Leland Bryant was born in 1949 and grew up in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, with his three brothers and two sisters. His father worked in a steel mill and his mother worked for Sylvania. He describes his time in high school as hard, noting that he “liked to be alone.” In 1969, he was drafted and briefly considered going to Canada. After arriving at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, for basic training, he thought he “had made a mistake.” He found the PT (physical training) challenging and he failed to qualify with the M-60 machine gun (he was later a well-regarded M-60 gunner in Vietnam). His Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. Leonard Wood was not much better than basic training. In March 1970, he deployed to Vietnam, and his first duty was a month of pulling guard duty at Bien Hoa Airbase. He remembers being hot, sweaty, and scared after he was finally sent to the 1st Cavalry Division, where he was assigned to carry the M-60. He describes typical patrols, carrying the gun and 200 rounds of ammunition while his ammo bearers each carried 300 rounds. Normally, he was the 4th or 5th Soldier in line while moving through the field. He describes several patrols he was on, including a firefight when the RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) was hit by a rocket, and when Sergeant Orpin was shot. He shares a story of swimming and bathing in a river and describes it as a “beautiful place.” He remembers visiting Australia on R&R leave, and redeploying with Paul Gregg. He recalls the fight at Firebase David on June 14, 1970, when North Vietnamese Sappers attempted to infiltrate the base. What “started as an ordinary night” rapidly changed at 0200 when Leland, watching the wire around the perimeter, noticed what “looked like heads in the barbed wire.” Instinctively, he opened fire with a machine gun, which foiled the North Vietnamese stealth approach to the camp. For his actions during the battle, Leland was awarded the Silver Star, and given a WWII German Luger that was recovered from a dead North Vietnamese Officer. After returning from Vietnam, Leland left the Army. He held a variety of jobs, including pumping gas, before using the GI Bill to attend a Vocational Technical School and becoming a welder. He then reentered the Army and served 8 more years. He later moved to Florida and worked for the City of Clearwater Water Department.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, being drafted, and serving in Vietnam. He shares many stories of his time in the military, although he struggles to remember certain details. He vividly recalls an instance in which his buddy put a rock in his rucksack and Leland carried it around for a while before discovering the trick. He hated his time in Vietnam, but is glad he made it home, noting that his service “made me grow up.” He states that he “can’t listen to Taps,” and says, “I shot people and have to deal with it.”