MONTVILLE, NJ – Recently, TAPinto Montville spoke to Montville resident and VFW Post 5481 member Chip Cutler about his service.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Cutler joined the Navy in 1964 and became a member of the Construction Battalion, which was nicknamed the Seabees, after the initials C.B. He learned to be an electrician and was sent to Okinawa for a year. He served 10 months in Vietnam in 1966.
In Vietnam he was assigned to work as a radio operator because he had some experience as an amateur short wave radio operator.
“I was shipped back to the U.S. in 1967 and discharged, but was in the Naval reserve for a number of years,” he said. “Early in 1968, a ship – the Pueblo – was seized by the North Koreans and Johnson reactivated 250,000 troops to go to Korea. I went back into service and received some additional military training, but actually went back to Vietnam for a second tour.”
Cutler spent most of 1968 there and came back in 1969. He was 25 when he was discharged, he said.
“In four years of active service I spent almost three years overseas,” he said. “It was very interesting.”
Cutler said that being in a war zone made one feel “on edge” all the time.
“I was stationed in Da Nang, which was constantly attacked by the Vietcong with mortar attacks,” he said. “Just before my second tour, the Vietcong overran the area near the base I was on. They couldn’t get onto our base because it had a lot of defenses – machine guns and the like. But they went around our base and a couple of bases near us, such as a Marine base, saw heavy damage. They blew up all their helicopters. A Naval hospital was attacked. It was very common to get mortared in the middle of the night. They would set the alarms off and everybody had to get out of bed and into the bunkers until there was an all-clear. You were kind of on edge the whole time you were there. It wasn’t a place where you could really just relax. I was just basically just stationed on the base but the units in the Seabees went out into the countryside and worked with the Marines on special detachments, building bases and bunkers for the Marines.”
Cutler said that serving in the Navy changed his life.
“I needed more discipline – I was a little wild before I went into the service,” he said. “It straightened me out and I became a much better person. It’s very strict; you have to do what you’re told. It just changes your life – either it makes it worse or it makes it better. In my case, when I came out, I had a much more positive attitude about life. It worked out well for me.”
He didn’t leave Vietnam unmarked, however.
“For maybe three or four years, I had nightmares about my experiences,” he said. “I got married in 1972 and my wife told me I had them but then they stopped. I think most guys just put it out of their minds.”
Further, he believes that he has health problems because of the agent orange spraying that occurred there.
Cutler said that after the Navy he worked for the John Deere Company. He is from Wooster, Massachusetts but got transferred and met a “Jersey Girl,” as he calls her.
“I was a territory manager and lived in Syracuse for a while,” he said. “New Jersey was in my territory, and my wife’s family has lived in Montville since the 1850s.”
The pair got married and lived in Vernon for 30 years, then moved to Montville nine years ago. He joined the VFW five years ago. He and his wife Barbara have a grown son.
Cutler joined the Navy because he would have been drafted and therefore been placed in the infantry if he hadn’t enlisted, he said, but he was kind of glad he did.
“Joining the Navy helped me grow up a little more, become more mature,” he said. “I became less shy. I’m glad I went through it. I wasn’t glad to be in Vietnam but I was glad to be in the service.”
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