MASON CITY — Two years ago, David Frederick was relaxing at a fishing camp when someone set off a cherry bomb outside.
“I hit the deck,” he said, an instinctive reaction to the sounds of war 46 years ago that have stayed with him for all the decades since.
“I hate the sound of loud noises,” said Frederick, a pharmacist who worked at both Easter’s and Drugtown before his retirement.
Another thing that was an after-affect from the war — prostate cancer, the result of Agent Orange being sprayed on and around the waters he patrolled in the Navy. From that he has fully recovered.
In looking back on his days in Vietnam, Frederick prefers to focus on the people he met, the Vietnamese who were innocent victims. “All that they wanted was to carry on their lives in peace,” he said.
One image that stays with him is that of an old man with gray hair and a long gray beard, a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, fishing from what the U.S. military referred to as a “junk” — a dilapidated boat typical of what many of the Vietnamese lived in.
“I think of that nice man and all that he wanted was to continue the peaceful life he had been leading,” said Frederick.
A native of Garner, Frederick graduated from Garner High School and North Iowa Area Community College. He joined the Naval Reserve in Mason City and went to Vietnam in 1969 after undergoing SERE training (survival, evasion, resistance, escape). “It is week-long training for going into a war zone,” he said.
He spent his entire tour at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. One of the first people he met upon his arrival was Louie Schmidt, who lived across the street from him in Garner.
Frederick was assigned to harbor patrol, which was involved with protecting the airport, hospital and the waters of the bay.
They were responsible for checking the junk boats as they came in to make sure there were no arms or supplies for the enemy Viet Cong on board.
“We were like the highway patrol,” said Frederick. “We went on board with our guns. The people were scared. They had to show their IDs. We always took candy with us to give to the kids. Most of the people there were your best allies. They meant no harm.”
Nighttime duty was the most dangerous, said Frederick. “We would go on patrol and throw grenades into the water to scare off the enemy. They had swimmers who were armed with grenades. It was scary at times.
“One time we were sent upriver and got caught in a crossfire. There was definitely friendly fire you had to be aware of,” he said.
Another time, a sniper had been firing for about a week at Frederick and those on patrol with him. They were given the go-ahead to go ashore and find him.
“I was having eye trouble at the time and it was dark, making it even more difficult to see. I had my M79 grenade launcher with me and it was my best friend. It was deadly accurate and had the range of three football fields,” said Frederick.
“We spotted the sniper and shot him. I don’t know who killed him and I’m glad I don’t.”
He would prefer to think about the old man fishing and the children who got the candy he passed out.
“My hope is they were able to return to the life they once had,” he said.