Interview with Vietnam-Era Veteran Army Sergeant Lup-Ming Tam

Rachel Yuan '26

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Sergeant Lup-Ming Tam, a Vietnam Era Army Veteran who served at various locations,  including Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Through his experiences, Sergeant Tam gave us a unique glimpse into the challenges and sacrifices faced by soldiers who served in support roles.This perspective is often overlooked, and yet it plays a critical role in understanding the complexities and realities of military service. His accounts shed light on the importance of recognizing and honoring the contributions of all veterans, regardless of their specific duties.

(Note: This interview has been lightly edited for purposes of clarification)

Ziran (Rachel) Yuan (Reporter for The Devil’s Advocate): How and why did you join the army?

Lup-Ming Tam: The Vietnam war was going hot at that time, so there was a draft system. I went to a high school in Hong Kong, and when I came over here to try to attend college, they drafted me. I was 19 at the time.

ZY: What was basic training like?

LMT: Training is tough. You go through a lot of training to keep you in good physical condition. We did running, crawling, marching and all kinds of exercises. That’s the basics. Then they train you to use the weapons, which depend on what branch you go into. And then you get to know the different types of weapons and machinery. Now, training has really bad parts. We have to go to the tear gas training. They have a tent and the trainers have a mask on. We go into the tent and we don’t have masks. That’s the most terrible experience in training.

ZY: What was the social atmosphere like?

LMT: There were a lot of people, thousands of people. We train together, we work out together, we march together, we eat lunch together, we eat dinner together, we do everything together. It’s like a family. You watch out for each other because when you go to war, the one next to you is maybe the one to save you. And when we get time off, we go down to the beach.

ZY: Can you recount a particularly vivid memory that you have?

LMT: There was a riot in Washington DC in 1971, I think. People were against the war in Vietnam. Big protests. And then they needed the military for backup. We were driving there and getting food and blankets to the troops in Washington DC. We have a big convoy of about 50 vehicles going in a long line to Washington DC. That was a really vivid memory.

ZY: Did those anti-war sentiments impact you or your comrades?

LMT: No. We just follow orders. Whatever your commander orders, you follow. You have no choice. They don’t treat you like a human being once you are in the army, or in the air force, or whatever branch in the military. You are not a human being anymore. When soldiers die, they don’t treat your death as they would deaths from natural disasters or from other causes. They just say, oh, how many troops died. How many soldiers died and your death becomes a number. Now, everybody has different feelings about the war, but mostly people have no choices when they are in the military. When they send you to the frontline, you have to go. But other than that, you put on your uniform and you’re going to go.

ZY: Why did you choose to leave the army after serving your term?

LMT: Not treating us like humans is a big reason why a lot of people don’t want to sign up for the army or stay in it. Some people do because they want to make a career or they really love the country they want to serve. But most people don’t want to sign up for the military. When I finished my term, I had to go help out my family’s business in New York City,which prevented me from getting a college education.

ZY: What was the atmosphere like near the end of your and other comrades’ service?

LMT: We were counting how many days we had left in the army, right? You are really excited to get out. For those a couple months before you get discharged, you’re not going to do anything and they won’t send you anywhere. So the last month or two is basically just sitting there. And when we were discharged, we were happy to get out. I go and pick up my friends and go up to the town to celebrate. Celebrate the fact that I’m still alive.

ZY: How were things after you were discharged?

LMT: There was basically not much change. At first, I stayed in contact with the friends I made in the army. But after they got married and settled down here and there, they got both their own family to worry about and their job to survive. I think the first year, we kept in contact but after that, I lost contact with them. Also, after serving, we stayed for 5 years in the reserve. I have kept my uniform, some photos and other mementos from the war and it’s certainly an important period of my life.