The Vietnam ConflictAn Academic Information Portal For Education and Research

                                
                   -- Interview: Bill Hunt --
            "How Vietnam Vets Were Treated Upon 
               
Arriving Back In The United States"
                                      
  Here are my thoughts on your theme, "How Vietnam Vets Were Treated Upon
 Arriving Back In The United States."

 First of all, I hope someone has turned you on to "Coming Home," by Bob  
 Green. That is the only book I know that is devoted to your theme. Another book, 
 "Lives After Vietnam: The personal impact of military service", published by 
 Lexington Books, is more social survey research oriented. My guess is, this 
 second one is out of print, but the author, Josefina J. Card is a researcher at the 
 Stanford connected American Institute for Research in Palo Alto.

 Of course, there have been numerous magazine articles devoted to this subject. 
 They all say about the same thing: Vietnam Vets were treated poorly, and spat 
 upon, etc., etc.

 Your theme by title is limited to a short time frame: the homecoming experience. 
 Vets were often met in airports by protestors, and that is the substance of most 
 of the stories that surround this particular post war experience.

 If a vet did not experience protestors at airports, and most did not, then the 
 homecoming story is more limited to how they were treated by family and
 friends and strangers.

 I was met at the airport by my Korean War brother, and I remember being
 silent and bitter after he made an innocent comment. He noted in jest that I was 
 now home and no longer "surrounded by the Viet Cong and all that jazz." It was 
 said in jest, but it sounded as though he was not inclined to believe that the war 
 in Vietnam was a real war, a war were in fact I felt the whole time that I was 
 there that I was indeed surrounded by a hostile force.

 I got on another plane the next morning to be reunited with my wife and her
 family. I'll never forget being re-introduced to my 16-month old daughter, who 
 treated me as a complete stranger. That was really hard. My wife had no real 
 concept of where I had been, even though I had written every day. There was a 
 new stress in our relationship that is hard to describe.

 But more toward your theme, my wife's family barely acknowledged that I had
 ever been gone. Did they know I had just returned from war? If they did, they 
 acted as though it didn't matter.

 In about a week I checked in with the rest of my family, and I swear it was as if 
 I had been down the street buying a loaf of bread. They were very casual about 
 were I had been. I think that my war duty to them was just another military 
 assignment, another station. If I had been assigned to a post in Germany or in  
 Korea their reaction to my coming home would have been about the same. 
 Vietnam was just part of the background of everyday life, and now I was more 
 available for invites to family gatherings. No one asked me about the war. They 
 were totally apathetic on the subject.

 Of course, my tour in Vietnam came later than most. I was there during 1972,
 after most ground troops were withdrawn, and politicians were promising
 "peace with honor". 1972 was the Easter Offensive, and that was just as
 devastating as Tet 1968. But mostly it was the Vietnamese troops who died in
 that offensive, and it got only a tiny amount of American press compared to
 1968. But to me, it had been one long hellish experience, and I wondered if
 everybody had been asleep.

 At the time, this "treatment" didn't matter much. What was, was. My service in  
 Vietnam was just as normal to me as walking down the street was normal to
 others (though I would have been more comfortable wearing my combat gear).

 Vietnam Vets came home and tended stayed to themselves; they didn't talk 
 about the war, and generally they didn't even meet other vetsí who were, after 
 all, staying quiet about their past. I met my first vet friend in 1974, and
 experienced the reality that I knew more about him in 5 minutes than I knew the 
 other strangers around me, ever. After that, I began to seek out other vets 
 because they understood me and I understood them.

 Unlike many, I did continue to bring up the subject of Vietnam routinely at
 social gatherings until the early 1980's. Everything reminded me about the war,  
 especially food. I had lived with the Vietnamese, and I missed the food, believe 
 it or not. The war was an exciting period in my life, and many many interesting 
 things happened that under most circumstances people would find interesting,  
 though there was rarely much social feedback.

 Then one day, I mentioned the war at a large lunch affair with various business 
 clients. I had said something very interesting, I thought, and I was stunned by 
 the silence that returned. I was so stunned, I stopped mentioning the war for 
 years.

 I wasn't the only vet who stopped mentioning the war. Once, not that long ago, 
 I was in another business meeting with a group of about six men. Over
 sandwiches they started talking about their military experiences. The guys who    
 shared were not war vets, they had been in the service and were quick to talk  
 about flying in planes and assignments on ships and various stuff that all ex-GI's 
 have in common. I didn't say anything, and after all but one of the members had 
 left the room, I pointed out to the last man seated that he hadn't said anything 
 either. Turns out he had been a platoon leader in Vietnam and had learned the 
 same social lesson I had learned. Case closed.

 It was 1985 that changed the way I conducted myself. The Today Show
 celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the fall of Saigon by broadcasting from
 downtown Saigon. Featured was a May Day Parade. I thought that was about
 the most insensitive thing I had ever seen. The show was popular with the
 American viewers, it got great ratings, and I was appalled.

 I wrote my first of many "letters to the editor" after that. I just felt that the 
 American people needed some small insight from the perspective of a Vietnam  
 Vet. Dumb stuff was being said every day, and I felt a need to point out dumb 
 stuff, and add something new.

 Newspaper editors loved what I had to say, probably because at the time no one 
 was mentioning Vietnam at all in any meaningful way. I was called on the  
 phone more than once by other vets, who wanted to thank me for my "letters", 
 and that fueled my need to write on. A mover and shaker in Stockton who 
 wanted to help raise money for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Sacramento 
 enlisted my help in dealing with the media, and I started to work with other vets 
 on a major project that has given me life-long friendships.

 I learned two important things from my experience with fund raising for the
 California Memorial: (1) Only vets and their families cared about contributing 
 money toward such a thing, and (2) some vets are very intelligence thinkers. 
 They are very successful in their careers, and they care a lot about honor and 
 the future.

 I also met plenty of vets who are loved by the media. They are not the same
 vets. They wore military jungle fatigues and boonie hats and phony metals
 and seemed to have a hard time taking a bath on a regular basis. The media 
 treated them as the only vets: the victim vets. And to this day, there are
 media people who think all Vietnam Veterans wear boonie hats 24 hours a day,
 take drugs, sleep in the streets, and need help just to shave.

 It's important to remember, when discussing how veterans were treated after
 the war, that we as a nation lost the war. That was a new experience for
 America. I know that I assumed we would win the war, on some level, until I
 was half way through my own tour. I was raised to believe that winning wars
 was something one took for granted in America.

 When your side is the loser, how does one behave? Americans acted as though
 they wanted to blame the soldiers, but couldn't. They adopted a comfortable
 mindset that somehow Vietnam Veterans were victims of bad government
 decisions. The media picked that up, and a whole mythology was created.
 Hollywood sold movies built around the theme, and even guys who were never 
 in the military, but felt like victims, started wearing jungle fatigues just for the 
 whole natural feel of it.

 As a result, our only heroes from the war are ex-POWs; the poster boy victims
 of a cruel enemy. National law now requires that we fly the ex-POW flag on
 the same staff as the Stars and Stripes. I call it the "poor me" flag. Sometimes I  
 call it the "black rag".

 I believe in honoring ex-POWs, but those who think about it will tell you that it is 
 not good for anyone to view themselves as a victim. It's unhealthy. And it is 
 inaccurate in the case of all but a very few. When I think about victims, I think of 
 several Vietnamese families and soldiers I know who put all their chips on 
 America and lost big-time.

 Your theme is restricted to that period of coming home immediately after the
 war. I'd stick with that, because you need to think small to finish your paper. 
 But you should know that I view this whole subject as the "war after the war", 
 and it continues in new phases each year. The best book devoted to the whole  
 subject of the war after the war is "Stolen Valor", no doubt available in the 
 DeCillis Collection.

 
 You asked about how vets were treated from different wars. On this subject,
 I would ask vets from those wars. WWII vets were treated like heroes; Korea
 war vets were ignored. Gulf War vets were treated quite well, as an over-  
 reaction, I think, to how Vietnam Vets had been treated. But only those guys 
 know for sure.
 

                               Bill Hunt, Former U.S. Army Advisor
                                              MACV Team 85
                                             Tieu Can District
                                           Vinh Binh Province,
                                          Republic of Vietnam
                                                      1972

 Hi Bill,
 My name is Michele Maberry and I got your name from Paul De Cillis. I am doing 
 a research paper for my English class and the topic is "How Vietnam Vets were
 Treated Upon Arriving Back in the United States". Paul told me that you might be
 willing to help me with this.

 What I would like from you is your feelings about the way you were treated
 when you arrived home. Why you felt you were treated the way you were.
 How it differed from the way other vets from previous wars had been treated. 
 Did the way you were treated have any affect on you?

 I know that I will have more questions, but these are the ones that come right to
 me. If you don't mind helping me out, I would really appreciate it. If this topic
 bothers you, I completely understand and am sorry to have bothered you.

 Thank you for your time
 Michele Maberry
 
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