Oxford resident Jack Coyle was no stranger to the nomadic military life, even before he enlisted.
Of his family roots Coyle said, “My father was a Navy man, so we moved a lot. After leaving the Navy, dad went to work for State Farm Insurance. Heck, we moved around even more with State Farm.”
A 1961 graduate of Normal Community H.S. in Illinois, Coyle said, “Dad was transferred to Florida. By that quirk of fate, I ended up as a 2nd Lt. in the Army.” The ‘fate’ was Florida Southern in Lakeland with a two year mandatory ROTC program. Coyle said, “After two years you could drop ROTC or continue for a commission. I worked my way through college, so I went for the commission, graduating in 1966.”
Assigned to the Aviation Material Laboratories at Fort Eustis, Va. for a year, Coyle knew his next port-of-call would be Vietnam. “I don’t know if my math and physics major had anything to do with it, but I was assigned to attend a 13-week Aviation Maintenance Officer Course before deployment to the 388th Transportation Company at the coastal base of Vung Tau south of Saigon.”
Upon landing at Long Binh, a general changed Coyle’s assignment. “I was pretty much hijacked along with 29 other officers for about 45 days for inventory control until replacements arrived. Needless to say, we were sort of upset when no replacements showed up.”
Eventually Coyle cajoled an assignment to Vung Tau. “I stepped on a few sensitive toes to get there,” he said. “But I belonged at Vung Tau with my buddies.” 2nd Lt. Coyle arrived just in time for the infamous Communist Offensive known as the Tet Offensive of 1968.
Even with South Vietnamese cities ablaze, continuous urban warfare, hand-to-hand fighting in heavily disputed areas, for some mysterious reason, Vung Tau was spared crippling combat and major damage. “I have an answer for that,” Coyle said. “My theory is the VC didn’t want to mess up their R&R area. We had sort of a ‘truce’ around Vung Tau, since the VC used a nearby beach called Front Beach and we used East Beach about 15 miles away.”
When the VC took the life of an Australian soldier inside the town of Vung Tau, the so-called ‘truce’ came to a screeching halt. Coyle said, “The Aussies took a .50 caliber machine gun downtown and wiped out the entire block area where their comrade had fallen. Things were a little touchy after that.”
A little-known job in Vietnam belonged to Jack Coyle. “We’d fly out to jeep carriers (small aircraft carriers) loaded down with Huey choppers, 60 to 80 of them, wrapped in rubber cocoons to prevent saltwater damage. We had to ready the choppers for combat, then get them ashore.” Amid random rocket and mortar attacks, Coyle kept damaged choppers flying and replaced hundreds with new choppers from the jeep carriers.
After Nam, Coyle spent a year stateside in a “quality control” Foreign Intelligence program. Asked to explain, he said, “Well, basically we set up spy networks, fostered propaganda, proliferated misinformation, and made sure x and y equated to z.” (It seems like I recall the same sort of gobbledygook from my own days in Intelligence).
Concerning his duty in Vietnam, Coyle said, “I did my part, but don’t embellish what I did in Vietnam because I am not a hero. Too many buddies didn’t make it home; they’re the real heroes, not me.” From his class of 56 officers, more than 50 percent became bean-counter statistics in a war of shared blame and shared beaches for rest and relaxation. “Seems a little crazy when you think about it,” he said.
Following in his father’s footsteps Coyle joined State Farm Insurance after three years of active military service. He retired from State Farm in 2007, plus obtained the rank of Lt. Colonel in the reserves.
Coyle’s retirement passion is working as one of the military historians for SACO (Sino American Cooperative Organization), a secretive yet highly political World War II service that trained Chinese Nationalists as well as Chinese Communist soldiers during their own ‘truce’ to prevent fighting against each other in order to pool their resources to defeat the Japanese.
“My father earned a law degree from the University of Miami,” Coyle said. “After graduation, he joined the Navy and immediately volunteered for a ‘hazardous’ assignment. That assignment was SACO.”
Apparently Intelligence runs in the family, in more ways than one.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, freelance writer and columnist. You can contact him at email@example.com.