PROGRESS 2024: Veteran Spotlight – Mousey Brown

When the United States Army drafted Mousey Brown in 1967, the 23-year-old knew his duty.

“The way I was raised up and believed, you defended your country,” Brown said. “That was your duty as a man: When you got your call, you served your country.”

The Russellville man had received a few deferments thanks to his employment at the aluminum plant, but when his time came, he was ready to follow in the footsteps of his three older brothers, who had all served in the Korean War. “I owed it to my country to do what I was supposed to do.”

Brown’s service fell during the Vietnam War. He was deployed with the 9th Infantry Division, Company E, with the “best company commander that ever put on a pair of battle fatigues. He wouldn’t ask you to do anything he wasn’t up front doing himself. I still stay in contact with him. The 9th Infantry Division has a reunion every two years.”

When Brown reported to the draft board on Jackson Avenue and spoke to a Ms. Bobo, he found he wasn’t due to ship out to basic training until two months later – but he didn’t want to delay the inevitable. “In the next two or three weeks, I was gone,” Brown said. “Six of us in Russellville went up at the same time. We went to Montgomery to be sworn in. One had a health problem, so they sent him back, but five of us were inducted at the same time.” They were in the same company, different platoons at basic training. “They’ve all passed away but me.”

Brown’s service began with eight weeks of basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. “It was tough. It was hot. I was stationed at Sand Hill, and that’s what it was – sand and hill,” Brown said. After basic he had AIT at Tigerland, Fort Polk, Louisiana. Brown and his fellow soldiers learned how to handle the M-16, M-14, grenades and machine guns and underwent tough physical training. From there, they deployed to Vietnam.

“I was scared the day I got there, and I was scared the day I left,” said Brown. “It hadn’t come across to me plain what it was really going to be like until the first mission we went on. Then I knew.”

Brown was assigned to Camp Bearcat in south Vietnam and then Dong Tam in the Mekong Delta. “We did a lot of things I wish I hadn’t done, but it was required. It was my duty. I didn’t question,” Brown said. “We were told at that time we were defending our country against communism.”

When Brown reflects on his time in Vietnam, he remembers the oppressive heat and the monsoon rains. He said he’s thankful to be one of the few who weren’t shot in action. “Some got assignments where there wasn’t a lot of action going on, but that wasn’t true for me.” He said the barracks at Dong Tam was a tin-topped building with bunks. “Reminds me of a small chicken house now.” They ate rations, rarely a hot meal. “You just thought about food from back home.”

He said he got to call home one time during his 10 months deployed. “It wasn’t like it was in Iraq and Afghanistan where you could call home every day. I just looked forward to getting letters from home – whoever wanted to write. It didn’t even matter whether you knew them or not, as long as you got letters.” Brown would receive notes from family as well as schoolchildren and others back home, and he would write back when he had the time. He spent a period of R&R in Taipei, Taiwan, but aside from that, much of his time deployed was in heavy fighting. His group served on a barracks ship in the Saigon River, the U.S.S. Bennewah, as part of the Mobile Riverine Force.

After about seven months in Vietnam, Brown went on emergency leave when his father had a heart attack. The Red Cross helped facilitate a 30-day visit home. He said returning to Vietnam was hard. “I knew what I was going back to – the living conditions and the war.” As his parents continued to have health problems, Brown was eventually able to get compassionate reassignment and an early-out discharge, thanks in part to the efforts of a friend-of-a-fried, Congressman Tom Bevill. “I’ve still got the letters he wrote me telling me I was needed at home.”

Like so many returning to the states after serving in Vietnam, Brown received an icy cold welcome home.

“When we came through San Francisco, we got cussed and spit on – humiliated, by protestors,” said Brown. “That’s the reason I still don’t like California now … We did not come home as heroes. We came home as scum of the earth.”

Brown said that came as an unwelcome surprise. “We weren’t warned what it was going to be like when we came back,” Brown said. “We didn’t have television or news over there. We didn’t really know what was going on back in the states that much.

“You were despised and hated and called baby killers – everything that could be thought of it.”

The now-80-year-old has largely made peace with it, though, taking much the same view of that treatment as he does of being diagnosed with colon cancer in 1998, and of still dealing with the chemo side effects today: “That’s just life. You take the bad with the good and go on with it.”

Brown has also had his struggles with PTSD. “There’s a lot of things you don’t ever forget,” he said. “Now that I’m old, I get the help I needed 50 years ago.”

While there’s still room for improvement when it comes to offering respect to Vietnam veterans, Brown said when he does receive thank yous and welcome homes now, they mean a lot. “What I appreciate more is when it comes from the younger generation,” he said. “I think they really mean it. He said not long ago, he was at Chick-Fil-A getting a meal for himself and his wife Amy. A young man in line insisted on paying for their meal. “It wasn’t the money. It was the thought behind it.”

Brown said despite the hardships, “it was a privilege and honor to serve.” In fact, he would gladly serve again today, even at his age, if his country needed him. “I’m a United States citizen. Born and raised here. This is your country, and you defend it … People take freedom for granted here in the United States – it’s just a given. But over there, it’s not.

“You always have respect for somebody who was willing to go – leave their job and family and everything behind – because it’s your obligation and duty,” he said. “I count it an honor to have been able to serve my country – even in Vietnam.”

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