Kittitas County Community Events Calendar
VIETNAM VETERANS DAY KEYNOTER SERVED ON SUBS, IN SEABEES
After two years aboard a submarine, tracking Russian listening stations disguised as fishing trawlers along the Eastern seaboard, Jim Freed transferred to the Navy Seabees so he could go to Vietnam.
While others fled to Canada to dodge the draft, Freed sought a transfer to fight in Vietnam.
"I'm from a family of German-Irish men that fought in every war," said Freed, a Washington State University natural resources extension professor in Shelton who will share his story during the 16th Annual Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day.
The Aug. 3 event, free to the public, begins at 11 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis. The event recognizes all who served during the Vietnam War era.
Freed, who grew up on an Ohio dairy farm, described his military enlistment as "a good chance to see the world." After graduating from high school, he worked on a farm for a year before enlisting in the Navy.
"It was that or milk cows," said Freed, who has five sisters. "One of the reasons I went in is so I could get the G.I. bill."
He attended boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill. "On the dairy farm in Ohio, I had to work at 5 in the morning," he recalled. "Boot camp was easy; I didn't get up until 6 a.m."
After submarine school, Freed cruised near Florida aboard the USS Sea Poacher for two years, then enlisted in the Navy Construction Battalion and took nine weeks of training in California.
"Seabee basic training is the same as Marines," he said. "When we were building a base or air strip, we provided all our own protection. We needed basic skills with weapons."
In August 1968, he shipped to Da Nang as part of the 3rd Naval Construction Brigade's administrative command for all Vietnam. Freed worked in logistics, matching supplies with requests.
"So if the Marines wanted something - say, an air base built - they talked to the admiral and if he said yes, then they came to our office," he said. "The Seabees would go out and build it for them."
Sometimes he protected Seabees building bunkers, sea huts, or bases. "Part of your life was being a clerk or personnel person or cook, and then you're told to go out and do these other duties," he said. "I fired my weapon. We were rocketed, and we took sapper fire. It was a hands-on job."
Because of his submarine experience, Freed held top-level military clearance so he was flown throughout the country as a courier.
He described helping refugees, relocated from small villages, build toilets, grow vegetable gardens, and learn English as "the best thing I did in Vietnam."
He came home in November 1969, one of nine first cousins who served.
"In Hawaii they made us change to civilian clothes because we weren't allowed to go through airports in uniform," Freed said. "People would spit on you and throw things at you in Los Angeles.
"It's really interesting to see the way people in the military are being treated now versus the way we were treated."
Freed married and studied forestry at Ohio State University, where he earned master's degrees in education and business marketing. He accepted the WSU job in 1977. As special forest products agent, he teaches landowners growing mushrooms, Christmas trees, timber, floral greenery, and other crops. He and his wife have a daughter and two grandchildren.
Freed served several years in the reserves and 12 years in the Washington State National Guard, and, he said, "I would do it all over again in a heartbeat."