“There was no pressure,” he said. “I was just around it all my life. You just did it without question back then.”
The Army sent Higdon to Fort Polk, La., for basic training. He remained there for 16 weeks, then returned home for a weeklong break.
Higdon spent his break visiting relatives and friends around Ada before leaving for Oklahoma City, where he caught a flight to Fort Lewis, Wash. He spent five days at the military base, performing routine chores while he waited for his deployment to Vietnam.
During his stay at Fort Lewis, Higdon met a group of Green Berets — members of the Army’s special forces — who had already served in Vietnam and were planning to return.
Higdon said the Green Berets did their best to scare novices who had never seen combat, so he did not know what to expect when he arrived in Vietnam on May 12, 1969.
“The biggest shock was when I stepped off the airplane into all that heat,” he said. “My knees just buckled, and I almost fell. And some of the guys did pass out.”
Higdon and his fellow soldiers in the 577th Engineer Battalion boarded buses equipped with barred windows and grates, and they drove to an Army station for processing. They spent three days at the station before they were sent to the battalion’s base camp, which was located near a dam in the Central Highlands region.
The battalion’s main task was building part of a highway that stretched from Saigon to Pleiku, a town in the Central Highlands. The soldiers got up at dawn each day, checking the area and clearing away any land mines.
After the area was clear, the soldiers went to their assigned areas and started their work for the day.
As a heavy-equipment mechanic, Higdon specialized in changing vehicle engines and clutches. He also served as a truck driver, carrying supplies from one area to another.