The year after Carl Fisher graduated from high school in 1966, he was drafted and sent to Vietnam as a private and a member of the 577th Combat Engineers.
“When we first landed in Cam Rahn Bay and stepped from the C-130 transport plane, I wondered what the hell the smell was. It was terrible,” he recalled more than 50 years later at his Fantasy Island condominium on Manasota Key. “They were burning human waste in 55 gallon drums. The sky was full of a big haze. I thought to myself if Vietnam was going to smell like this, it was gonna be fun.
“During my first few months in Vietnam, I drove a dump truck. We hauled asphalt from our base to the job site. We were building roads. The rest of my time in country I drove the captain’s and lieutenant’s jeep.
“One night I was in our compound when an enemy rocket hit. I took some shrapnel in my chest, but a 17-year-old new arrival who was right next to me had both his legs blown off in the blast. He was taken by jeep to a nearby MASH hospital. Later he was choppered off to Cam Rahn Bay for additional treatment of his wounds. That was the last I ever saw of him.
“It seemed to me that the new arrivals in country were the ones that caught it from enemy fire. They were the ones most likely to get wounded.”
The Tet Offensive was the high water mark of enemy action from the North Vietnamese army and the Vietcong guerrillas. Upward of 100,000 enemy troops attacked all the major South Vietnamese military bases and cities beginning New Year’s Day 1968. Eventually it caused the collapse of the South Vietnamese government.
“All hell broke loose for the 577th stationed at Tuy Hoa, Vietnam, during Tet,“ Fisher said. “I got hit in the left wrist by more enemy shrapnel from a mortar round. I was never in any hand-to-hand fighting, so that was good.
“One day in Tuy Hoa, I watched this old papasan dragging this huge, dead snake down the road over his shoulder. It had just eaten his prize duck. You could still see the imprint of the duck in his stomach. That snake must have been 20 feet long if not longer. It was the biggest snake I’d ever seen.”
After his 13-month tour in the Army in Vietnam, he rotated back to the USA.
“I remember when we got off the plane from Vietnam, we knelt down and kissed the ground,” Fisher said. “We were so glad to be back home again.”
Because he flew into Fort Lewis, Washington, instead of San Francisco, Fisher had no problems with Vietnam protesters. He took a bus from Fort Lewis to his hometown in Mishawaka, Indiana, arriving home unannounced.
Shortly after getting out of the Army, he got a job working for a local concrete company. For the next 40 years, he drove a concrete truck.
“I haven’t held a weapon since Vietnam,” Fisher said. “I don’t want anything to do with guns. All I have at home is a B.B. gun.”
There was one moment when the sight, sound and smell of Vietnam caught up to him. That was when the touring Vietnam Moving Wall came to Englewood.
“When the Hueys and Chinooks flew over, the sound of their rotor blades brought Vietnam back to me,” he said. “I’ll never forget the distinct sound of those chopper blades.”
Fisher served as commander of the Clyde Lassen VFW Post in Englewood in 2012 and 2013. He was also district commander in 2017.
Fisher and his first wife, Kathy, have six children: Tammy, Mike, Daniel, Amanda, Tim and Douglas.