On National Vietnam War Veterans Day
I was only six years old when the Second Indochina War began with conflict between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia on 11-1-1955. I was raised in the farmland of Southwestern Idaho and graduated high school with the Kuna class of 1967 before joining the army in September 1967 and fully expecting to join my fellow countrymen fighting in Vietnam.
I didn’t know that things wouldn’t work out the way I thought. While my training classmates received their individual orders heading to Southeast Asia, my orders were to a different part of Southeast Asia and I ended up in the Kingdom of Thailand after stopping at Tan Son Nhut AB in Vietnam during the TET 1968.
I spent 1968, 1969 and half of 1970 as an army truck driver hauling bullets, bombs, general supplies and at times refrigerated cargo to the Royal Thai Air Force Base units prosecuting the air war from Thailand. We also hauled supplies to the army units engaged in building infrastructure (roads, camps and bases) in support of the war effort in Thailand. I didn’t know it at the time but our role served a dual purpose, to support the war effort and to serve as an on the ground combat force should the conflict spill over into Thailand.
As American involvement of the war began to wind down Thailand based units began to stand down and prepare for deactivation and I became one of the troops leaving under the Early Release of Vietnam Returnees Program.
Having been insulated from the anti-war efforts going on stateside it came as a real shock when we were told not to wear military uniforms or carry military clothing when leaving the Oakland Army Terminal so as not to draw attention from the protestors.
Life back home seemed to carry on without me and I soon felt like a left wheel on a right hand bicycle. I missed army life, the camaraderie and the moves from base to base. Soon I joined the army again and found myself stationed at the Panama Canal Zone when Saigon fell on 4-30-1975.
Life after Southeast Asia was a double whammy because I couldn’t talk about my duty in Thailand as a number of my fellow soldiers who were boots-on-the-ground and/or Vietnam combat Veterans who consider my service worthy, primarily because they had no idea we what our mission had been while they were fighting “Charlie” anywhere in Vietnam. Civilian protestors and even other soldiers treated us differently.
I retired from the army after 22 years in 1990, but never hear “Welcome Home” until at a Veteran’s Day Parade in Colorado Springs sometime around 1998. My mission has been to educate myself, fellow Thailand Veterans of the Vietnam War and the general public about our service and how we came home with Agent Orange and our bodies began dying back in Southeast Asia (we just didn’t know it). – I am the Real Truckmaster!