The Vietnam War, which technically lasted from 1961 to 1973 is probably one of the most divisive and least understood conflicts that the United States has participated in. Thousands of young men were drafted, others joined voluntarily. Many women served in Vietnam also. Of those who participated in the war countless were killed or missing in action. Many others were wounded, either physically or emotionally. Others became ill or died from the effects of Agent Orange. But the saddest part of this conflict was that the men and women who served in Vietnam were never given a proper welcome by their fellow countrymen.
On March 29th, National Vietnam Veterans Day, the city of Brooksville and Governor DeSantis issued proclamations honoring these veterans and giving them the long-delayed welcome they deserve. The next day, VFW Post 10209 held a ceremony to officially welcome home some local men who served in Vietnam.
Post Commander John Coleman in addressing the veterans who attended the ceremony stated, “Your contributions are unparalleled; your courage and bravery have made this world a better place to live. The determination of every soldier, sailor, airman, marine, coast guardsman and merchant marine have given the people of our country the opportunity for a better life. When they returned home they often did not receive the well-deserved praise of a grateful nation for their sacrifices.”
Brooksville Vice Mayor Blake Bell commented, “The city of Brooksville honors all of our military and appreciates all of the service of the men and women throughout the years.”
Gabriella Hieb, chaplain of the VFW Auxiliary, welcomed to the front of the room the nine veterans who attended the ceremony. Each one lit a votive candle and received a certificate recognizing their service. The following were the men, their military branch and their years of service in Vietnam: Daniel Diethorn (Army 1967-1968); Gene Gannon (Army 1969-1970); Juan Gonzalez (Army 1970-1971); Bob Hieb (Army 1966-1967); Earl Landgraff (Army 1967-1968); Norm Pickering (Air Force 1967-1968); and Paul Welch (Navy 1968-1969).
After the veterans came up, Chaplain Hieb welcomed anyone in attendance who had a friend or relative who served in Vietnam to also light a candle in their honor.
All nine veterans could probably spend hours recounting their experience−if they wanted to. Some prefer not to talk about the war.
Earl Landgraff had planned to enlist in the Navy, but was offered a job instead. Three years later he got his draft notice and had no choice but to go into the army. His basic training was in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. He went on to armor training and from there to Ft. Knox where he trained as a scout.
In 1967 he was shipped to Vietnam. His unit, the 9th Infantry, 5th Battalion, 60th Mechanized Infantry built Camp Bearcat, the largest base camp in Vietnam. They were nicknamed Bandido Charlie.
“We were in the middle of the convoy and would run security for convoys. If the front of the convoy was attacked they’d radio to my unit and then we could call in for reinforcements.”
At some point during his tour of duty he was wounded when the vehicle he was in ran over a mine. Landgraff was also stationed in Long An Province near the South China Sea just off the Mekong River where he did river patrol with the Navy.
Daniel Deithorn was also drafted into the army and served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. His unit established a base camp for the rest of the division. You have to have a sense of humor to endure what these men endured and Deithorn proves it. He wears a t-shirt with the phrase “Buku Dinki Dow,” on the front, which is Vietnamese for “A lot crazy.” On the back, there’s a more serious message: “Agent Orange continues to destroy.”
Deithorn states somberly, “Agent Orange is still killing people today. 99% of the veterans that came back from Vietnam developed diabetes and every other thing you can imagine.”
Juan Gonzalez is originally from Mexico. He was drafted into the Army in 1969 and served in Vietnam from 1970 until 1971. One of the few respites for the GIs was R & R.
“We’d go to Camp Eagle and would swim at the beach there. It was sort of a resort to take it easy for three days before you had to go back out in the field.”
After he got home from Vietnam, Gonzalez joined the reserves for four years. Then he went back into active service in 1976 because of the benefits. He went into the field of military intelligence. Gonzalez stayed in the military until 1983 and retired as a Chief Warrant Officer3.
These are just three of the stories of our heroes who served during this difficult period. Next time you see someone wearing a hat or shirt that says Vietnam War Veteran, besides saying “Thank you for your service,” ask him a little about himself and his experiences. He may not want to talk, but he may open your eyes to a part of history that is not so far behind us.