Cover image for From classrooms to claymores : a teacher at war in Vietnam
From classrooms to claymores : a teacher at war in Vietnam
Schneider, Ches.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ivy Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
276 pages : illustrations ; 18 cm
General Note:
Includes a glossary.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DS559.5 .S36 1999 Adult Mass Market Paperback Central Closed Stacks
DS559.5 .S36 1999 Adult Mass Market Paperback Central Closed Stacks

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"Vietnam was a fantasy life of gunfire, blood,
heat, and superhuman toil."nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

By late 1969, the end of the war was just over the horizon. But for Ches Schneider, a drafted schoolteacher turned infantry grunt in the deadly Central Highlands, it was just beginning. This story of a Missouri boy, told with grit and honesty, describes the stark transition from the normalcy of schooldays to the life-and-death drama endured daily in Vietnam's bloody jungles.

As a soldier in the 1st Infantry Division, Schneider went out on twelve-man search-and-destroy combat missions, never knowing whether the next moment would bring an ambush, a firefight, or eternal oblivion. Later, when the Big Red One rotated back to the U.S., he was transferred to the 1st Cav and fought it out with the NVA in the steamy jungles of Phuoc Long Province near the Cambodian border. As an ordinary man in extraordinary times, Schneider realistically captures the pain, loss, sacrifice, and courage of the men who fought for their lives even as the war wound down . . . .

Author Notes

Ches Schneider has been teaching English and history since 1966. During 1969 and 1970, he served in two combat units, the First Infantry Division and the First Air Cavalry, in the Republic of Vietnam. His military awards include the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star for Valor, the Army Commendation Medal, an Air Medal for twenty-five combat assaults, and various Vietnamese citations. After serving in Vietnam, Ches returned to the Parkway School District and, in addition to his teaching responsibilities, has been the Department Chair of Unified Studies (a combination of English and history) for twenty-five years. He has coached track and football for seventeen years and is currently active in student-teacher development for various universities in the St. Louis area. As an educational consultant for the Reading Across Disciplines (RAD) program, Schneider has given seminars nationwide.



CHAPTER 1     Twenty-twenty Hindsight   I don't believe that people can foretell the future, and I know for certain that I don't possess any such psychic powers. If I did, I would have had better experiences with the stock market or, when I was dating, I would have saved a good deal of dinner and movie money uselessly spent only to get a good-night kiss and nothing else.   No, I can't see into the future, but I think everyone, including myself, has inklings of things to come. Maybe it is not even a premonition of future events. Maybe it is a longing for some particular event to take place. To be more exact, it might be that we wish so hard that something good or dread so much that something bad will happen that we subconsciously guide our lives in that direction. A gambler who keeps entering the million-dollar sweepstakes wins it, and the person who has always feared cancer comes down with the "Big C." Those people have more than good or bad luck in common. They have subconscious mental processes at work shaping their future. I was the same way regarding service in the United States military.   I always seemed to feel or know that someday I would serve in the U.S. Army. That I might someday be a sailor, an airman, or a Marine never held a viable place in my mind. I'm sure that I was influenced by my brief memories of life in Tullahoma, Tennessee, where I lived with my family during World War II. My father served in the military police and guarded German prisoners of war who were brought back to the United States for safekeeping until Hitler and his men had been defeated.   I'm sure that these feelings were reinforced during my Cold War childhood in the fifties. And I suspect that 1950s television programs, such as Combat, played their part as well. Someday, someway, somehow, I subconsciously hoped and dreaded that I, too, would take part in mankind's time-honored tradition of warfare. I knew it in my heart, and although consciously fighting the trepidation, I still gloried in my great expectations.   This was, of course, an internal battle. Outwardly, I was like any other kid of the sixties. After high school, I went on to college to glean an education geared toward upper-middle-class employment. As an astronaut or rocket scientist, I would help America beat our economic and political adversaries, the Russians, into space. I could kill two noble birds with one educational stone. College as a draft deferment rarely crossed my mind.   Upon discovering that my gray matter didn't include a calculus section, and that astronauts couldn't be nearsighted, I redirected my goals from engineering to teaching. Following the old saying, "Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach," I decided that I would teach the astronauts of the future the history and English that they would need to beat the Russians to the moon. Besides, teaching with its job security, three-month vacation, relatively high social position, and lack of heavy, dirty labor seemed to best fit my tastes.   Like most wild and crazy college students, girls, fraternity parties, and occasional study filled my time and helped to obscure what was of national and international importance. In the early sixties, the kernel of war in Vietnam was growing, but to me, it was still small and far away. I could make my C average and still make the fraternity weekend blast or snuggle in the backseat of my '54 Plymouth with Barb, the Frito-Lay. Barb was nicknamed after her favorite snack and sport. College life was good. And as a conscientious Sigma Chi, I considered major problems--such as whom to allow to pledge our fraternity--more pressing than domestic or foreign affairs. Money was scarce, but I could earn enough working part-time at a grocery store to get by. Donations from my parents were never rejected.   College led to student teaching, and student teaching led to a full-time teaching position. The big payoff was at hand. I was hired to teach history and English in a cozy, all-white, suburban junior high school located outside of St. Louis, Missouri. I commenced to earn moderately good money and work in a challenging atmosphere. I was surrounded by young male teachers and, more important, young female teachers. "Real" life held many of the same elements as college. But I had more money to spend and was considered a pillar of the community. I was no longer a boolah-boolah college kid wet behind the ears, but "Mr. Schneider," the teacher. My ego got the best of me, and I began work on a master's degree at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. Soon I might become Mr. Schneider, the school principal or even Dr. Schneider, the district superintendent. The fact that being a teacher would also keep me draft exempt was of minor importance.   All this time, the war in Vietnam continued to grow. It had, in fact, reached a flash point both in Vietnam and the United States. Nineteen sixty-seven and -eight were tumultuous times. Bolstered by my draft deferaient for teaching, I was in the forefront of the battle to defeat the powers of Communism, if not abroad, certainly at home. The domestic enemy seemed to be Jane Fonda, draft dodgers, hippies, yippies, zippies, Weathermen, and other unwelcome trash such as dopers and long-haired, weirdo freaks. But the philosophies of those types made great inroads into the teen and preteen culture, and those anti-authority, antimom, anti-apple pie, antibarber, prodrug attitudes were ruining a whole generation of kids.   "hough junior high school students lacked the intellectual sophistication to understand the substance of the sixties protest movement, they enjoyed duplicating the form. A typical class discussion in social studies usually developed into ...   "Mr. Schneider, Mr. Schneider!" In the back of the room, Frank was trying to get my attention. I was a bit conservative in my teaching. I still required the students to call me mister, and to use my last name. Many teachers, following the trend of the day, allowed students to call them by their first name or a nickname like "Aunt Dixie." Sixties teachers reasoned that educators and students were equals. I did, too, so I called each of my students mister or miss and used their last names.   "Yes, Mr. Green?" I responded.   "Vietnam is a bummer, man!" he drawled in an obvious attempt to forestall the scheduled American history test on the Jacksonian Era.   "Where is Vietnam, Mr. Green?"   "I don't know, man, somewhere over there," he stated with a vague wave of his arm at the faded world map that hung from hooks on my classroom wall.   "If you don't know where we are fighting, do you know who we are fighting? Or why we are involved in this conflict?"   "No, I don't know none of that there stuff, but I know that I want to make love, not war."   Sensing a teachable moment to discuss the Constitutional issues involved, I queried, "Why is this war different from World War I or II? Is it a Constitutional war? Which branch of government has the power to declare war?"   "I don't know, man, but I hear they got good dope in Nam!"   With this, the class erupted into the usual panic of "tee hee" laughter as if they knew some secret that I didn't. I would get revenge when I graded their tests.   The form of protest and the words were more or less correct, but the insight and the understanding of what was at stake went over the heads of the junior-high students. The late sixties was a time in our history when we shook the country right down to its foundations and found it to be strong. Watergate would do the same in the seventies. The United States government, guided by the Constitution, survived both, and the country held together.   As I started my second year of teaching. I was getting too old to be seriously considered for military service either foreign or domestic. I was almost twenty-six. At that magic age, Uncle Sam granted to all American males who had skillfully avoided being selected from the draft pool a special dispensation--a permanent pass on being drafted to the military, an end to the annual spring reclassification process I had already undergone every June since turning eighteen: Sometime during May, I would receive a letter stating that my file had been reviewed by the local draft board and that I had been reclassified as 1A, prime meat.   I would halfheartedly talk to all the armed service recruiters about signing up with their respective branches of the service if my deferment didn't come through. But my 2A reserve classification always did, and I would be free from worry for another year. The nightmare of military service and the dream of heroic deeds would fade.   The summer of 1967, Uncle Sam almost got me. It was very close. I had even taken the Army Officers Candidate School test and the army physical. I passed both. My deferment didn't show up, and I was on the way to sign the final army enlistment papers, when in an act of desperation I called home in the futile hope that the mail would produce a reprieve. The mail at our house didn't contain a letter, but my dad, who was a postal employee at our local post office, checked the late-arriving mail, and there it was. I had my 2-A deferment for another year. If I could get one more deferment in the spring of '68, I would be home free.   Many people of that era have similar horror stories. Some missed being drafted by an equally lucky phone call. Others were fortunate enough to have been involved in an automobile accident that had caused them to be temporarily or permanently physically unfit. Really good high school and college athletes could point to knees that showed signs of cartilage removal and declare themselves draft liabilities. Some people knew members of Congress, or a local draft board member was an uncle. Some joined the FBI or the National Guard. A few people headed for Canada or foreign countries. Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and used a religious conversion as an excuse. Choose one. All were ways out.   Excerpted from From Classrooms to Claymores: A Teacher at War in Vietnam by Ches Schneider All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.