A war remembered: ‘I would not dare to wear my uniform out in public’
In 1965, U.S. ground forces became involved in an armed conflict to support the government of South Vietnam.
Young men from all walks of life were called upon to serve their country, including Victor Lopez.
“I was 19 and a barber when I was drafted in 1952 and ended up being sent to Korea,”
said Lopez, who served two tours in Vietnam.
“The vast majority of the Soldiers in that war were draftees,” said Lopez, “as a matter of fact, about 75 percent of my company were draftees.”
Unlike today’s wars where redeployment ceremonies honor returning troops, the
welcome for Vietnam veterans was rude and sometimes violent.
“I flew back into California four days before Thanksgiving in 1970, there were three other Soldiers who arrived with me. We walked out of the airport and people immediately started calling us names and throwing rocks,” said Lopez. “As soon as I could, I went and bought a civilian shirt to go with my khaki pants, because I would not dare to wear my uniform out in public.”
That type of sentiment was felt widely by nearly every returning Soldier. “There are a lot of those servicemen today that will not admit they served in Vietnam due to the fact of what happened to them when they returned home,” said Lopez.
“When I returned home in 1970 I flew into Oakland, Calif., and was confronted by one gentleman and took care of that situation in the latrine, and immediately changed into civilian clothes,” said retired Command Sgt. Major Gene Carter.
Today’s welcome-home ceremonies are filled with tears of joy and happiness for most Soldiers and their Families and support by the public.
“I really appreciate the public’s support of what our Soldiers are experiencing now, it’s really beautiful. I only wished we could have had that, but our war was totally different,” said Lopez.
By the end of 1965 troop numbers had swelled to 80,000, including 14,000 of those Soldiers who were from Fort Carson.
An additional 9,000 Mountain Post Soldiers would be sent to Vietnam by the end of 1967.
On May 18, 1967, Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, would become involved in the most savage battles known as the “Nine Days of May Border Battles.” Company B would lose more than 45 men with another 84 wounded.
“In the matter of one hour I had lost all four platoon leaders " three killed and one wounded,” said Lopez.
In 1968 the Mountain Post sent 6,000 more troops to Vietnam. By 1969, U.S. troop numbers had reached a peak of approximately 543,000.
On Jan. 27, 1973, the United States signed the Treaty of Paris, which required the release of all United States prisoners of war held in North Vietnam and the withdrawal of all United States armed forces from South Vietnam.
The withdrawal of combat units and combat support units from South Vietnam was completed March 30, 1973.
More than 58,000 members of the United States armed forces lost their lives in Vietnam and more than 300,000 were wounded.
Article by Staff Sgt. Wayne Barnett, Fort Carson