In the highlands of South Vietnam, the U.S. Army’s Camp Radcliff was preparing for a celebration on New Year’s Eve 1965.
As the clock struck midnight, artillery, rifle and machine-gun fire erupted for minutes at a time. David Milhouse, a soldier serving at the base, paused to let the celebratory gunfire finish before continuing the tape he was making for his wife, Martha.
“Thinking about getting out of here. Of course it’s 1966, the year I get out of the Army. I have exactly 80 days, from today, so things are looking up,” Milhouse said at the close of his recording.
Milhouse, a Franklin resident, has unearthed the letters, tapes and other correspondences he sent during his time in Vietnam. After digitizing the record for himself, his military story will now be enshrined in the Library of Congress.
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Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., and his staff have recorded his experience as part of an effort to preserve veterans’ voices for history. Though he only served only about six months in Vietnam, Milhouse is honored to have his words captured for all time.
“My story will be permanently preserved. It will be in there forever. It’s exciting to think that I have a record of history,” he said.
Milhouse’s recording was done as part of a program called Hoosier Veteran Voices, an effort started by Young to preserve the personal accounts of Indiana war veterans.
Indiana’s program is carried out in coordination with the Veterans History Project, a nationwide campaign to save the stories of veterans in the Library of Congress.
Experiences such as Milhouses can help paint a more realistic picture of what being a soldier is like. Films and novels tend to focus on heroic battlefield stories, Young said in a statement.
‘Very personal sacrifices’
But war requires more sacrifice than just what’s done on the battlefield.“These recordings of David as a young soldier speaking to his wife Martha provide a glimpse into the very human, very personal sacrifices required of United States soldiers who leave their loved ones to serve far from home,” Young’s statement said.Milhouse was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1964 after graduating from Indiana Central College, now known as University of Indianapolis.
He was a chaplain’s assistant, responsible for whatever the chaplain needed to conduct services at the base.
His unit, the 1st Air Cavalry Division, shipped out for Vietnam on Aug. 17, 1965. He served at the base until March 6, 1966.
The Milhouses had been married just days before he left for war, so the separation was particularly difficult for the newlyweds. They dealt with the distance by corresponding nearly daily.
For the initial portion of his service, the two mostly sent letters back and forth. As 1965 turned into 1966, Milhouse sent more tape recordings of himself.
Both David and Martha Milhouse saved their letters and tapes, which were uncovered in 2014 as they prepared to move from Columbus to Franklin.
A time capsule
Milhouse initially told his story and shared his letters and recordings with the Daily Journal in August. That article captured the attention of Young and his staff, who contacted him about doing a full interview session.“I was surprised when they called — I wondered what this was all about,” Milhouse said. “But it sounded interesting, and we got it all arranged.”He provided Young with a full collection of his digitized tapes and all of the letters he exchanged with Martha and his family during his stint in Vietnam. His full interview lasted for 69 minutes.
The entire collection is a valuable time capsule of the initial stages of the Vietnam War. One of the most poignant statements is a recording Milhouse made and mailed to Martha on Christmas Eve, 1965.
“We’re married and we can’t spend Christmas together. It’s not a very happy time, really,” he said. “I wish I could be home with you. If we were together, we could have our Christmas together. We’ve never had a Christmas together yet, well, next year we will.”
Milhouse’s story also shows the daily personal struggles that soldiers went through at the time, being away from loved ones. It also helps remind people that soldiers today are going through the same struggles, Young said.
“Even today, we have military personnel deployed to hundreds of countries throughout the world,” he said. “It’s important we continue to show appreciation to them and their loved ones, who during the holiday season no doubt endure conversations back home similar to those between David and his newly-wed wife 50-years prior.”
Milhouse is one of four residents in Young’s district who have been included in Hoosier Veteran Voices. Any veteran who has served in the U.S. military in any capacity is eligible, said Lauren Beebe, Young’s communications director.
Because Milhouse has audio and letters saved from his service, Young’s staff created a short video explaining his service.
The hope is that Milhouse’s feature will inspire some other veterans to come forward and have their experience documented, Beebe said.
Hoosier Veterans Voices
What: A campaign to record and preserve the stories of Indiana veterans in the Library of Congress.
How: Veterans conduct recorded interviews with the staff of Rep. Todd Young, Congressman for Indiana’s 9th Congressional District. Those interviews are sent to the Library of Congress’ digital catalogs.
Who can take part: Any veteran who served in the U.S. military in any capacity from World War I and after, and is no longer serving, is eligible.
Get involved: Contact Young’s Jeffersonville Constituent Service Center at 812-288-3999 to sign up.