The Christopher D. Ammons collection documents his military service during two tours in Vietnam (1967-1970). The collection includes wartime photographs of Vietnam, letters from the front, military documents typical of the period, and souvenirs collected by Ammons from his time “in country.” The material will be of significance to researchers interested in the Vietnam War and its veterans, the experiences of soldiers in modern warfare, and/or the military aspects of United States political history during the 1960s and 1970s.
Christopher D. Ammons was born in Norfolk, Virginia, on April 18, 1948, the son of Benjamin Troy Ammons and Ester Magna Randolph Ammons. His father joined the National Guard in 1928 and, when his unit was activated in 1942, served in World War II as a second lieutenant in Company M of the 117th Infantry. Benjamin Ammons remained in the army after the war, moving his family to various locations around the world before settling in Clarksville, Tennessee, in 1958.
Chris Ammons attended Clarksville High School, volunteering for service in the Army June 1, 1967, one week after graduation. He took basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and infantry training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. During this period, he and his fellow recruits were told they were guaranteed to serve as combat troops in Vietnam.
Ammons’ first deployment to Vietnam came in early November 1967, when he was sent as a replacement to the First Infantry Division (the “Big Red One”). Assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, he began his service with the rank of private first class (E-3), receiving promotions to specialist (SP/4) in March 1968 and to sergeant (E-5) in July 1968. He served as a rifleman, assigned to carry the M-79 grenade launcher. Although his base camp was at Lai Khe near Saigon, the activities of his battalion took him throughout South Vietnam, into Quan Loi, Bu Dop, Di An, Song Be, and finally Dong Tam in the Mekong Delta. During his first tour, Ammons saw frequent combat action. His assignments included patrolling for Viet Cong activity, searching for enemy weapons and supplies, protecting road-clearing equipment, and carrying out lengthy missions in the Vietnamese jungle.
After his first tour of duty ended in November 1968, Ammons returned to the United States, where he was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. There he was assigned to the armory, issuing M-14 rifles to trainees to use on the rifle range. He found this job so tedious and uninspiring that he requested a second deployment to Vietnam.
In July 1969, Ammons returned to Vietnam for his second tour. This time he was assigned to the 194th Military Police Company attached to the First Signal Brigade. His company served as a security force on Vung Chua Mountain near the port city of Qui Nhon on the South China Sea coast. The mountaintop base, which served as a communications installation, had been the focus of a brutal attack during the Tet Offensive of 1968. Despite minimal activity by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army in 1969, the 194th MP Company continued to patrol the mountain against possible attack, installing seismic infiltration sensors designed to detect enemy movement. Although Ammons had disliked stateside service because of its monotony, being stationed on the mountain proved to be almost equally uneventful. Despite the previous year’s violence at Vung Chua, Chris’s company faced no serious combat incidents during his time there. He spent most of his time on patrol, on radio duty, or on bunker check, with plenty of time for taking photographs.
Christopher Ammons was a prolific photographer during both Vietnam tours, shooting more than 700 photographs during his period of service. On his first tour he had carried a small, low-priced camera on the long patrols into the Vietnamese countryside, taking snapshots of the landscape, military bases and equipment, fellow soldiers, and the local population. During his second tour he purchased a state-of-the-art 35mm Yashica camera from the post exchange (PX) in Quin Nhon. He also bought a tripod to help capture nighttime photos of the Vung Chua area. Chris’s penchant for photography was so memorable that four decades later his fellow soldiers still remember him as “always taking pictures” or “always having the camera.” A few of his photographs, particularly those in which he appears, were taken by other soldiers at his request.
Chris’s experiences in Vietnam were typical of GI life during that era. By his own admission, he was largely indifferent at the time to the politics and history of the conflict. He readily acknowledges that his opinions about the effectiveness of the war and the wisdom of his superiors changed frequently, depending on his own activities and attitudes of the moment.
When Ammons’ second tour ended in May 1970, he returned to Clarksville. He took some classes at Austin Peay State University, but soon went to work at the local Trane Manufacturing Company. It was only after the war that Chris began to research and study the Vietnam War in which he had served. Today he is quite knowledgeable about the causes of the Vietnam conflict, the record of American involvement, and the significance of the war when set against the broader canvas of American and Cold War history. Christopher D. Ammons, who still resides in Clarksville, has the utmost respect for anyone who served in the Vietnam War. As he says, “I don’t care if you sat behind a typewriter while you were there. You’re still a Vietnam veteran.”