It was August 2013 after joining a Vietnam Veterans forum online that I wrote an article explaining the plight American military personnel stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War came face to face with after the war and in the years since. I entitled the article “The Insignificant and Unknown of the Vietnam War”. Needless to say someone took offense to my article and went so far as to accuse me of stolen valor by calling me a wannabe and I should be ashamed of wearing the ribbons. For those who were there and those who read the hit job on me it was just a tip of the iceberg. I didn’t write something to elicit empathy, sympathy or a kind warm fuzzy by someone reading the article. So let me delve into that pit one more time and hopefully calmer heads will prevail.
America went to war in the “Second Indochina Conflict” or dubbed by the Vietnamese as “The American War” we called it the “Vietnam War”. Like many of my brothers and sisters in arms who answered the call we went, we served and we came home to a country that had completely changed. Many can relate to what happened after 9/11 or more recently after COVID-19 as the country headed into a new era.
Back in the 60s and 70s we came home to hippies, drugs and wild orgies sweeping across America. Many of us missed being part of that, but came home to an “in-your-face” hostile environment. We were verbally assaulted, spit on. Instead of returning as conquering heroes for doing our duty for our country, we were made to feel like second class citizens.
For Thailand Veterans of the Vietnam War we had another battle altogether. We were truly the insignificant and unknown participants of the Vietnam War. Many in country Vietnam veterans only knew of Bangkok when they went on R & R. Had they been stationed in Thailand they would have seen a totally different side of the war. For us there was no R & R. We were there for a 12 month tour (same as in Vietnam) and we were hard charging all the time 24/7/365. Most of us were the support troops doing paperwork, shuffling forms, processing payrolls and conducting personnel actions for everyone in our individual units, including the flight crews flying combat missions out of Royal Thai Air Force Bases, across the fence and into the skies over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Some of us traversed unknown territory over primitive unfinished roadways hauling ammunition, explosive devices (bombs), beer, sodas, toilet paper, construction supplies and refrigerated products out of cold storage warehouses. If it was requested through the supply system we delivered it.
We conducted military training for mechanics, truck drivers and aircraft pilots for Royal Thai and Laotian personnel so they too could join in the fight against communism. Every job mattered and none were too small or too large. Many of us extended our 12 month tour as a way of insuring that supplies would continue to be delivered in spite of unit being constantly understrength. I served in Thailand from February 1968 until July 1970 then went back home and into a culture I did not know or enjoy.
I didn’t plan on a life in the military but I chose to return to active duty and what I found was the acceptance of my Thailand service by my fellow soldiers was completely lacking. As the drawdown of military forces in Southeast Asia was in full swing in the early 1970s I soon found myself in units being reactivated after combat tours in Vietnam. Some of the personnel were Vietnam veterans while others were fresh out of advanced training.
During a uniform inspection I was chastised for not wearing a combat patch on my dress uniform with my Vietnam ribbons. That was when I began to see a dividing line between those who were in country and those who were not. I hate to break it to them but I was in country, just not Vietnam. I soon learned not to talk about my Thailand service unless it was with someone who had been there and done that and had the shirt.
Later in my career my unit was preparing for an impending military action into a country I had been stationed in after Thailand. I was told that because I had no combat experience I would be entrusted with unit personnel who were not being deployed. It’s even possible that lack of combat experience affected my promotions.
You see in the military it’s not so much about location as it is about the job. Everyone is trained to be an infantryman first and a specialist second. A support becomes a combat support and functioning regardless of the environment is as important as shooting a weapon and taking up a defensive position.
After more than 22 years of active duty in countries around the globe doing what must be done to accomplish the mission having someone who spent maybe 3 years in the military with 12 months of combat experience chastise me for putting on my uniform or wearing my authorized awards and decorations does not phase me.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been retired longer than I was on active duty and I’m still fighting this battle, but this time it’s a battle with my own government. It seems that while in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s exposed me to various herbicides which began to noticeably attack my body several years after leaving active duty. Over time it became more apparent and so much so that I began having medical issues attributed to herbicide exposure. My battle is for the VA to recognize my exposure for treatment and compensation. The VA says that because I didn’t have “boots-on-the-ground” in Vietnam I must prove I had duty “at or near the perimeter” of a military base and I must also show proof that I was exposed to herbicides and at a specific base.
Sometimes I feel that us Forgotten Soldiers are supposed to lie down, shut up and simply fade away! – I am the Real Truckmaster!