name. But he saved me. That was a terrifying experience to almost drown over there. Yes, that was terrible. But then again, the thoughts in my mind, why am I over here? Why am lover here? I could get killed.
I had my girlfriend, actually it was my fiance. She wrote me a letter and sometimes we had our mailed dropped off in the field. She had wrote me a letter. Her birthday was, I forgot when it was, but and she asked me how come I didn't send her anything for her birthday. I was like, I couldn't believe it. She's thinking about her birthday. I couldn't send you anything. I was like, she's got to be out of her mind. Well, she's living in her own world. It seems so out of context but, on one hand you could understand her na'ivete on one hand, but on another you're wondering whether you going to get pulled out of the murky water and there seems to be more things much more important than your stupid birthday.
If you ever had the chance to talk like this to some of the people back home How much longer did you have to stay? When I started getting short, during that time when you had 30 days left to go, they would send you in the rear to get your things together and everything. To the base camp and get your stuff together and they send you to the rear. I was looking forward for the 30 days.
So once I got to 30 days they were fixing to go on another three-day ambush. I told the captain, I said captain, I'm short. I get 30 days, that would put me over. He said don't worry, after three days, we'll send the chopper it to pick you up. And I was like, no, I said I really don't want to go because you're watching all these guys leaving and going to the rear once they get to 30 and now I got to stay over. Captain, I said I want to stay. So he says well, you're going to have to go because if you refuse to go, you're going to get court martialed.
I was like man, I was short and now I got to worry about getting court martialed for refusing a direct order. They were getting ready to move out and there was the Vietnamese kid, his name was Tu, he came to help fill sandbags at base camp to put in bunkers and stuff. So he said, you leave? I said, yes, were going to-I forgot what area we was going in-he looked at me and he said, woo, he say bookoo VC.
He says bookoo VC. Bookoo mean a lot, he's telling there's a lot of VCs in that area that we were going. Naturally I'm getting paranoid now, so I went back to the captain and I said, captain look, I said, Tu just said there's bookoo VCs there. I'm short, I just don't what to go. He said, you going to listen to a little Vietnamese kid?
I said, well, look he knows more about this country than I do and you do. Sir, I'm not going. I figure 30 day I'm going in the rear. He said ok, you know if you refuse a direct order, you're going to be court martialed. I said I guess I'll be court martialed. So they left, they sent a helicopter in. They picked me up, took me back to the base camp. It was an underground communication area where they had a brigade of NVA to protect the communication thing. We lost half our company, and I was in the rear.
I was in the rear waiting to get court martialed. Of course, I never got court martialed. My time was up. The only thing strange was that I had my footlocker that I had there You get a seven day leave and then you get R and R, rest and recuperation. They were silk suits.
They were real nice, real cheap, but really nice. I got back, all my stuff was gone. I had pictures that I had taken and all my cameras, everything. My footlocker was empty. So I can't say if a GI had done it. At that time maybe the government had done it. Maybe they didn't want certain pictures to get back or something. Still to this day I have no idea.
I have no idea. Well, they process you. Another thing was, I went back on temporary records because they said my records were destroyed. Then again, maybe when I had malaria, maybe they didn't want me to come back and maybe apply for disability for the malaria that I had. I thought it was just me, but I found out a lot of them came back with temporary records.
They said they were destroyed. We got back to California, they made up some temporary records. Once I got out of the military, I sent for my original records and they had everything in there where I was at, what I did, the awards I got. But didn't have anything in there that I had been in the hospital. Didn't have anything in there about that, nothing. Well, if that happens, there's no record for what may later become a problem that you need to file. And then, I had 18 more months to do. So I was assigned to Germany to spend 18 months in Germany.
After I get to Germany, I was with a tank unit. They were in process of training to go to Vietnam, and I had just left Vietnam. It was a big adjustment for me because you're leaving the jungle, the heat into a cold climate that was They were training with temperatures of like 3 or 4 or 5 degrees below zero. That was a big difference. I just couldn't really adjust. I didn't make a good soldier in Germany because, for one reason, the lieutenant that was over us in Germany, he hasn't been, but he was training. He sort of looked at me as being So he was looking at me cross-eyed because he just didn't have the respect that he felt he should have had because of me being around.
I really think he was trying to get rid of me some kind of way. And I felt it because he was over-doing different things. All the other people in the troop were getting passes and going to Sweden and Copenhagen and places like that, and I didn't get any. I was a corporal. People kept telling me man, Dex, just be cool. They said you're going to make sergeant. But at that point, I didn't like the weather. It was more of a garrison over there. You get up in the morning, you spit shine your boots and stuff.
You're walking in the jungles, blood all over your shoes, leaves, it was just a big change for me. I did have a 3D-day leave before I went over there. So I didn't click too well. I got in trouble. What happened, was in formation King had gotten killed. There were a lot of protests within the Army about that and a lot of people were rebelling and stuff. But it wasn't so much about that, but I was just getting tired. So one particular day, I was in formation in Germany, that's why I didn't last long over there. They were saluting the flag. So everybody had their steel pots on their weapons.
There was no live ammunition in the weapons. We had the steel pot on the weapons, and that particular day I just decided that I'm tired. I didn't take my steel pot off. I had my back turned and one of the officers came up behind me, took the back of his hand and he knocked the steel pot off the back of my head and hit me hard from the back. It was like out cold, back of my head. Things got to flash in my mind about Vietnam. I'm thinking about the people that I loved that I lost. For some reason, he looked like a Vietcong.
Of course, I attacked him. They took six months of my pay, busted down to Private E1 for disrespect, assault on an officer. So they took two-thirds pay for six months and took my rank from me, which was corporal down to Private E1.
Books by David Laing Dawson (Author of Don't Look Down)
I was there for two weeks, we were building pallets in jail. The officer from the liaison office came to visit me. He said, Dexter, I looked at your records and he said, I don't know what happened, but you were a good soldier in Vietnam. So apparently you didn't' fit in too good here. I was like, I don't know what to say.
He said, I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll give you a choice, either you can spend your six months here, Old Coleman Barracks, or I can give you orders to go back to Vietnam and give you a day leave to go home and then go back to Vietnam. So I got to thinking, I said well, send me back. I went home for 30 days and got shipped out and that's the second tour of duty, I was in the st Airborne Division. Never jumped out of a plane in my life, but they put me in the st Airborne Division. They weren't doing jumps over there at the time anyway. They had lost so many men over there that they needed replacements.
I guess they were trying to kill me-a good way to get rid of me. But I made it. So how do you assess all that? It's pretty apparent you can tell what your attitude was. This was a difficult adjustment to make. And there's always down time. Many soldiers that come back dreadfully from combat like this have an awful difficult time adjusting to the civilized world, particularly those that spent time in the kind of terrain and the kind of activity that you were involved in.
The body, the mind probably more than the body can't make those To be honest with you, I had a little difficult time when I came back home. But it seemed like the people that I grew up with, I knew, they were just different. I guess I was just ahead of my time because I had been through so much. They were like, younger and the things that they were talking about doing, just didn't appeal to me. Things like hey, there's a party over here.
You want to go? They were smoking weed. They were using cocaine and stuff. That wasn't part of me. I just stayed away, stayed on my own basically. Then my brother, he was involved, which really helped me. He was involved with Turner, Dare to be Great? He formed a corporation. It was a self-motivation corporation. Dare to be Great. He was the founder of it. My brother was heavily involved in it. I had come home and I got a job at Proctor and Gamble. It was kind of a physical job. I worked in the Ivory department where we had to poke soap powder on the belts so the soap powder come through, but we had to wear these masks.
I didn't really like the job. It paid good money at P and G. But my brother come along, hey, join Dare to be Great and be rich. You could go this. And so I went to a couple of meetings, they called Gold Tour meetings, where they had all these people around with money on them. Saying go, go, go, and they were driving Cadillacs. Not realizing that, a lot of them drive Cadillacs but they really couldn't afford it. But that was the name of the thing as far as fake it 'til you make it, basically.
So I got tied up with that. My brother got me into it and I quit the job at Proctor and Gamble. What I did learn from it was self motivation as far as believing in yourself. It got me reading positive books. And that, even though the organization didn't last. It folded up because he was selling unregistered securities or something, but I was trained to be an area director. It was new to me. It was something different. And they taught me how to put on the first part of the meeting and stuff. Between Dare to be Great and the concept of the positive thinking helped me-helped me through life.
No, it wasn't reversed there. But when I went back to Vietnam. I was in the 5t Airborne Division. That second tour of duty, it wasn't as bad as the first. Because by me spending a year over there already, I had the respect and I got away with a lot of stuff. You know, stuff I didn't want to do, I didn't do it, and nobody bothered me.
I just got away with a lot of stuff. They'd tell me to do something, I'd say, no you do it. But I got away with it because I was the only one over there at the time that had been over there the first time already. The second tour of duty wasn't that bad for me. Yes, I got my rank back. I got my rank back.
I made corporal, but it seemed like to try to make sergeant. I just never did the stuff. I was always just a for real kind of person. I never went out of my way to do things to please a person because I wanted something out of them. It seemed like the people who were going for the rank, they were doing things that I couldn't do.
You know, I'm not going to bring the captain coffee unless he asks me. Just to do it because I want something out of him. I stayed a corporal. I just never made sergeant because my mind was just on going there, doing my time and getting out. Because I seen a lot of people killed with stripes. You get buried with them, it doesn't make any difference. The second year, it wasn't bad. I went to Cameron Bay a couple times.
Bob Hope came to Cameron Bay and had the usa show. That was pretty interesting. They had a bandstand. The stage was like from that wall maybe four or five feet back. No, I didn't do that. Then by me having a little experience with the mortar, I spent more time on the mortar platoon. On my records, it said I had experience with mortars, so that's why my second tour of duty wasn't as bad.
You know, it was funny. I got a copy of my records, maybe about ten years ago. I was a veterans rep at Chrysler. I retired from Chrysler. I was co-chairman of the Veterans Committee there. So I had sent for my records. I didn't even know, because I had that court martial, they had barred me from re-enlisting.
All this time I didn't even know. I guess because of the court martial. I didn't plan on going in anyway, but. It was just something how you find out stuff years later. Was there any relief of the pressure and the stress when you got home? Or was it just creating some new stress because you had rehab into civilian life, so to speak? Some things you remember, and some things you really want to forget.
I don't want to sit up here and tell you exactly everything that I went through because we would be sitting here for five days. I can remember a friend of mine had said, come on Walter, you come back from Vietnam, he said I wantto buy you And I had my military stuff. He said, I'm going to get you some clothes. I said, well, that's pretty good of him, pretty nice.
So we went down to this, it was called Shillito's at the time. We down to Shillito's and he had a credit card and he was buying stuff for himself. I was looking at the racks. And he said, you like that? Go ahead and get it. I thought good friend. Didn't know it was a stolen credit card. I didn't know it was a stolen credit card.
I had no clue. I got this stuff laying on top of the counter and the next thing I know, the store people came and they arrested him. They didn't arrest me because he had the credit card. I was like shocked. The funny thing is I never went to court for that, never heard anything else about it. But when I was in Huntsville, Alabama. Me and my family moved down there for three or four years. I had applied for a CCW down there because I was going to do security work down there. They declined me because you got on your record back in possession of stolen credit card.
They put on my record I was with him. That was something, after all them years, it was still on my record. I went down there one day and explained. First they wanted me to go to court and everything for it. But they realized during that time, but I ended up getting it expunged. I had to get a clearance because I worked at the Super Bowl here when the Super Bowl came here, with a security company.
I worked at the Super Bowl, armed security. You never know, you just never know the stuff that's on your record until you really check. When I de-enrolled from Cincinnati after the Dare to be Great thing came about, I decided I was looking for, after the Proctor and Gamble thing, I was trying to find another job. I did get one job at Cincinnati Mill and Machine. My father worked there. It was where they made tools and stuff, but it was so loud. My dad said you going to quit a good job like that? I said, I can't take it.
It was just loud. When you talked to somebody, you had to holler. I said this is not for me. My brother said that he was planning on dropping my cousin off in Detroit and said you want to ride down with us. I said I may as well. I'm not working right now. When we came to Detroit, there was just something about Detroit that, it was different. Cincinnati is the kind of city that you see someone driving a Cadillac or Lincoln or something, they step down in a suit. You know, a doctor or a lawyer.
I never seen so many people in Detroit, they step out of big cars wearing blue jeans and gym shoes. The Big Three was going strong then. That was something new to me because Cincinnati was a conservative city that I come from. And since I'm like that, it was like wow.
So I said, you know what. I think I'm going to stay. I didn't know anybody. I gave blood at the blood bank just enough to get something to eat. My first job here in Detroit was at a shoe store and they had a sign they wanted experienced salesman. I seen this sign. I never sold shoes before, but I told them that I'd be willing to work on probation, not pay me anything, just to prove I could sell. But I knew they couldn't work me for nothing. They had to pay me. I guess that impressed them.
They hired me selling shoes.
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That's the first job I had when I got here. I sold shoes at Butler Shoe Store downtown. Then from there they cut back, they were moving or something. I went through the paper and I found advertisement about truck driving. I drove trucks, like small trucks, not semis.
So I seen an advertisement in the paper that said truck driver wanted. It was a company called Fine Metal Company. They were near that market. I didn't know it was a semi. So I walked in there and told the guy I'm here for the job. So he said you driven a semi before? I needed a job so bad, I just lied to him. I said yes, I have experience. I had no experience driving a semi. But I thought I could learn like anything else. I was always a challenger. So what he did he said ok.
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He trusted me, so he hired me. So they had a bunch of metal to be taken to Romulus or somewhere out there. He said you know how to get there? I said, I know how to get there. I didn't know anything about how to get there. I figure I can always ask somebody. I got the semi. There was a gas station right there on Paquette and Woolworth and I pulled up in the gas station and the overhead thing was down.
I didn't pay any attention. I drove up and knocked that whole side of the Just got the job. I said, oh may, I messed up. So I called the company and told him I had a little incident. But he walked, he ran down there and kept hollering. What are you doing? I said, hey man, I didn't see it. He said, you told me you can drive. He said I don't need you.
I don't know what made me look at him and say, what day do I get paid? He looked like I was crazy. I think he wanted to kill me. So much for that. From there I met some other veterans along the way and they were saying that Chrysler was hiring. So I went and put an application at the employment office at Chrysler.
I got hired at Chrysler. It's a funny thing how I got the first job at Chrysler.
I had my Army jacket on and I had my First Airborne patch on this side and had my 25th Infantry patch on the side and the supervisor that was putting us on job sites. He came around, he was putting people on sites and stuff and he looked over there and he said, you was in the 25th? He said, what brigade? I said Second Brigade.
He said, I was in the First Brigade. He said, you stand here and look out. He was walking everybody else around, putting them on the line. He came back to me and said, this is going to be your job, right here. I said, what job is that?
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He said you're going to be tool crib operator. I said, what I do? He said, just issue out the coveralls when the painters come around in the afternoon-I worked afternoon shift. You issue out the coveralls and that's going to be your job. I said, well, what else do I do? He said, that's up to you. I had the job for like 12 years at Chrysler. That's what got me a start. I was a tool crib operator. All I did was issue out coveralls. Once everybody started up, I went down and picked up coveralls from the tool room and put them in there for the next day.
There was a lot of people that was trying to take my job at the time because they felt like I didn't have enough seniority and how did he get this job. But what happened was, now I can talk about this since I'm not there anymore. The supervisor liked me because I got a good relationship with the main tool room guys. Because anytime you had to get something from the tool room, you had to fill out a requisition. But since I knew the guys, they just give me whatever I needed. Whenever he operated under cost, he got a bonus check because he didn't have to sign his name to a requisition.
I just go down there and get ten more pair of gloves or ten pair of coveralls. So people want to take my job, he said, no way. So that's how I kept that job so long. Yes, I retired from Chrysler on disability. I had a couple of incidents on the job at Chrysler. Prior to joining the Veterans Committee.
I was co-chairman of the Veterans Committee for about nine years. There were five of us.