Tuesday, April 14, 2015

TOP STORY >> Vietnam vets saluted late, but well

Leader staff writer

“We were warned as we left Fort Lewis that there would be protesters lined up at the airport calling us names and spitting on us and we were to, under no circumstances, respond verbally or lay a hand on them.”

That’s what Dave Hoss remembers about his return from Vietnam. “I was called baby killer and murderer,” the Army veteran said Saturday while enjoying dinner at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History as part of the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

Hoss was one of about 50 Vietnam veterans among the 200-plus that attended ceremonies, listened to speeches, ate and enjoyed the camaraderie. He said the belated thank you was long overdue, but much appreciated.

Each of the veterans was presented a yellow flower by a group of young girls in honor of their service.

Hoss, who lives in Rosebud, served in Vietnam in 1967 through 1968 and part of 1969 from the central coast to the central highlands.

He now works as a service officer for the Disabled American Veterans helping Vietnam vets cope with the war, the return and life since.

Larry McDonald, an Air Force and C-130 crew chief who was in Vietnam, off and on, from 1969 to 1975, recalls that almost 50 years to the day he was on C-130s flying around the clock as Saigon was falling, loading up people and equipment, dropping them off in the Philippines or Guam and returning for another load.

He was also in the C-130 that picked up one of the first groups of POWs in 1973. “There were 20 of them,” he recalled.

Like Hoss, McDonald appreciated Saturday’s salute but says more needs to be done. Rather than listen to politicians and officials speak, he said veterans need to be allowed to come up and get the war and the aftermath off their chest. “If you’ve not been there, you have no idea,” he said.

Like most of the vets in attendance, McDonald is not upset that the United States went to war. He’s mad that the country didn’t finish it right. “We should not have lost. Did you know at one time we were five miles from victory and Congress had us stand down,” he said.

“You don’t know this stuff unless you took it to those that had feet on the ground there. We are the ones that will give you the straight up scoop.”

For Hoss, the 27 months in Vietnam has left him with recurring “memories.” “What’s terrible is that I can’t really recall any of the guys I was with. I did meet one in South Carolina last year, and we had a good time.”

Officially, Hoss was a senior wheel vehicle mechanic, but said in Vietnam your job description didn’t mean anything. “You did everything. If it was asked or told to you, you did it,” Hoss said. “The job changed daily.”

He said from that airport incident in Washington state he flew into Little Rock where there was nothing. No protests, no welcomes, just nothing. He said, after returning to Little Rock, he just tried to blend in. “You didn’t walk around and tell anyone you were there,” he said.

A fellow DAV officer, Sylvester Jordan, who lives in Quitman, was in the Air Force and stationed at Guam from 1972 to 1975 and worked courier service, which meant that he would go into Vietnam after a B-52 raid, collect and assess data on the bombing and fly out again. The trips were numerous, but never more than two or three days. He said, working with the DAV, he has discovered that the treatment after the war from protestors, the government and the military has left many veterans with a “bad taste.”

McDonald doesn’t have the bad taste but very well could have. It took him 30 years of fighting and getting his congressman involved to receive any compensation from his Vietnam time. “Many of our missions were secret, travel vouchers were destroyed after we were paid and nothing was placed in our service records.”

When McDonald retired in 1989, there was no mention of Vietnam in his service records. “Nothing on my DD214,” he said. He said, because of the type of unrecorded missions he was on, he didn’t get achievement medals or other accommodations used in promotions. “It’s terrible to think I may have lost a promotion by a few points because I didn’t have the honors,” he said.

His recommendation for today’s veterans, “keep looking at your records.” And what he wants now is the same as most veterans. “Respect. Treat us like we are supposed to be treated.”