Thanks Vietnam Vetereans
Title says it all.
The last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago Friday, and the date holds great meaning for many who fought the war, protested it or otherwise lived it.
While the fall of Saigon two years later is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, many had already seen their involvement in the war finished — and their lives altered — by March 29, 1973.
U.S. soldiers leaving the country feared angry protesters at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future.
Many veterans are encouraged by changes they see. The U.S. has a volunteer military these days, not a draft, and the troops coming home aren't derided for their service. People know what PTSD stands for, and they're insisting that the government takes care of soldiers suffering from it and other injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Below are the stories of a few of the people who experienced a part of the Vietnam War firsthand.
'PATRIOTISM NEEDS TO BE CELEBRATED'
Jan Scruggs served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, and he conceived the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a tribute to the warriors, not the war.
Today, he wants to help ensure that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan aren't forgotten, either.
His Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is raising funds for the Education Center at the Wall. It would display mementos left at the black granite wall and photographs of the 58,282 whose names are engraved there, as well as photos of fallen fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"All their patriotism needs to be celebrated. Just like with Vietnam, we have to separate the war form the warrior," Scruggs said in a telephone interview.
An Army veteran, Scruggs said visitors to the center will be asked to perform some community service when they return home to reinforce the importance of self-sacrifice.
"The whole thing about service to the country was something that was very much turned on its head during the Vietnam War," Scruggs said.
He said some returning soldiers were told to change into civilian clothes before stepping into public view to avoid the scorn of those who opposed the war.
"What people seemed to forget was that none of us who fought in Vietnam had anything to do with starting that war," Scruggs said. "Our purpose was merely to do what our country asked of us. And I think we did it pretty well."
'MORE INTERESTED IN GETTING BACK'
Dave Simmons of West Virginia was a corporal in the U.S. Army who came back from Vietnam in the summer of 1970. He said he didn't have specific memories about the final days of the war because it was something he was trying to put behind him.
"We were more interested in getting back, getting settled into the community, getting married and getting jobs," Simmons said.
He said he was proud to serve and would again if asked. But rather than proudly proclaim his service when he returned from Vietnam, the Army ordered him to get into civilian clothes as soon as he arrived in the U.S. The idea was to avoid confrontations with protestors.
"When we landed, they told us to get some civilian clothes, which you had to realize we didn't have, so we had to go in airport gift shops and buy what we could find," Simmons said.
Simmons noted that when the troops return today, they are often greeted with great fanfare in their local communities, and he's glad to see it.
"I think that's what the general public has learned — not to treat our troops the way they treated us," Simmons said.
Simmons is now helping organize a Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day in Charleston that will take place Saturday.
"Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another. We stick with that," said Simmons, president of the state council of the Vietnam Veterans of America. "We go to the airport. ... We're there when they leave. We're there when they come home. We support their families when they're gone. I'm not saying that did not happen to the Vietnam vet, but it wasn't as much. There was really no support for us."
A RISING PANIC
Tony Lam was 36 on the day the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam. He was a young husband and father, but most importantly, he was a businessman and U.S. contractor furnishing dehydrated rice to South Vietnamese troops. He also ran a fish meal plant and a refrigerated shipping business that exported shrimp.
As Lam, now 76, watched American forces dwindle and then disappear, he felt a rising panic. His close association with the Americans was well-known and he needed to get out — and get his family out — or risk being tagged as a spy and thrown into a Communist prison. He watched as South Vietnamese commanders fled, leaving whole battalions without a leader.
"We had no chance of surviving under the Communist invasion there. We were very much worried about the safety of our family, the safety of other people," he said this week from his adopted home in Westminster, Calif.
But Lam wouldn't leave for nearly two more years after the last U.S. combat troops, driven to stay by his love of his country and his belief that Vietnam and its economy would recover.
When Lam did leave, on April 21, 1975, it was aboard a packed C-130 that departed just as Saigon was about to fall. He had already worked for 24 hours at the airport to get others out after seeing his wife and two young children off to safety in the Philippines.
"My associate told me, 'You'd better go. It's critical. You don't want to end up as a Communist prisoner.' He pushed me on the flight out. I got tears in my eyes once the flight took off and I looked down from the plane for the last time," Lam recalled. "No one talked to each other about how critical it was, but we all knew it."
Now, Lam lives in Southern California's Little Saigon, the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam.
In 1992, Lam made history by becoming the first Vietnamese-American to elected to public office in the U.S. and he went on to serve on the Westminster City Council for 10 years.
Looking back over four decades, Lam says he doesn't regret being forced out of his country and forging a new, American, life.
"I went from being an industrialist to pumping gas at a service station," said Lam, who now works as a consultant and owns a Lee's Sandwich franchise, a well-known Vietnamese chain.
"But thank God I am safe and sound and settled here with my six children and 15 grandchildren," he said. "I'm a happy man."
Wayne Reynolds' nightmares got worse this week with the approach of the anniversary of the U.S. troop withdrawal.
Reynolds, 66, spent a year working as an Army medic on an evacuation helicopter in 1968 and 1969. On days when the fighting was worst, his chopper would make four or five landings in combat zones to rush wounded troops to emergency hospitals.
The terror of those missions comes back to him at night, along with images of the blood that was everywhere. The dreams are worst when he spends the most time thinking about Vietnam, like around anniversaries.
"I saw a lot of people die," Reynolds said.
Today, Reynolds lives in Athens, Ala., after a career that included stints as a public school superintendent and, most recently, a registered nurse. He is serving his 13th year as the Alabama president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, and he also has served on the group's national board as treasurer.
Like many who came home from the war, Reynolds is haunted by the fact he survived Vietnam when thousands more didn't. Encountering war protesters after returning home made the readjustment to civilian life more difficult.
"I was literally spat on in Chicago in the airport," he said. "No one spoke out in my favor."
Reynolds said the lingering survivor's guilt and the rude reception back home are the main reasons he spends much of his time now working with veteran's groups to help others obtain medical benefits. He also acts as an advocate on veterans' issues, a role that landed him a spot on the program at a 40th anniversary ceremony planned for Friday in Huntsville, Ala.
It took a long time for Reynolds to acknowledge his past, though. For years after the war, Reynolds said, he didn't include his Vietnam service on his resume and rarely discussed it with anyone.
"A lot of that I blocked out of my memory. I almost never talk about my Vietnam experience other than to say, 'I was there,' even to my family," he said.
NO ILL WILL
A former North Vietnamese soldier, Ho Van Minh heard about the American combat troop withdrawal during a weekly meeting with his commanders in the battlefields of southern Vietnam.
The news gave the northern forces fresh hope of victory, but the worst of the war was still to come for Minh: The 77-year-old lost his right leg to a land mine while advancing on Saigon, just a month before that city fell.
"The news of the withdrawal gave us more strength to fight," Minh said Thursday, after touring a museum in the capital, Hanoi, devoted to the Vietnamese victory and home to captured American tanks and destroyed aircraft.
"The U.S. left behind a weak South Vietnam army. Our spirits was so high and we all believed that Saigon would be liberated soon," he said.
Minh, who was on a two-week tour of northern Vietnam with other veterans, said he bears no ill will to the American soldiers even though much of the country was destroyed and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese died.
If he met an American veteran now he says, "I would not feel angry; instead I would extend my sympathy to them because they were sent to fight in Vietnam against their will."
But on his actions, he has no regrets. "If someone comes to destroy your house, you have to stand up to fight."
A POW'S REFLECTION
Two weeks before the last U.S. troops left Vietnam, Marine Corps Capt. James H. Warner was freed from North Vietnamese confinement after nearly 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war. He said those years of forced labor and interrogation reinforced his conviction that the United States was right to confront the spread of communism.
The past 40 years have proven that free enterprise is the key to prosperity, Warner said in an interview Thursday at a coffee shop near his home in Rohrersville, Md., about 60 miles from Washington. He said American ideals ultimately prevailed, even if the methods weren't as effective as they could have been.
"China has ditched socialism and gone in favor of improving their economy, and the same with Vietnam. The Berlin Wall is gone. So essentially, we won," he said. "We could have won faster if we had been a little more aggressive about pushing our ideas instead of just fighting."
Warner, 72, was the avionics officer in a Marine Corps attack squadron when his fighter plane was shot down north of the Demilitarized Zone in October 1967.
He said the communist-made goods he was issued as a prisoner, including razor blades and East German-made shovels, were inferior products that bolstered his resolve.
"It was worth it," he said.
A native of Ypsilanti, Mich., Warner went on to a career in law in government service. He is a member of the Republican Central Committee of Washington County, Md.
A DIFFERENT RESPONSE
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Duane Johnson, who served in Afghanistan and is a full-time logistics and ordnance specialist with the South Carolina National Guard, said many Vietnam veterans became his mentors when he donned a uniform 35 years ago.
"I often took the time, when I heard that they served in Vietnam, to thank them for their service. And I remember them telling me that was the first time anyone said that to them," said Johnson, of Gaston, S.C.
"My biggest wish is that those veterans could have gotten a better welcome home," the 56-year-old said Thursday.
Johnson said he's taken aback by the outpouring of support expressed for military members today, compared to those who served in Vietnam.
"It's a bit embarrassing, really," said Johnson. "Many of those guys were drafted. They didn't skip the country, they went and they served. That should be honored."
John Sinclair said he felt "great relief" when he heard about the U.S. troop pull-out. Protesting the war was a passion for the counter-culture figure who inspired the John Lennon song, "John Sinclair." The Michigan native drew a 10-year prison sentence after a small-time pot bust but was released after 2 ½ years — a few days after Lennon, Stevie Wonder and others performed at a 1971 concert to free him.
"There wasn't any truth about Vietnam — from the very beginning," said Sinclair by phone from New Orleans, where he spends time when he isn't in Detroit or his home base of Amsterdam.
"In those times we considered ourselves revolutionaries," said Sinclair, a co-founder of the White Panther Party who is a poet and performance artist and runs an Amsterdam-based online radio station. "We wanted equal distribution of wealth. We didn't want 1 percent of the rich running everything. Of course, we lost."
The Vietnam War also shaped the life of retired Vermont businessman John Snell, 64, by helping to instill a lifetime commitment to anti-war activism. He is now a regular at a weekly anti-war protest in front of the Montpelier federal building that has been going on since long before the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Haslett, Mich., native graduated from high school in 1966 and later received conscientious objector status. He never had to do the required alternative service because a foot deformity led him to being listed as unfit to serve.
"They were pretty formative times in our lives and we saw incredible damage being done, it was the first war to really show up on television. I remember looking in the newspaper and seeing the names of people I went to school with as being dead and injured every single week," said Snell, who attended Michigan State University before moving to Vermont in 1977.
"Things were crazy. I remember sitting down in the student lounge watching the numbers being drawn on TV, there were probably 200 people sitting in this lounge watching as numbers came up, the guys were quite depressed by the numbers that were being drawn," he said. "There certainly were people who volunteered and went with some patriotic fervor, but by '67 or'68 there were a lot of people who just didn't want to have anything to do with it."
I see they included commentary from an American Communist sympathizer, John Sinclair. It is sad they wrote such as nice tribute to remember those who served then end it with a tribute to a communist who represented the enemy we were fighting and who now run this country.
I was actually excited when I turned 18 in Jan. of '75 so I could run to my post office and register with Selective Service even though the Draft had been suspended and most of the troops were home. Four months later the tragedy was over as the last helicopter left Saigon and the commies entered the next day. Right or wrong, just or unjust, to dishonor those Americans who did serve is so repulsive and unpatriotic makes me nauseated. Sure a LOT of guys did not want to serve but they did, unlike the draft dodgers who run the country today. Sure a Lot got killed, maimed and scarred in so many ways as with all wars but these vets were treated like lepers by our country and that is just so wrong on so many levels.
Our country is crapping on our current vets again in ways you wouldn't believe but the communist propaganda machine has squelched reporting of it. Suffice it to say our vets are getting screwed by our government and that's putting it politely.
So, if you ever bump into a vet, from ANY war, stop to shake his or her hand and sincerely thank them. No veteran ever started a war but they did their duty and served their country and that's what matters and sets them apart from those of us, me included, who never served.
To all those who served, whether in combat or stuck chipping hulls on ships or in garrison at home, THANK YOU and may God bless you!
As I remember... The vets of WW1 were pooped on in Wash DC... BAAAAD scene.
Seems polecats pooping on the military is nothing new... the sad thing is the people accepting it is nothing new either.
It is IMO the Grace of God this country still exists... however it may not for long.
Thanks for your post wrangler. That said a lot. Took me 10 years to let the bitterness go. Wanted to strike back at the hippies, etc. but I kept it down. Heck most of the girls my age who weren't married when I came home were brainwashed by the anti war movement and thought we were psychos or nuts. Almost went off the deep end. I went over there gung ho and wanted to win but the commie loving press, hippies and Dems trashed us every day.
Nothing like this has ever happened before in America and I hope never will again. Heck even the WW1 soldiers while not given their bonus check as John pointed out they did have a parade coming home and were greeted and respected for their service. I don't feel like that was any way compared to what we went through. Over all that now but its a wonder I didn't lose it.
We need to do more to help our wounded vets coming home now to an uncertain future with their injuries. They are been honered and respected at least but some will need help for the rest of there lives and now with Obama destroying our country will there be help for them in the future. I wonder. Thank you, thank you very much
Glad you pointed that out hearthman. We think alike. Thank you, thank you very much
Originally Posted by hearthman
Thankyou Vietnam Vets! Your service is appreciated.
Didn't know there was actually a video of the "Bonus Army" as it was known. Thanks for that. And this makes this subject even more closer to home as I'm from the Anacostia area of DC, actually graduated from Anacostia High School and marched my troops on that very ground shown (DC schools at that time had a military program..all 10th grade boys were required to enter then after the 10th grade - it was up to them to stay or not after 10th) I did and had two platoons under me where our duties along with our M1's with no firing pin was to protect DC in case of an attack. I still have my DC commision stating that, I think. And my old platoon Sgt uniform when I was in the 11th grade is still hanging in my closet. 100% wool in that heat and humidity!
Ends up I may need that uniform after all these years!
Anyway, that film shows the best. When the active army and DC police were called in to remove the vets from Fairlawn some protested and got shot & killed by their own kind. Something to think about these days.
And returning from uniform of 1966 to 1970 I re-entered college classes and found the most talked about subject was "Was Vietnam a right and fair war" which made me sick -- while those that stayed home sat in judgement of all the "baby killers" during those days. And all we, as vets could do was sit quietly cause the instructors did not, and I repeat, did not want to hear anything about our experiences or thoughts.
It was clear to me then that we were becoming a divided country...those that paid the price for freedom and those that sat by, enjoyed the benefits of the loss of life of those that paid the price for their freedoms and they believed that had the right and duty to condemn and judge those in uniform at the time.
1968 travelling in uniform from the East coast to the West coast on standby and sitting in a middle seat between two civilians the dinner bell rang. The stewardists always gave the GI's in uniform the extra meals even though our tickets did not include meals. Every GI on board a civilian aircraft got fed no matter what in the early days. Believe it or not every civilian flight has extra meals that they throw away if not eaten. Yet they would not feed the GI's and perferred to throw the meals away! That tell you what they thought of us as the tide changed in this country.
I sat between two civilians on this 5 hours flight while everyone got a plate and not one of the many GI's on board that aircraft got one thing to eat. The two civilan men on each side of me never offered even the peanuts they had and I remember that very moment that the world had changed...being in uniform you became invisible.
No body wanted to see you lest hear from you.
And then the real fun came when the plane landed and us uniformed GI's got to walk across the runway and into the terminal to get our duffle bags..................................
Thank you Vietnam vets, and all other war vets and active duty soldiers!