2016-11-10 / Front Page

Overcoming the dogs of war

Vietnam had major impact, both good and bad, on local veteran

Vietnam War veteran Bill Yaley is shown at his home in Mariposa County. Yaley served as a platoon commander in Vietnam. 
Photo by Greg Little Vietnam War veteran Bill Yaley is shown at his home in Mariposa County. Yaley served as a platoon commander in Vietnam. Photo by Greg Little The dogs of war don’t negotiate
The dogs of war won’t capitulate,
They will take and you will give,
And you must die so that they may live
You can knock at any door,
But wherever you go, you know they’ve been there before
Well winners can lose and things can get strained
But whatever you change, you know the dogs remain.
Pink FloydDogs of War”
From the album,Momentary Lapse of Reason”

This photo shows Mariposa County resident Bill Yaley while he was serving in Vietnam in the 1960s. He’s since written a book about a little-known adoption program that happened near the end of the war. 
Submitted photo This photo shows Mariposa County resident Bill Yaley while he was serving in Vietnam in the 1960s. He’s since written a book about a little-known adoption program that happened near the end of the war. Submitted photo Bill Yaley knows war. He also knows politics.

Those two came together in the 1960s and the result was the Vietnam War, a battle that lasted more than 10 years and resulted in the death of more than 47,000 American troops.

Yaley was in Vietnam during the first year of the war in 1965.

“It was very scary,” said Yaley, who has lived in Mariposa for the past 40 years after growing up in the Bay Area.

Yaley enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps while still in college. It was a platoon leaders class and he signed up as a sophomore. In doing that, he was able to get on a fast track to become a commissioned officer. He spent six months in officer’s school and joined the Fleet Marine Force.

He was an infantry officer in 1963 and then a platoon commander in 1965.

And then the orders came. At the time, he was in cold-weather training in Japan and when orders came for the group to ship to south Asia, he said they were not that upset because it was so much warmer in that climate.

But they didn’t know exactly where they were going.

It turns out they were in a ship headed to Da Nang. He said they sat off the coast of Vietnam for three weeks before making an amphibious landing.

During that time, Yaley said he “did a lot of reading.”

Part of that reading was learning how the French operated in Vietnam because they had been there for 10 years.

What he thought was America was making the same mistake.

“That war could have been over in a year,” said Yaley of America’s involvement in Vietnam. “That is my opinion.”

The reason?

“The politicians ran the war,” said Yaley.

And it was the politicians, he said, who developed “rules of engagement.”

“There were so many things you couldn’t do,” said Yaley.

For instance, Yaley said orders came down that weapons could not be loaded while they were on patrol. He also said troops were told they could not shoot at the enemy until they were fired upon.

Needless to say, some of those orders were not followed.

Nonetheless, Yaley still had a job to do.

A scary existence

After three weeks of waiting at sea, he said the amphibious landing happened. He said they didn’t know if they would be fired upon or not. Fortunately, they were not.

His platoon was stationed about 10 miles outside of Da Nang, in jungle and mountainous terrain.

Their job was to do patrols, looking for the enemy.

“It was nerve wracking,” said Yaley.

He said the troops mainly moved at night. In the daytime, he said, the enemy might see you. At night, he said they “may hear you” but not see the location.

Yaley also said he was fortunate to have two Native Americans in his company who worked as scouts. He said they would be shown a location on a map and every time, they would find that location for the troops.

“They were amazing,” said Yaley.

The whole point of what they were doing was trying to find the location of the enemy, he said. Once that happened, they would then be able to tell their superiors, who would then decide what kind of engagement to undertake.

That could be everything from mortar fire to calling in air power.

“It’s a very scary existence,” said Yaley. “You become a real believer in God.”

In 1965, he said American troops were mainly engaged in “guerrilla warfare” as opposed to the “mass attacks” that came later in the conflict, which was never declared a war by the U.S. Congress.

A clear memory

During his four months in Vietnam, one particular event happened that remains vivid in Yaley’s mind.

The platoon learned that Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander of all forces in Vietnam, was going to pay a visit.

When Westmoreland came to where they were located, Yaley said various people were assigned to spend time with him and his entourage.

By chance, Yaley was assigned to Westmoreland and spent an hour in a Jeep with the general.

“He was a military guy,” said Yaley.

Yaley said Westmoreland asked intriguing and relevant questions about the troops and their strategies. Though Yaley said the general couldn’t say it, he thinks Westmoreland felt the same as him, that the war could have been over quickly if the military would have been in charge instead of the politicians.

After four months as a platoon leader on the ground in Vietnam, Yaley said he was then ordered to Okinawa where he was to be part of guerrilla warfare training. It was decided that soldiers coming to Vietnam should be trained for guerrilla warfare and they wanted people who had been in the fighting in Vietnam to do the training.

Yaley said he was happy to leave Vietnam and do the training. By 1966, he decided the time had arrived for him to leave the military. He was newly married and wanted to go in a different direction.

“I love the Marine Corps,” said Yaley. “I want to emphasize that. But it was time for me to get out.”

Lingering effects

But even after coming home, Yaley said it was “very difficult” because of the protests in America against the war.

People called returning veterans “baby killers and other names,” he said.

Yet Yaley believes to this day the cause of America was right but the execution of the war was wrong because of the political involvement from Washington.

But even with that, Yaley points out that Communism didn’t spread into the region as some had feared. It remains to this day in Vietnam, but many other surrounding nations live under democratic rule. He thinks even though the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, it stopped the spread of Communism.

And Yaley knows a thing or two about Vietnam.

First, he’s been back to the country twice since the war and said he has been treated “extremely well” by the people of that nation.

Yaley said he has “no animosity” toward the people of Vietnam.

He also said many Vietnamese people still aspire to be free.

“Every person under the age of 50 told me, ‘My dream is to go to America,’” said Yaley.

That, he says, shows why America remains the strongest nation on earth.

“Why do you think everyone wants to come here?” he said.

A baby and a book

Yaley also has another very close tie to Vietnam — so much so he wrote a book.

In the 1970s, Yaley and his wife, Arlene, set out to adopt a girl. They had three sons, Tim, Kevin and Michael, and wanted to add to the family. However, he said when people had children, it was difficult to adopt because so many childless couples were seeking children.

They were then told that Asian countries were allowing adoptions, including Vietnam.

They had befriended a Catholic nun who was central in the adoption process. After riding the up and down the waves of the adoption process, one day a call came and they were told their child was going to be in San Francisco. She was part of “Operation Babylift” that brought thousands of orphans out of Vietnam during the final weeks of the war.

They went to San Francisco and Yaley, who had identification credentials, was sent into the warehouse where hundreds of children were waiting for their adoptive parents.

He emerged from the building with their new daughter, Kateri, just five weeks old.

The nun who helped them: Sister Kateri.

Today, Kateri Yaley Garcia is age 41 and a teacher in Merced.

They also adopted two other girls, Darcy and Mollie, both from Korea.

Sadly, Mollie died in 2002 in a scuba diving accident in Monterrey Bay.

All six of the Yaley children graduated from Mariposa County High School. The five who are still living are all married and doing well, he said.

Because of the experience he had in adopting Kateri, Yaley began thinking about Operation Babylift and how it was not known by that many people.

Though Yaley said it was not their original intention to get a baby in that manner, it happened to work out. That, coupled with his connection to Vietnam, prompted him to write “Struggle to Survive.”

Though it is fiction, it is based in fact and focuses on Operation Babylift and the final two months of the war in Vietnam.

Yaley said it took him two years to write the book and it was published by a group in Indiana — where Yaley went to school at Notre Dame University. He said sales are “doing well.”

The scars of war

Yaley to this day remains active in the Mariposa VFW Post #642, including being a member of the Honor Guard.

As part of that membership, Yaley said he sees the scars of the Vietnam War.

He said when the war ended in 1975, “no one talked about the war.”

That, he said, was the case for decades, saying it hasn’t been until the past 10 years that more people are talking about the war and its impact on the veterans.

“A lot of guys were affected,” said Yaley.

Yaley said war, indeed, is hell.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” he said. “It can drive you nuts.”

Yaley should know, but he also knows that good can come from anything.

He has a loving family, is celebrating 50 years of marriage, has written a book and had a successful career as a real estate appraiser.

The dogs of war indeed remain, but they can be overcome.

Greg Little is Editor of the Mariposa Gazette and can be reached at greg@mariposagazette.com.

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I am delighted to see this

I am delighted to see this tribute to the most honest, ethical man I know, and a heck of a fine book author. Tough times can have happy endings.

Great article about Bill

Great article about Bill Yaley.

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