Vietnam War veteran recalls building things, blowing stuff up

Lauren Wood | Daily Journal Lou Remmers, a Tupelo physical therapist, spent the past 20 years – off and on – writing down his memories. A signing for "Reflections on Murky Water: My Vietnam Chronicle" will be 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at Reed's Gum Tree Bookstore.

Lauren Wood | Daily Journal
Lou Remmers, a Tupelo physical therapist, spent the past 20 years – off and on – writing down his memories. A signing for “Reflections on Murky Water: My Vietnam Chronicle” will be 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore.

By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – In the late 1960s, Lou Remmers spent a lot of his time either building things or blowing stuff up.

The Navy trained him in Gulfport to join the Seabees, more formerly known as Construction Battalion. He went to Vietnam to build roads, schools, hospitals, drainage systems, water purification plants and forward operating bases.

“Whatever they needed, really,” the 67-year-old Tupelo resident said.

During part of his tour, he worked with the State Department’s counter-insurgency team and built projects, including a farmer’s market, for villagers.

“We hired the locals. A couple of my workers were on the other team,” he said. “They knew it. I knew it, but we were doing infrastructure for them. They didn’t shoot at me.”

Remmers also volunteered to be trained as a Navy diver in San Diego. Out of 18 to start the program, four graduated.

They were known as the “three wild kids and one old man.”

The old man was 27.

“You get a 20-year-old and some explosives and it didn’t get better than that,” Remmers said. “They gave you three squares a day and a place to sleep, and let you blow things up.”

The military used Vietnam’s rivers as a highway system during the war. Remmers wore a 210-pound dive suit and performed salvage operations for casualties and equipment.

“Most of the stuff I did was horrible, filthy. It’s like diving into someone’s septic tank,” he said. “It was hard work. You slept really good, and you couldn’t eat enough food.”

It wasn’t all work. One time he threw a hefty chunk of C4 explosives into the water. The resulting splash shot 30 to 40 feet in the air.

“We got a whole boatload of fish,” Remmers said. “We fed everybody in a couple of villages. It was some fish I had never seen before.”

After Vietnam, Remmers became a physical therapist and settled in Tupelo in 1986.

His experiences from the war stayed on his mind, so he began writing stories approximately 20 years ago. When a laptop died and took all his work with it, he started over.

“Some of the stories, I’d get done writing and think, sheesh, we couldn’t really do this in the military,” he said. “Then I went to a reunion in Gulfport and I started talking to my buddies, and yeah, it really happened, all right.”

His first plan was to make the book a family affair, something his two daughters could enjoy. But he decided to turn “Reflections on Murky Water: My Vietnam Chronicle” into a fundraiser for the effort to build a 60 percent replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at Veterans Park in Tupelo.

The book will be available for $20 at Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore, and a signing will be 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday.

“All the proceeds, if we sell any, will go to the wall,” he said.

No matter how well the book does, Remmers has more stories to tell, a few of which even he isn’t sure to believe.

“I’m going to rest a little bit,” he said, “and then get started on writing some more.”

scott.morris@journalinc.com