yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

From Lillye Younger, People of Action (Decatur County Printers, 1983). Special thanks to Constance Collett and the estate of Lillye Younger for permission to make this web page.


Lillye Younger

PARSONS. Tenn. — Fatigues starched with banana leaves. war orphans whose only English words are "give me' and little people who look older than they really are.

These are some Vietnam memories of a young Parsons soldier who has returned home after completing his Army stint in the embattled Southeast Asian nation.

Spec. 4 Byron (Gene) Townsend, 20, was a radio teletype operator in South Vietnam. serving in that country for 14 months. He was- attached to the 6th Battalion. 56th Artillery and headquarters was two miles northeast of Bien Hoa near "Widow's Village" a community of Vietnamese war widows and their children.

Townsend and his fellow GIs had their laundry done by the widows of the village.

"Laundrying is their livelihood," said the Decatur County soldier. "Their method is crude. They use flatirons heated in the fire and merely place a banana leaf over the clothes and iron."

"The fatigues looked good and cost only 30 cents a suit. We all had credit and our accounts ran for a month with mine usually $20 a month."

Townsend described a memory of last Christmas:

"We shared our fruit cakes. candies and cookies with the villagers and they were very happy to get them. The orphans looked up with big smiles on their faces which was to us a .big thank you.'

"Even though they can't weak English. they have learned two English words well —"Give me.'"

The soldier said the ages of village women are in their thirties but they look in their fifties. "They age early here." Townsend remarked. He described the average Vietnamese as weighing about 90 pounds and of a height of about five feet seven inches.

Townsend said Vietnam "looked good from the air "but, except for Saigon, the capital, the cities are quite dirty." He added, "The beaches are the most beautiful in the world."

Vietnam's tropical climate is extremely hot with temperatures hovering around 110 degrees, he said. "During the rainy season, it rains 90 days then it's dry for 90 days," Townsend added.

"None of my buddies seemed to mind being in Vietnam — it's not bad," he said with a smile.

For his service in South Vietnam, Townsend was awarded four honors — the National Defense, Vietnam Campaign, Vietnam National Defense, and Good Conduct ribbons.

A brother. Danny Townsend. who is an aviation apprentice aboard the USS Ticonderoga, will leave for Vietnam in December.

His parents are Mr. and Mrs. Byron Townsend and he has two brothers and four sisters., His father was the first married man in Decatur County to be drafted in World War II.

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