Northeast Times

My Holiday

“Today, nearly 40 years after the last of our troops came home, I feel the coun­try has come to re­spect and ap­pre­ci­ate the Vi­et­nam vet­er­an.” — Steve Uch­ni­at

My name is Steve Uch­ni­at, and I am the pres­id­ent of Liberty Bell Chapter 266 of the Vi­et­nam Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica. I was asked by the North­east Times to of­fer some re­flec­tions about Vet­er­ans Day, and be­ing a vet­er­an, let me first say what I feel about Vet­er­ans Day. It’s what I call my hol­i­day.

I en­lis­ted in the Army and served in Vi­et­nam. I am proud to say I am a vet­er­an. Vet­er­ans Day is a hol­i­day for all the men and wo­men who put on that uni­form to pro­tect and serve our coun­try, so that we can en­joy the freedoms that we have today.

A little about my­self. I en­lis­ted in the Army after I gradu­ated from Mast­baum High, Class of 1967. I went to Fort Bragg, N.C., for boot camp and then on to the Ab­er­deen Prov­ing Ground, an Army fa­cil­ity near Ab­er­deen, Md. My tour in Vi­et­nam las­ted from Feb­ru­ary 1968 to ’69. I was with the 526th CC&S Co., 5th Main­ten­ance Bat­talion, out­side of Qui Nhon, a coastal city in cent­ral Vi­et­nam. After my ser­vice in Nam, I was off to Ger­many for 15 months with the 1st Sup­port Bri­gade in Man­nheim. I was dis­charged in June 1970.

Dur­ing the mid-1960s and early ’70s, our coun­try was go­ing through some tough times. There was the civil rights move­ment, sex, drugs, and rock and roll — and at the fore­front was the war in Vi­et­nam.

When you turned on the TV in those days, you saw fight­ing in the streets of Amer­ic­an cit­ies. There was un­rest on col­lege cam­puses,  with stu­dents in­volved in sit-ins to protest our mil­it­ary’s in­volve­ment in Vi­et­nam. There were hip­pies and draft-dodgers burn­ing the Amer­ic­an flag.

That really killed me. Kids their age were get­ting killed in Vi­et­nam for that flag … and they were home, burn­ing it. The fight­ing in Vi­et­nam was the first time a war was seen on TV every night. When I came home, nobody called me a “baby killer” or a drug ad­dict …  thank­fully, no one spit at me in my uni­form … but I did hear the stor­ies about that treat­ment of oth­er sol­diers com­ing home from Vi­et­nam.

I had great sup­port from my fam­ily and friends. When you enter the ser­vice you take an oath to pro­tect our coun­try. They send you to places all over the world, and you don’t ask ques­tions. You just go.

We lost over 58,000 lives in Vi­et­nam, and how many more were wounded? Most es­tim­ates put it at 200,000. Some are still liv­ing the war today; oth­ers have died years after its end, the causes linked to their fight­ing in Vi­et­nam.

Don’t ever tell a Vi­et­nam vet­er­an that we lost the war. We were out of there by 1973. The South Vi­et­namese lost it in 1975, when Sai­gon fell.

I lost my friend Marlio in Vi­et­nam in May 1969. He was with the 101st Air­borne. For me, the one night I will nev­er for­get — and the date — was April 9, 1968. A sniper at­tack on my com­pany killed sev­en men and wounded 56 oth­ers. Out of re­spect for them, and for their fam­il­ies, I will nev­er ques­tion the war, right or wrong.

Today, nearly 40 years after the last of our troops came home, I feel the coun­try has come to re­spect and ap­pre­ci­ate the Vi­et­nam vet­er­an. The people who pro­tested the war now are the ones who have to an­swer the ques­tions for what they did. Yet they were al­lowed to do those things, be­cause vet­er­ans fought for their free­dom and their right to do them. I guess time does heal all wounds.

Now we have the wars in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan, and they are send­ing home our next gen­er­a­tion of vet­er­ans. Whatever your view of these wars, sep­ar­ate the war from the war­ri­ors. My son-in-law Joe will be com­ing home from Afgh­anistan this month. He also has done two tours in Ir­aq. I am so proud of what he has done for our coun­try. I hope they all come home soon, safe and sound.

I am a mem­ber of the Amer­ic­an Le­gion Post 738, VFW Post 2819, and a life mem­ber of the Cath­ol­ic War Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica and the Vi­et­nam Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica. All of these or­gan­iz­a­tions help vet­er­ans who are look­ing for help in many ways. I think the motto of the Vi­et­nam Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica is so mean­ing­ful: Nev­er again will one gen­er­a­tion of vet­er­ans aban­don an­oth­er.

On this Vet­er­ans Day, fly your flag, go to a ce­re­mony. If you see someone in uni­form, thank them for their ser­vice. If you have a vet­er­an in your fam­ily, or have a friend who is one, please thank them and tell them to en­joy their day.

God bless Amer­ica. ••

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