NORTHWOOD — After Mavis “May” Schmidt graduated from Lake Mills High School in 1962, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps because she wanted more education and an opportunity to see the world.
“I made a pretty good run at it,” said Schmidt, who now lives in Northwood.
She served in Vietnam for three years. She was a secretary/stenographer/receptionist for Gen. Creighton Abrams, who was first deputy commander and then commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV).
One of her tasks was typing top-secret messages.
She met movie stars touring with the USO, as well as ambassadors and TV news broadcasters. But it wasn’t all glamorous.
She said Americans in Vietnam were in danger of being bombed or shot at everywhere they went.
On Jan. 30, 1968, the beginning of the Tet Offensive, Schmidt was at a hotel in downtown Saigon with some friends. That night the Viet Cong tried to take over the city. Schmidt and the others heard machine guns firing and explosions all night long.
She said she and two GIs decided to leave the hotel and go back to MACV headquarters, which was just a few miles away.
As they were driving through a dark alley, an MP on the roof of a nearby building yelled at the top of his lungs, “Get the (bleep) out of here!” Schmidt recalled.
As they took off, they heard automatic weapons firing right behind them.
“We were scared to death,” Schmidt said.
When they got to the Third Field Hospital there were 13 dead bodies hanging on the wire. Schmidt said they were members of the VC who were trying to get into the hospital and were killed by American MPs.
When Schmidt and the GIs got back to headquarters, they found out no one else had been able to make it in.
Schmidt watched two Cobra helicopters dive-bomb the VC.
“I’ll never forget the sound,” she said.
Before being transferred to MACV headquarters, Schmidt was at Long Binh Post for eight months.
When Schmidt first joined the Army, she played the trombone in the Women’s Army Corps Band in Alabama. The band toured the country and played at places like Cape Canaveral.
Then she worked as a clerk/typist for Army Chief of Staff Harold K. Johnson at the Pentagon, as well as Abrams, who was vice chief of staff at that time.
“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” she said.
She remained in the Army for a time after returning from Vietnam.
After she was honorably discharged from the Army in 1974, Schmidt went to Colorado. She attended college and worked as a geologist in the oil fields in Wyoming.
She returned to Iowa to raise her daughter. Schmidt now has two grandchildren.
Schmidt said she feels lucky compared to all those who were killed in Vietnam. She said she doesn’t think they lost their lives in vain because the cause was just.
Schmidt is writing a book about her experiences.
“I never guessed I would do all this,” she said.