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Vietnam Veteran, Roy MAG
The man I interviewed represents many whose stories are often never heard. Many see him as an alcoholic or just another face in the crowd. What they don't know is that this man wasn't always the way he appears today. Everyone has a story.
It is my pleasure to introduce a very good friend of mine who is a Vietnam veteran. He has asked me not to state his full name, so I will refer to him as Roy.
Roy, there is a significant time gap between your generation and mine. What is the greatest change and/or problem you notice when looking at my generation?
It's lazy, spoiled; too much is given to you and you expect too much. Most don't have to work for what they have. The more they get, the more they expect, and if they don't get it they're pissed off.
What memories do you have of the Vietnam War?
Good and bad. I met a lot of good people who would bend over backwards to help you, and some who did died and that's the bad part. I'm glad I went over there, I'm glad I met the people I met. If I had to do it again I wouldn't do anything different. I don't know if it was really worth it, but I'm glad I did it.
The death you try to forget, but you just don't. It was a stupid war; to this day I don't know why we went over there. Too many young kids went, we should've been out partying, out with girls, cruising around in cars. Instead we were dying. Too many people died. I'm glad I didn't know all of them. A lot of nice guys, though. A lot of pain. All for nothing. More than half of homeless veterans are Vietnam veterans. They did what they had to and the country doesn't take care of them. They took care of the country but it's only lately they've been recognized. But they still haven't taken them off the street.
What do you think when the government helps other countries but fails to take care of the people here?
It stinks. It's not just Vietnam veterans, there are other homeless people. There are kids starving to death. I believe in helping other nations, but we should take care of this country first; if there's something left over, you help others. We're spending billions of dollars to help other countries. The United States has the power to help everyone and look good to the world, but lets its own people starve, sleep and die on the streets. It's all about money. I'm a miserable bastard, I am, but I feel sorry for people who don't have anything. I can be the toughest SOB, but I cry when I see stuff like that. There's no reason for it.
What do you think of this generation who has no war to fight?
Your generation is starting to learn. It will be the one to turn things around and change policies. We're from the old school. You're more understanding of what goes on. If you don't agree, you'll argue more than the older people who would rather go the straight line.
The Vietnam War affected the lives of all involved. In what ways has it changed yours?
My sister remembers me going to Vietnam as an 18-year-old, smart-ass kid who didn't have a care in the world. She says I came back mean. I don't see it. I'm still a nice person, but people say I'm not the same.
You don't see that?
I don't know. Thirty years later, maybe I'm still trying to hide it. I guess you get close to life, or whatever is left, after you get out. When you have something, you want to protect it. Maybe that's it, I've said that for 30 years, I still don't know. Maybe I'm a mean bastard outside my circle, but when you see too much waste in life, you try to protect what you still want. I'm not sure. I don't really want to know, either. If I know the answer then that means I've made a lot more mistakes in the past than I think I have, and I've made a whole lot.
With all you have been through, do you have any regrets?
A few but not a lot. I'm glad for what I went through, for what I did. I regret that there was a war and that people died. I'm glad, though, that I saw how stupid we were in what we did. Everyone loses, and people died for nothing. How many were there who could have been President, or congressmen and changed this country but instead died in a stupid war? How many smart people? The country's not in bad shape, but it could be ten times better. It's a shame: people shouldn't die over nothing. You have conflicts, you shoot somebody, boom you're dead. That doesn't solve anything. A bullet doesn't solve a problem. Why can't we just sit down and argue, or cuss and maybe come to an agreement?
What do you feel when you see the Vietnam Memorial attracting young people and their families to hear the stories of kids their age who never really got to live?
It should've been done a long time ago. I think the younger generation appreciates it; the people who died are beginning to get a little respect. The people who went to Canada, they got amnesty when they came back, and most people hated them.
What were your feelings toward them?
They did what they did, I did what I did.
Did you see them as cowards?
You do what you have to do. If you're satisfied in your own mind with what you do then, hey, I have all the respect in the world for you. If you didn't believe in the war and you went to Canada, then more power to you. I went to Vietnam because that's what I thought was right, and I didn't know if I was going to come back. In a way we were both in the same boat. I don't have hard feelings toward anyone who went to Canada.
What did you think when you came back and there was no parade?
I didn't want a parade. I was happy to be home ... I couldn't wait to get home.
Did people look at you differently?
Some did. I had some medals and I was proud as hell of my wings, my combat badge and medals I don't even know why I got. I was proud to wear my uniform. I came home in 1968, walked out of the plane all proud, with my shined boots and everything. They started spitting on me. That really pissed me off. They were yelling at me, calling me names, spitting at me ... I couldn't understand why. I was only 20 years old. I didn't understand why we were over there. I thought it was the right thing to do, but I felt something different when I came home. I didn't expect anyone to spit at me, but they did. I held my temper, I let them spit, and I walked in front of them proud as a peacock. I could look in the mirror and say I did what I wanted to do.
I didn't spit on the people who went to Canada, I'd shake their hand when they came home, so why do people spit on me? That was the worst part, coming home ... I almost went back. I wanted to get back on the plane and come back when everything had calmed down, or just go back and die.
At the time it didn't make sense and 30 years later it still doesn't make any sense. People should never be treated that way. I wasn't the only one, it was everyone who came back. Guys came back with no arms, no legs, one arm, one leg ... they got treated like dirt. I was lucky, I came back in one piece. The guys who didn't are the ones I feel sorry for.
I want nothing from this country; it's the guys who sacrificed a whole lot and didn't get anything in return, that's what bothers me. We should give them all a hundred thousand dollars. I don't want one damn dime. A hundred thousand dollars won't buy a guy's arm back, or both arms, or his feet back, or his legs back, but do something for him!
And the women, they weren't in combat units, they were nurses and tended to shot-up people. A lot of women went crazy over that. It was the nurses who had to bring them back to life. They saw more people die on the tables than we saw in the field. We didn't know if they were dead or alive, we threw them on the helicopters and sent them back.
It's the medics, the nurses and everyone who tried to save somebody and watched them die right in front of them. They got the people who were half-dead, three-quarters dead, and tried to save them. They went through hell! A lot of people don't realize that. What have they done for these people? The same thing they did for the disabled people - nothing! That's why some are drunks and dope addicts. They drink to forget ... they take dope to forget.
Do you think it helps them feel better?
It does, it's helped me feel better. I didn't talk about it for years, then I started meeting other veterans who had been over there. You can't talk to somebody who's never seen it. They might appreciate the fact that they're listening to you, someone who actually went through it. Talking makes it easier, but it's something you never forget.
What are your feelings on how society views your lifestyle?
They think I'm crazy, they think I drink too much, smoke too much. I don't think my drinking has anything to do with my outlook on things. I always drank a lot, I always smoked a lot. Some people think my drinking has to do with the war, but I don't. Some people I know went crazy because of the war. I don't think it affected me. Some people think it did, so they look at me in a different way, like, "Well, he's that way because of what he went through." Some people I met went crazy, and the war did affect them a lot, but me, I don't think it did. People look at me with more understanding because I'm a veteran, I have an excuse to be a drunk, or whatever. I don't need an excuse anymore. In the last few years people have started realizing what a lot of guys went through, and now they're getting the respect they should've gotten a long time ago. Me, I don't need it. It's helped a lot of guys, though. Guys who got shot at, who were wounded, who lost their limbs ... they went through a lot of pain, a lot of suffering ...
Do you think war films and documentaries help kids my age understand and appreciate what people like you went through?
I think so. It's best just to let people know there's rotten stuff, but don't condemn somebody before you know the whole story. Understand why people went through what they did. People your age weren't even born when the war was going on, so if you pick up one book it's going to tell you one story; you pick up another, it's going to tell you another. Which are you going to believe? Pro-bably half of one and half of the other. Put them together and make a third book ... I don't know! I think it's the greatest thing in the world to let people know what actually happened, instead of what one author says. A book is only someone's opinion, you've got to make your own opinion.
What can this society learn from you?
I don't care if they get a better understanding of what happened, I just hope they understand that you have nothing to gain from fighting. You don't have to understand what happened, and I don't expect you to. I could tell you some gory stories if you wanted to hear them. The only thing I want you to get out of listening to my stories is Yeah, I wasn't there, but this isn't what we should do again! That is the only thing I want you to gain. Sit at a table and argue back and forth, that's what I want you to gain. All of your friends, family and children - fighting and killing gains absolutely nothing. Nobody wins. We keep doing it, though. You're at the age when you can start changing things. It's going to be your generation! If you follow in the same footsteps we have, it's going to continue. It's got to stop. The ball's in your hand now, you just got to throw it through the hoop!