Over the years, Veterans’ Day has grown to mean many things to me. Each year, I’ve partaken in different activities promoting veteran issues and helping others. On one Veterans’ Day, I went to the Vietnam Wall to pay respect to my fallen comrades who gave the ultimate. On another, I posted the colors at the high school representing the Disabled American Veterans. On yet another, I attended my granddaughters’ school Veterans’ Day program. As a veteran this is an important day for me.
I was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to a large family of three older brothers, one younger sister and one younger brother. Growing up, I did not enjoy going to school so in November of 1966 I quit school and enlisted in the Army. I had two brothers in the military already, one in the Navy and one in the Army. I enlisted to an Airborne Infantry. I took my basic training and airborne infantry specialized training at Fort Gordan, GA. I turned 19 in “Jump School,” as the United States Army Airborne School is commonly known. At Jump School I was assigned to the 3rd Battalion 506th Airborne Infantry 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, KY.
On April 1, 1967, my all-volunteer unit was activated to go to Vietnam. That was not an April Fools’ joke.
We departed for Vietnam on a ship in October 1967. Our unit made its first combat assault on Veterans’ Day that same year. We were told it would be a 5 day mission. It ended up lasting about 63 days before they brought us out of the boondocks and back to our base camp.
We moved from Phan Rang to Phan Thiet and took over the area of operations from the First Cavalry. During the TET Offensive of 1968, I went on a suicide mission with 14 other men to recover three of our soldiers who were killed in action inside the enemy perimeter. But we believe in never leaving a man behind, so we went in. During TET, we had many battles with the enemy including one of our most difficult ones, when eight soldiers were killed in action and 15 others were wounded in one fierce battle. These are just some of the battles we had to endure. These and many others are still imprinted in my mind, down to the last detail.
I stayed with my Airborne Infantry unit until I was wounded in 1968. After spending three months in a hospital recovering from my wounds, I was stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana. As a Sergeant E-5, I took over Headquarters 3rd Detachment Company. After 13 months of hard work, I was able to turn the company around. When we had an important inspection by the Inspector General, we were the only Headquarters Company to pass it. I was very proud of my company and received a letter of commendation for that.
I got married to a wonderful woman in 1969. A year later, after three intense years with the Army, I got out of the military. At that time, veterans had no one to help us or guide us in “real life”. It was a confusing time for me. As individuals we had to find out everything for ourselves, as opposed to the highly structured military ways. Civilians were not very kind to veterans back then, which made the transition much harder. The only good that came from that rough transition time was that the country learned from the way they treated Vietnam veterans what had to be done to help new veterans returning from their deployments and getting out of the military.
That’s why giving back to my fellow veterans – on Veterans’ Day or any other day – is very important to me. I know what it is like not to have the support when making that transition. During my adult life I have helped fellow veterans dealing with PTSD and assisted them on how to get help. I am a member of the Chippewa County Veteran Board that helps choose the county’s service officers. I also serve as the Treasurer for my local DAV chapter and am a life member of the VFW and American Legion. Now as a Volunteer Veteran with the Buddy-to-Buddy Volunteer Veteran Program, I also support service members at the Sault Ste. Marie Michigan Army National Guard armory and veterans in my local community.
One of my proudest moments was serving with my Army Airborne Infantry unit. Because we spent so much time training and fighting together we were and still are a very tight group. We stay in touch and have reunions every year. If someone is in trouble we do whatever is needed to help them. With Buddy-to-Buddy, we extend that sentiment beyond being there for my just former unit members. As a Volunteer Veteran, once I earn a young soldier’s trust, they share things about their personal life they may not feel comfortable telling their squad leader or platoon leader. I take that very seriously. In the program, we have many resources available to help the service members making the transition from military to civilian life, and we provide them with the support and encouragement to make sure they have a successful transition. I think it is very important for veterans to help one another because we have been there. No one can relate to what service members and veterans are going through and dealing with but us.
This Veteran’s Day should be a reminder of this. Be a reminder that veterans need to be there for veterans of the new generation and be a pillar of support and encouragement to them. I call on all my fellow veterans to step up and get involved – our communities and our fellow veterans need us.
The Buddy-to-Buddy Volunteer Veteran program is a non-profit peer-to-peer outreach program that trains veterans to provide peer support and linkage to needed resources for Michigan Post-9/11 service members and veterans. Services are completely free and confidential. More information is available at www.buddytobuddy.org or www.facebook.com/BuddytoBuddyProgram. Buddy-to-Buddy is one of M-SPAN’s suite of military mental health programs at the University of Michigan, funded by major support from the Welcome Back Veterans initiative.