“My daddy says you’re all baby killers.” These words came very matter-of-factly stated from the little 6-year-old boy sitting next to the only seat available to this 20-year-old returning veteran from Vietnam who had to fly standby.
I remember that we had to fly home wearing our Class B uniforms. I did not mind wearing the uniform, because at this point, I had no known reason to fear being identified as a military person coming home from a controversial conflict.
I served in Vietnam through ’66 and ’67. There were many things we were not aware happening back home, while we were gone. Remember, there was no internet, personal computers, or cell phones to help with instant contact with world news or family. In a very real sense, we were isolated from all things news worthy; the good and the bad.
That little boy could not have understood all the fears and feelings he stirred up in me as he related his daddy’s verdict toward me, and all my fellow brothers and sisters, doing our patriotic duties with pride and sacrifice. However, that moment a shocking and determined decision was made. I would not talk about what I had seen and done to anyone.
I still had over a year to serve in my military commitment, so I was assigned to one more base of service. I had a reputation of pushing the limits on all requirements, and also making it hard on noncoms over me, and because I immediately recognized this, I pushed even harder. My haircuts were fewer and less than military; even sideburns were longer than allowed. Looking back, I did not want any civilian to be able to think I was military.
The reality of being a part of a world-aware conflict soon changed to the nightly depths of the unreal through ghoulish nightmares. Every night, the same acts of evil being carried out; man killing man using every contrived means man can use against another. The visuals—the vegetation—the explosions—the screams—the blood . . . soon, I avoided sleep altogether from fear. I was living and working in a near zombie state from fatigue. Loud noises would set me off. I began drinking as often as I could get away with it.
That was my last year of military service.
My parents had moved to Huntington Beach, California while I was in, so that was where I would return to civilian life. This was late in 1969—Hippies—mini-skirts—long hair, beards, beads, psychedelic colorful shirts, bell-bottoms, sandals, beach. This was the culture’s appearance in which I could hide my military experiences.
A new experience arose. Often, as I would drive around the beach cities in my ’62 Olds Cutlass, I would undergo very real and very loud explosions in my mind. I quickly knew they were in my mind because they never had any effect on those nearby. However, they had profound consequences on me. The first few times they happened, I suddenly wheeled my car off the road. I was very fortunate that I never caused any accident or injury to others or myself.
Those explosions came without any reason or warning; I could not pin-point a trigger that might bring them on. These lasted more than a year, but I cannot say when they ceased. I suspect they may have ended when God brought Ruthi and I back together closely. Vietnam had ended our closeness.
PTSD was not known and understood until 1980, but it has always existed as long as mankind has experienced trauma. Neither the military nor the VA was prepared to assist these veterans with what they would suffer, some for the rest of their lives. It has been estimated that 500,000 personnel suffered from PTSD. I myself suffered from this on-going nightmare for years. Not to mention the thousands who would suffer long-term deadly effects of our government’s Agent Orange assaults on vegetation, which turned out to be as brutal as anything the Viet Cong had dreamed up to afflict our troops.
I know my sufferings were far less than most I have known, though I have residuals. Somehow, I believe Ruthi and the LORD have helped me endure and get through the life effects of that costly war. And yet, our streets and cemeteries are filled with precious men and women who have not been so fortunate. March 29th is one day a year that our Vietnam Veterans are acknowledged by the government that owes far more than a little tip of the hat and impersonal praise.
In these last few years I have been more open about my service in those day days of America. I receive much gratitude, even from the very young. I am thankful that we are finally receiving a warm and friendly, “Welcome home. Thank you for your service.” It feels really good. If you know or see a Vet, reach out to them in a very special way; say nice things publically and buy a meal perhaps. Every Vet I know is still ready today to bear arms for this nation; we took an oath after all. And the flag stands for something deep within.
A last note: I did two tours in Vietnam; the first with deadly weapons, the last in ’98, with the Bible and prayers as I prayerwalked through the nation.
Happy Vietnam Veteran’s Day my brothers and sisters!