MOUNT PLEASANT, TX (KLTV) - Richard Fountain found out on his very first mission that driving an APC was one of the most dangerous jobs in Vietnam.
"We were the last vehicle to go through this little gully, and that's something you don't do in 'Nam. You don't take the same route twice, because a VC will set up a mine in the way," he said.
There were six vehicles going through the gully and Fountain's was the last in line. His platoon sergeant, a Marine captain, and six south Vietnamese marines were in the vehicle ahead.
"They went in there and hit threat mine and turned it bottom-side up, planted seven guys right there, killed seven out there and the platoon sergeant was one of them."
One of the passengers was still alive.
"He was trapped under the vehicle and we was trying to pick it up with another vehicle, rounds going off everywhere. And he said 'shoot me, shoot me, don't let me burn!' but the lieutenant wouldn't let us do it. He burned up alive."
The lieutenant was so overcome, he sat down on the side of the road with his head in his hands.
"I went to him and said, 'you've got to be a leader. This is not leadership. This is war, and you've got to take charge. He kind of looked up at me and looked around. 'Ok, I know what you're talking about,' and he took over.."
Even though Fountain was in firefights on an almost daily basis, the memory of that first landmine would haunt him. And t hough the landmine was the first, it wouldn't be the last to take the lives around him.
Fountain found that roads that had been safe the day before were deadly the next day.
"Somewhere during the night, somebody would go out there and plant a land mine," he recalled.
Even though the minds were highly explosive, they weren't always easy to recognize.
"This platoon sergeant was walking around there. He said 'what's this on the ground?' He squatted down and picked it up and when he did, it went off. What we could find of him, we put in plastic bags and sent him home."
After so many near misses from land mines, in December of '67, Fountain's personnel carrier hit one with his name on it.
"If we'd been further back it could have got me, or could have turned the vehicle bottom-sides upward."
Fountain considers himself lucky to have survived the blast.
"There's the Purple Heart you had to wait so long for."
Forty years after being wounded in Vietnam, Richard Fountain was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds received there. He's proud of his Purple Heart and his service in Vietnam.
"I feel good. We needed to be there."