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Sunday, June 22, 2014

"Just a Thought" Column continues in La Prensa of SA, 6-22

Just a Thought: Vietnam stories
By Steve Walker

Over the past few weeks I have been writing columns addressing Memorial Day (May 26) and its significance and historical evolution over time to a column on National Flag Day celebrated June 14 explaining the 13 steps to properly retire an American flag.

Ironically June 14 is also the day the U.S. Army was officially established 239 years ago which is celebrated as its official birthday.

I also shared stories of fellow veterans who filed for disability that were still waiting to get a call back.  Fortunately one soldier who shared his story with me about waiting over a year was eventually compensated with disability and able to get his property taxes lowered and awarded disabled veteran’s license plates.

As a Vietnam Nam Veteran who is also a member of VFW Post 76 as well as an American Legion member, for years I have heard numerous stories then and now about how incidents in Vietnam affected fellow vets. It is no wonder that many suffer from PTSD to this day.

When I was in country I used to go hang out with my buddies in a MASH unit near my supply unit where I was the postal clerk delivering the “Dear John” letters. That was always depressing to me having to deliver those devastating letters to unsuspecting soldiers. As an older soldier I became counselor, confidante and friend to console them in their grief of experiencing their wife abandoning them for someone else. Helpless is the best word to describe their situations.  It described mine too as I delivered my own “Dear John” letter.

Over at the MASH unit it was not unusual to see a 19 or 20 year old medic who rode along in a chopper, picking up wounded soldiers to transport them to the closest medical unit to treat their wounds. The guys would tell me horror stories about having to decide who to bring back and who to leave.

The problem stemmed from the fact that if they picked up too many injured soldiers the copter would get bogged down and might cause it to crash with everyone in it.

Two or three of the medics were told to push critically wounded soldiers off the helicopter. The pilot feared that he would crash the helicopter and even more soldiers would die.

It was a hard decision for a 19 or 20 year old to choose who would live to receive treatment and who would never get the chance to survive.

A number of my fellow soldiers in my unit were not American citizens. We were a melting pot of various ethnic backgrounds. We had Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and some from Central America. We had black soldiers, whites, Asian backgrounds and the like.

One of them from my unit told us his greatest fear was not that he would die, but that if his body was shipped home they would then transport it to his native country and he would not be buried in his American soldier uniform.

And finally another fellow Nam veteran who I talked to recently said he wasn’t afraid to die either but he was more concerned about coming back missing a limb or two such as an arm or a leg or not being able to walk at all. I can equate to that. Now with all the new advances in replacing limbs it is somewhat better than back in those days.

I was personally blessed, despite nine stitches in the head from being thrown into the windshield of a 2 1/2 ton Army truck after being run off the road by a Viet Cong infiltrator. At least I came back in one piece, so to speak.

And as always, I write “Just a Thought.”

Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran, former Journalist and Justice of the Peace. 

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