“I’d Get To See It All, Exploding Right There In Front Of Me”: A Forward Observer In Vietnam

Hiram "Sonny" Slawter


Hiram “Sonny” Slawter was born in Rutland, Ohio, in 1944, and grew up on his parents’ farm with his three sisters and two brothers. After high school, he attended Rio Grande College in Ohio and then Eastern Kentucky University, where he studied biology and chemistry. He met his future wife, Karen, in a ballroom dance class. At EKU, ROTC was a required class for two years, but Sonny completed four years of the program because he was paid for participating during the last two years. Wednesdays were “Drill Days,” and he enjoyed the training and the history classes ROTC required. Attending college in the mid-60s, he noticed changing reactions to the ROTC presence on campus. Upon graduating from college in 1968, he commissioned into the Field Artillery, married Karen, and began his training at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. After his time at Ft. Sill, the Slawters moved to Ft. Polk, Louisiana, where Sonny was assigned to an AIT (Advanced Infantry Training) unit at Tigerland, a job he took seriously because he knew that the Soldiers he was training were going to Vietnam “real soon.” Within 6 months he had orders for Vietnam, deploying in September 1969. Arriving in-country, he was assigned as a forward observer in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. During his year in Vietnam, he spent time in the A Shau Valley, and met Karen in Hawaii for R&R. After returning to the United States, he was discharged as a First Lieutenant at Ft. Lewis Washington, but entered the Army Reserve as an Engineer in the 100th Division, serving for another five years before leaving the military as a Captain. After returning from Vietnam, he earned a degree at the University of Cincinnati and became a pharmacist. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his experiences in high school and college, and his service in Vietnam. He describes his deployment to Vietnam as a forward observer, recalling typical days and vivid memories. He reflects on his family, including his children Paige (born at Ft. Polk), John, Susan, and Michael. John attended the Military Academy (USMA 96), commissioning as an Engineer, and Michael commissioned through the University of Kentucky ROTC program before serving 6 years as an Artillery Officer. Finally, he shares what his service in the Army means to him. Watch his wife’s interview – Karen Slawter.


conflicts Vietnam War
topics Leadership Teamwork Camaraderie Returning from War Military Family Life After Military
interviewer David Siry
date 06 June 2021


name Hiram "Sonny" Slawter
institution Rio Grande College; Eastern Kentucky University; University of Cincinnati
graduation year 1968
service Field Artillery; Engineer
unit 196th Light Infantry Brigade; 100th Division
specialty Forward Observer
service dates 1968 1976