Born in 1943 in Manchester, in a house where “you couldn’t rub two nickels together,” Armand Francoeur has lived a life that not many have the opportunity to tell.
Francoeur, a 28 year war veteran, served in Vietnam for one year and spent the rest of his career in the Army Reserves. Only the second person in his family to go to college, Francoeur graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1965 with a degree in hotel administration and was a member of Sigma Beta fraternity.
Francoeur had what is now considered an unconventional path into the U.S. Army, but he explained that for the time and where he was, the path was like every other.
“When I went to school at UNH, every able-bodied male was required to go into the ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] program for two years,” Francoeur said. “After your two years was up, you had the choice to sign up to further your career in the army or walk away.”
On March 8, 1965, former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent 3,500 soldiers to the shores of the central coastal city of Danang, Vietnam to support the Saigon government against Communism. This was the start of what is now known as the Vietnam War, a war in which is not considered a victory by U.S. military standards, and Francoeur found himself in the middle of it all.
Once Francoeur graduated UNH along with his then girlfriend, Nancy, he was shipped off to Fort Gordon, Georgia for nine weeks training as a commissioned signal corps officer and then to Michigan as a signal corps officer, second lieutenant. It was there in Michigan that Francoeur received his orders to ship out to Vietnam in May of 1966.
When Francoeur received his orders, like most others around him, he immediately married his girlfriend as they had planned.
Francoeur made it to Vietnam in early August of 1966 and split his year in the two main cities of Nha Trang and Pleiku. Francoeur described his experience in Vietnam as “surreal” and shared his time there as something you wouldn’t necessarily expect. During his time in Vietnam, Francoeur served as a platoon leader of a radio relay platoon. In a more basic sense, Francoeur would provide circuits and messages from the general in charge to the command force.
“There was a certain excitement to being overseas,” Francoeur said. “Every day, there was something new. Some people it seemed like their year would never end. I never had that experience. I was always busy and always had something to do.”
While in Nha Trang, Francoeur lived in a certain style that most soldiers didn’t have the luxury of living in. He lived in leased housing, surrounded by public transportation.
On the other side of the spectrum, when Francoeur was living in Pleiku, he was sleeping in tents taking weekly anti-malaria pills. Francoeur described his field experience as less chaotic than other branches such as infantry or artillery. Most of the deaths that occurred in his battalion were caused by accidents. One of the most memorable deaths he can recall, although he wasn’t present for it, was the death of his friend and fellow fraternity brother Peter Barili ’68. Barili was killed in action while stepping on an improvised explosive device; a loss of a close friend Francoeur aims to honor the memory of.
Francoeur returned home on July 30, 1967.
Francoeur was asked about lessons he learned overseas, both about himself and also what he wishes he could pass on to the younger generations of soldiers and students.
“I feel like I became a stronger and better person because of my efforts,” Francoeur said. “I think as a human being, I would have been delayed in my development without my efforts overseas.”
Francoeur mentioned that he believed that UNH produces a fantastic program of cadets out of its ROTC program.
“UNH produces outstanding military officers,” Francoeur said. “I think my message to them and to other students of this generation is that there is a price to be paid for everything in life…I came back a better person because of this war and I learned to put others before myself. This is something that I think I’d really like to pass along to the others as I tell my story, which is one of thousands. We all saw the war differently. This is my lens.”
In honor of those who served in the Vietnam War, the Vietnam War Moving Wall will be appearing at UNH May 4 – 8. The Moving Wall is half the size of the actual Vietnam War Memorial and travels across the country so that those who may not be able to make it to Washington D.C. may pay their respects.