Across the nation Vietnam veterans were celebrated on Vietnam Veteran’s Day, Friday, March 29.
Vietnam veterans are veterans from any military branch who served in Vietnam from 1964-1975. Those who served in the war and during the era were invited to share a few of their experiences during a gathering at the Grand Prairie Memorial Library.
“Vietnam was one of the first wars America has been in where you were getting instantaneous information from what happened that particular day,” Ray Bush, president of Vietnam Veterans of America chapter in Grand Prairie, said. “They allowed reporters right out into the field. You got these bloody, gory pictures coming into the living rooms of America. It affected the public’s reaction to the war in a much more adverse way than probably any other war.
“The perception of Vietnam veteran has changed. In just the last 5 to 10 years, it’s changed to a much better perception of that soldier than what it was those previous years and immediately after the war. One of the reasons is people are realizing the soldier, sailor, wherever was simply doing their duty. They were serving their country the way they were being asked to by the draft boards and by the government. Doing your job out there was an honorable thing.
“[The Vietnam era] was a time in American history when everything was in turmoil. The kids started kind of rebelling against the moms and dads they had in the 50s. Then with the Vietnam War, [the government] was taking their classmates and putting them in a war zone, and they were coming back in body bags. Their first inclination was ‘I don’t like this.’ I don’t think they were given real good explanations as to why we were there.”
Andrew Wyczlinski enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1965. He volunteered to go to Vietnam in the place of a fellow Marine who only had six months left on his enlistment.
“I think people’s perception of Vietnam depends on how old the person is,” Wyczlinski said. “I don’t think a lot of people now even look at it as part of history sometimes. You talk to some young people, and I don’t think they have any idea about a whole lot of history including World War I and World War II.
“I think a lot of people try to put wars out of their minds, and they don’t want to hear what went on. Although, we should learn from our mistakes if we made mistakes, and learn by the things we did right. I don’t think war is good, but I think that is the nature of humanity. We are always going to be doing something, and you’re always going have to have people who stand up and are willing to take the brunt of doing what has been deemed to be the right thing to do at that time.
“There was music that came out during the time I was in Vietnam; I can’t even relate to it. Where I was in Vietnam was right up front, so we didn’t have radios and what have you. I didn’t hear a lot of news,” he said. “It was a time in my life I won’t forget, but I don’t remember. That may sound strange, but we all go through things in life that we want to forget that sometimes we can’t. I don’t want to forget Vietnam, and I don’t have any problem talking about Vietnam.
“Unfortunately a lot of the guys don’t like to talk about it. I think talking is critical. But you know, whether it’s a good legacy or bad legacy, everybody wants to have somebody remember.”
David Glazener participated in ROTC in college. When he graduated in 1964, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. In May, the entire unit received orders for Vietnam.
“My fiancé and I were planning to get married in June of 1964,” Glazener said. “And guess what? I had to go to Vietnam. Her dress was already made and everything. Invitations were ordered. She was able to cancel the invitations. She couldn’t eat the whole year while I was going to Vietnam, so she would fit in her dress.
“We got to Saigon, and they told us we were going to be operating different equipment, so we had to go to Vũng Tàu have to get trained. That’s on the South China Sea coast, beautiful place there. I found out what lobster was. I had never eaten lobster before. While the men were getting trained, and I sat on the beach and enjoyed life, because I didn’t need to operate the equipment as a second lieutenant.
“I was there until May. My reserve commitment was for two years active duty, so you figure from August 1964 until August 1966. But they didn’t do it that way. It’s amazing. The Army did something right. I had applied to go to school, when I came back home, they knew that, so they let me out in May 1966. Isn’t that amazing?
“I came home, got married, went to school, but I had six years reserved commitment, so I went to my duty with the reserve people,” he said. “I was doing that for that six months and all the sudden they had orders for Vietnam.
“Whenever anybody sees on my cap that I’m a Vietnam veteran, they see me as a regular guy. I don’t wear a long beard, or fatigues. We are average people.
“Teens probably don’t know anything about [the Vietnam War]. I don’t know that it’s taught in school now. My grandson and both of my granddaughter’s know about it, because I’ve told him, and they’ve never really asked me much.
“I did my duty. I served my country, and I didn’t do anything wrong. I wasn’t drafted. I volunteered. I was willing to put my life on the line,” Glazener said. “Fortunately, nobody at shot me. I didn’t have to shoot at anybody. The VC did send mortars near where I was. I had go into the bunkers several times. I went, and through the graces of God, I was able to come home safe and sound, no injuries.”
Susan Gassaway was a civilian nurse in Germany and stateside during the war. Her late husband, William Hayden ‘Pappy’ Jones, served three tours in Vietnam. She later served as an Army nurse.
“I think a lot of people realize [the war] was a tough time for the guys,” Gassaway said. “I don’t know how much people understand what it was like. I think kids today are learning more about it. My kids didn’t study [the war] in school at all, but my grandkids have. It’s kind of nice for them to then come back and ask some questions.
“It was a very strange war compared to others, because you took territory, and the politicians gave it back, and you had to move off of it. Then you had to go back and retake it. It’s not like other wars where we took territory and held on to it.
“It was probably one of the first wars where there was not really a front line. You had the enemy all around you all the time. There was a lot of danger, no matter what.
“I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been the one that was deployed, and I’ve been the one that stayed at home while somebody else was deployed. In my opinion, if you’re the deployed one, you’re lucky, because you’re busy, you just do your job. If you’re the one at home, you don’t know what’s going on. I think the person staying at home has the tougher job,” she said.
Walter Culpepper served during the Vietnam era and has several friends who served in the war.
“My dad was Air Force,” Culpepper said. “I was coming out of school. I was on draft, but I wasn’t concerned about the draft. My dad served, and I wanted to serve my country. I went down to actually join the Air Force, and the Navy recruiter got a hold of me wouldn’t let go.
“I enjoyed my time in the military. I was proud to serve, and I wish I hadn’t got out when I did. When we came back from the Mediterranean on our cargo ship, we had to get down in the holes with toothbrushes. We had to clean, ‘de-snail’ they called it, before we could unload the ship in America, so we wouldn’t bring back any diseases or anything on the ship.
“I didn’t go to Vietnam, like a lot of these guys. I did stand the bunker watches in Ethiopia with an M16 we could hear Haile Selassie’s [Emperor of Ethiopia] lions roar from this palace at night.
“I remember going down some allies and making a wrong turn, and there would be guards with machine guns standing in the road,” he said. “You would turn around real quick and leave, afraid you wouldn’t make it out.
“People seem to lose sight of what a war is. War is not pretty. I know that during the war, the Vietnamese would place babies with hand grenades underneath the baby, so when you picked up the baby [the hand grenade] would explode. They would have children that would kill you. Unfortunately, people died. What happened in World War II wasn’t publicized like in Vietnam.
“People who have never been there don’t understand,” Culpepper said. “In a lot of cases, you had to kill or be killed. You had no choice. I’m glad I was never put in that position, because I am probably one of the ones who would have never come back. I have a hard time thinking I could actually kill somebody.
“The ones who served in Vietnam were there to help people who couldn’t help themselves. They didn’t enjoy killing. They didn’t enjoy doing what they had to do. It was what was necessary to try to bring freedom to that country.”
Written by Jess Paniszczyn