Ray Cage is a combat vet and Agent Orange vet, he was deployed to Vietnam in November 1969 at Cam Ranh Bay under the 1st Cavalry Division, and he participated in the illegal invasion of Cambodia, under Richard Nixon.
“I had some close calls. I just started to have some misgivings about what I was doing as a human being, and that’s when I announced— I’m pretty sure I’d been in country and in combat for nine months and then that’s when I went to command and announced that I would not carry a weapon anymore and that I would not participate. And so I didn’t realize that it was probably— that there was a big movement of that going on all amongst the ranks in the war machine in Vietnam, that people were refusing to participate.”
“They followed through with a court-martial. They court-martialed me, and they dropped me in rank, which moved me down to a lower pay grade.”
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This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” This year marks 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. Interview and edit by John Luckenbaugh. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer.
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Ray Cage: I had some close calls. I just started to have some misgivings about what I was doing as a human being, and that’s when I announced— I’m pretty sure I’d been in country and in combat for nine months and then that’s when I went to command and announced that I would not carry a weapon anymore and that I would not participate. And so I didn’t realize that it was probably— that there was a big movement of that going on all amongst the ranks in the war machine in Vietnam, that people were refusing to participate.
John Luckenbaugh: This Courage to Resist podcast is produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace. My name is John Luckenbaugh. My guest today is Ray Cage, a 72-year-old nomad, father and life member of Veterans For Peace. He was born in San Antonio, Texas, and enlisted at El Paso, Texas, in June 1969 while 22 years old. A combat vet and Agent Orange vet, he was deployed to Vietnam in November 1969 at Cam Ranh Bay under the 1st Cavalry Division, and he participated in the illegal invasion of Cambodia, under Richard Nixon. Welcome, Ray. Can you give us a brief overview of your life leading up to volunteering?
Ray Cage: Well, I was 22 years old, and I’d come out of a middle-class family. My father was an airline pilot. We moved around quite a bit. And so I was freshly divorced. I’d only been divorced months. And I didn’t talk to anybody actually at all; I didn’t have any real serious political leanings. I would say that it was probably just a change that I felt like was necessary, and I just threw myself into the wind.
Ray Cage: When I did go down to the recruitment office to sign up, I did request to go to Vietnam. So I mean, looking back on it, I always liked to think that I was kind of being self-destructive, that I had a low self image of myself. And I had a basic education, a high-school education and so I went. And I went through basic training in El Paso, Texas, Fort Bliss, and then from there I went to Fort Ord, California for AIT, advanced infantry training. And then I had 30 days off, and then they cut me orders to go to Vietnam, and I was on my way.
John Luckenbaugh: What was your military service in Vietnam?
Ray Cage: When I landed in Cam Ranh Bay, I was assigned to a company, 1st Cavalry Division, and I always remember very clearly, they didn’t tell us that the company was pinned down in triple canopy jungle. They cleared a clearing for the helicopter, and they loaded me, Ed, and this other cat who was on his third tour and he was not right in the head, and they put us in the company, and I got my taste of battle right up, within one day, and I saw men shot and killed in the very first day, and I’d only been in country…not more than two weeks, about two weeks.
Ray Cage: So I was with a company about two weeks, and then a lieutenant told me that I was going to be the M-60 machine gunner. Now at that time, that was a saving grace because it kept me off point, that I didn’t have to walk point. And of course being young and kind of on the dumb side, I didn’t know that I’d been saved in a sense, okay? And that’s what my job was, and we went from there.
John Luckenbaugh: Was that when you were exposed to Agent Orange?
Ray Cage: No, I didn’t get exposed to Agent Orange until later in the tour. And that was something that I was not aware of because we were doing patrols— we were doing patrols through areas that had been killed by Agent Orange, and they did not inform us of that, okay? And so we got it on us through moisture. I guess it’s like an oil, and so it just clings to the plants. And when you’re breaking brush, you know, getting— going through it, it gets all over you, and plus you’re sweating and it gets on you. And so I didn’t realize— I didn’t know anything about it for quite a long time until I was out of the military and stateside and paying attention. And then actually I requested my medical records and studied my medical records, and I’m listed as an Agent Orange veteran.
John Luckenbaugh: What were a couple of the defining moments that led you to act against the war?
Ray Cage: Well, that’s a bit of a dim memory. I mean, I’m not really sure where we were sitting at when they— because we worked at Parrot’s Peak, which was an area on the Vietnam-Cambodian border, and I think that’s where we may have entered as a division. There was a lot of helicopters, a lot of troop carriers, but mainly Hueys and Cobras. When we initially went in and it was a daytime deal, broad daylight, and I always remember, we landed on the top of a mountain. That was the big plane, and we were left there, and then we had no conflict. I mean, nothing with the opposition, because I don’t call them “the enemy.” Yeah, we had no engagement with the other side at all, and it was just like a cakewalk.
Ray Cage: I was really shocked about how beautiful it was. It was so— because I was raised part of my life out in the country here in Texas, and so I have a sense of nature, and so it was like— it was another awakening for me as an individual that we were destroying something that was very beautiful. And I don’t know, if we— we might’ve spent one night and then we got loaded up and went back the next day and that was pretty much it. And then Richard Nixon got his ears teared— pinned back for the invasion. Because there was the—
Ray Cage: What I had done is, I’d extended my tour of duty another six months when I learned that I wouldn’t have to be dealing with the military when I got back, that I would be derossed out, and so I’d be done with them. And so I had extended the tour of duty, and I left my ground unit, and then they assigned me to a helicopter unit as a door gunner, all right? And I was a Bird Dog; I was part of a Bird Dog team. I was on a low flying treetop to draw fire with a Cobra above us to slam dunk on them when they opened up on us.
Ray Cage: So I had some close calls. I just started having some misgivings about what I was doing as a human being, and that’s when I announced— I’m pretty sure I’d been in country and in combat for nine months, and then that’s when I went to command and announced that I would not carry a weapon anymore and that I would not participate. And so I didn’t realize that it was probably— that there was a big movement of that going on all amongst the ranks in the war machine in Vietnam, that people were refusing to participate.
John Luckenbaugh: When you refused, did they threaten you with a court-martial or prison time?
Ray Cage: They told me right up that I couldn’t do it. Then I says, “Well, I AM doin’ it.” And I said, “I quit.” Well, they followed through. They followed through with a court-martial. They court-martialed me, and they dropped me in rank, which moved me down to a lower pay grade, because I was probably on the verges of being an E5. I was at SPC4 and so they dropped me all the way back to E1, and— which was a cut in pay grade. And then they took me out and they took away all my medals that I earned.
John Luckenbaugh: Wait, wait. Wow. What medals did they take away?
Ray Cage: There was a combat— there was a rifleman— …participating in combat, being in combat. And then I’d earned two— I’d earned the Bronze Star from being in firefights. And then I earned my combat medal badge from being in firefights from the air. But they took ’em all away, and that’s— you know, I was like, “That’s fine; that’s all good.” And then they put me on light duty. I went home in December back to Fort Hood, Texas, and that was 19— that was December of 1970.
John Luckenbaugh: When you were court-martialed, were you supported by your fellow GIs?
Ray Cage: Yeah. Yeah, oh yeah. When I remember my court-martial, that I actually had a couple of friends come in to be there while I was court-martialed. They did— They had a prison in Vietnam, which was located in Long Binh, and so we tagged it with “LBJ”— we called it the LBJ [chuckles], LBJ. And it wasn’t just a jail, it was a prison, so– and there was a— all ethnic groups were in there.
John Luckenbaugh: Do you think the majority of GIs felt the same way?
Ray Cage: That was a process. You know, it wasn’t an immediate deal. I just— We’d have discussions among us about what we were doing when we were down in the— you know, hanging out in the jungle overnight and we’d be out walking the jungles.
John Luckenbaugh: What did it mean personally? How did those actions inform who you became?
Ray Cage: I have to do what I’m doing just because it helps me with my depression. I get— I mean, when I joined Veterans for Peace, in 1988, then I was amongst people that realized the futility of warfare, and they pulled it off, and we’re a mixed bag of marbles! And everybody’s got it [chuckling]. I mean, we’ve got career military people that are part of Veterans for Peace. I mean, they spent their whole lives in the military, you know, and like I was a short-timer. I mean, it’s really honorable to be around ’em, and you know, that they’re going up against the machine.
Ray Cage: So I— you know— but it’s difficult. It’s not easy being an activist. It’s a financial stress and an emotional stress. I mean, my family: I have a brother and sister, I have a son, I have nieces and a nephew, and they don’t want to talk about it. They know what I’m doin’, but they don’t want to get into any deep discussions. I call it the water- skimmers relationships [laughs].
John Luckenbaugh: Yeah.
Ray Cage: Personally, it didn’t mean anything to me, because I didn’t really have any clue about empire, I didn’t have any clue about imperialism, I didn’t have any clue about the history of my country. I was clueless about a lot of things. I was just being defiant as a young man. I was morally whipped, I was very defeated spiritually and ashamed of myself, and so that’s why I stopped. And then when I hit clean Texas and Fort Hood, Texas, that’s when I became aware that there was a movement going on, a very strong movement, and that’s where the 1st Cav Division is still based. You know, they’ve even expanded the base.
John Luckenbaugh: The VVAW sponsored the Winter Soldier Investigation. In what ways does a policy of the military create abhorrent behavior?
Ray Cage: Well, when you take a young guy— because they want young people, because it’s medically proven that the brain is not fully developed until you’re 25, okay? So they want young people right out of high school, because they can manipulate them and mold them into killers. And that’s what’s been going on since, I guess, imperialism got its foot— foot on the ground. And so it’s just easy to manipulate a young person.
Ray Cage: Now they’re doin’ it— the women are getting manipulated into doing it too. And then now it’s got— because of my generation and how Vietnam went— went down for ’em, and we lost the war, we got kicked out of Vietnam, and so they went back to the table, went behind closed doors and started figuring out, you know, how can we approach this differently to convince them that they can kill for mom, apple pie, and the flag, and not worry about themselves.
John Luckenbaugh: What could have stopped the war sooner?
Ray Cage: I am pretty good about contacting my representatives on a congressional level, the state level, the senators via the Internet. Once in a while, I do call and will talk to an aide and express my frustration over what’s going on.
John Luckenbaugh: What nonviolent action could— can be done to reach the GIs?
Ray Cage: People not participating, in essence, that’s— in all branches. We’re talking about those Air Force pilots that drop bombs with no mercy, you know, and went home and had a beer. All branches have to shut down to end the warfare.
John Luckenbaugh: What would you say to change the opinion of someone who hasn’t had firsthand experience with war, and they’re indifferent about the military?
Ray Cage: Hmm. I don’t think that’s— I know if it’s possible! You’re talking about a human interaction between humans . Because we’ve got young people that are programmed by electronics, by— there’s so much interference in their brains. And then if they’re raised to hunt and to go out and use a weapon to kill animals but they don’t take the animal home and eat it, that they’re just killing the animal and leaving it, so what is that? Is that word “narcissist”? Because if I look back on my own as a young man, the information was out there for me not to sign on the dotted line and go in, and I was oblivious to it! And would I listen to some elder who would sit down and say, “You know, there’s another side of life there, young fella. [chuckling] You don’t have to go over and conquer some other country for resources, you know, and die for it.”
John Luckenbaugh: Absolutely man, absolutely. Well Ray, thanks for your time today, sharing your experiences of the Vietnam War, your thoughts on resisting, and your continued activism. You’re an inspiration to us all. Thank you.
John Luckenbaugh: This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace. This marks 50 years of GI resistance to the US War in Vietnam, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. This episode was recorded and edited by Cued Up Audio Services. Special thanks to our executive producer, Jeff Paterson. Visit vietnamfulldisclosure.org and couragetoresist.org for past episodes, more information,and to offer your support.