During my time in Vietnam I was shot at by snipers, mortared by VC, I found booby-traps on base, and I learned that “helping my Vietnamese civilian friends” actually meant "aiding the enemy". I was a country boy who just happened to end up in the middle of a war zone.
I survived fourteen months in Vietnam. Twelve of them were with the Korean infantry. A lot of men died in Vietnam, but I survived. I was prepared to die, but I didn’t. Was it luck? Fate? I don’t know, but I survived and I feel guilty. That sounds insane but I feel guilty nonetheless. Maybe I am insane.
There were no fanfares or welcome back ceremonies when I returned from Vietnam. I came home to a world where my peers thought I was a fool. Among other things, I was called a baby-killer. How ridiculous is that? I never killed a baby in my life. I tried to join the VFW but was denied status as a foreign war veteran. Some asshole at the VFW made a comment that Vietnam vets were nothing but a bunch of losers. I didn’t join the VFW until thirty years after I returned from Vietnam.
Even my home state of Pennsylvania seemed to have a problem with me coming home. At the time, PA was giving vets from their state some small reward/compensation for their tour of duty in Vietnam. It was a pittance but I applied anyway. I was denied because I was inducted in Virginia instead of Pennsylvania. I grew up in Spraggs, PA and went to high school in Waynesburg, PA. I went to electronics school in Pittsburgh, PA. I was drafted out of Waynesburg. PA. You don’t get more Pennsylvanian that that, but I guess it doesn’t really count. The money was inconsequential, but the lack of recognition was not.
When I returned to my old computer repair job at Honeywell in Washington DC, I was treated like the red-haired stepchild. I wasn’t sent back to school to refresh my skills (which were then nearly two years old). Instead, I was relegated to the mundane duties of cleaning and polishing. I learned quickly that Vietnam vets were not highly regarded, so I stopped talking about my time in Vietnam -- not just with my fellow workers, but also with my peers. I had some trouble adjusting to civilian life and turned heavily to alcohol and drugs. After an episode that ended with me spending a night in jail, my fiancée gave me an ultimatum: Marry her or get out of her life. We got married. She is a saint and I credit her with saving me from self-destruction.
I had arrived in Vietnam just in time for the Tet Offensive. I returned home just in time for Woodstock and major anti-war protests in DC. My generation was no longer my generation. They had no empathy for my Vietnam experience. To the contrary, they had much distain for it. Needless to say, I developed few friendships of any substance. As the years passed, I developed business relationships, but there is a gaping hole in my life that can never be recovered.
Vietnam changed me and my life and it wasn’t for the better. When I went, I was drafted, I didn’t smoke, drink, cuss, or anything else like that, yet I returned home with those habits and more. I’ve had recurring bouts of depression and believed I would die young. I spent most of my life feeling like I was living in a fog and out of touch with reality. The final kick in the ass was that I came home after being exposed to agent-orange and developed ischemic heart disease. What a great welcome home gift.
During the last two years, I’ve had more people welcome me home from Vietnam and thank me for my service than I had in the previous forty years. It is very much appreciated but, at times, it seems to have come years too late. Funny thing is that I feel a large part of me never came home.
This "Coming Home" piece sounds like I'm whining. Actually I'm not whining. I don't even like whiners. I'm simply stating what I experienced and how I felt. Thanks for understanding.
“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale