Vietnam. Just mention the geographical place where the United States was heavily involved in the Vietnam War, and for many individuals emotions still run deep. The website, www.about.com, states, “The Vietnam War has become a benchmark for what not to do in all future U.S. conflicts.”
One of the primary items on that list of what not to do concerns how fellow citizens treated American soldiers returning from serving in Vietnam. After all, during the 1960s and until U.S. troops were finally withdrawn in March 1973, almost 60,000 Americans died in Vietnam. In addition, of the more than 2.5 million who served in South Vietnam, 75,000 were severely disabled.
Yet it is with shame that I remember as a teenager when our servicemen and women returned home, they were not met with a hero’s welcome. Those of you who are also old enough, can probably recall nightly news casts of soldiers being greeted in airports with signs that called them, “Baby killers,” or worse. Instead of being honored, many of these courageous patriots endured bystanders shouting profanities or spitting on them.
One myth that exists is that most of those serving in the war were drafted. According to a 1993 Memorial Day speech made at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall by Lt. Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, 70 percent of those who died in Vietnam volunteered for service. This correlates with the fact that two-thirds of those who served during this conflict were volunteers not draftees.
Whether drafted or volunteered, there is little difference that the majority of these men and more than 7,000 women, who were primarily nurses, believed in their mission. During a 1986 speech, it was Gen. William Westmoreland who The History Channel documents as saying, “Ninety-one percent of Vietnam veterans say they are glad they served.” Even though there was such great loss of life and limb.
One of those losses can still be felt in Shelby County, concerning one of their own, Charles Gregory Huston. According to www.findagrave.com, “Staff Sergeant Huston was a member of the 5th Special Forces Group. [Forty-five years ago,] on March 28, 1968, he was conducting a reconnaissance patrol about 15 miles inside Laos…when the patrol was attacked by an unknown enemy force. Extraction was attempted, but heavy ground fire forced the helicopter to leave Staff Sergeant Huston on the ground.” Along with the then 22-year-old Huston, Sgt. Alan Boyer, and Sgt. 1st Class George Brown were also left behind.
Neither Huston’s body nor either of his comrades has ever been recovered. Huston was given the official casualty date of Jan. 26, 1977. The Green Beret is the only Shelby County, Ohio, resident who remains missing in action, while nationwide more than 1,600 soldiers are also unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.
Greg, as friends called him, was born on Sept. 29, 1945, graduated from Hardin-Houston High School, and later “enlisted” in the Army according to his 55 year-old-brother, John Huston, who lives in the Sidney, Ohio, area. The youngest of eight siblings, John said that his late mother, who died in 1982, never gave up hope that her son would be found.
John Huston, his brother, Robert, and friend, Keith Goins, were effective in getting the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall to the Sidney community in 2005 in Greg’s honor. Robert Huston was even employed with the commemorative project until about two years ago. John’s son, Gregory Huston, who was named after his missing brother is following in his uncle’s Green Beret footsteps by enlisting as part of the military Special Forces last fall.
As a journalist, interviewing Vietnam War veterans these past decades has taught me one important lesson: The responsibility that we as Americans still have to thank them for their service. After risking their lives on our behalf, they should have been greeted with gratitude and respect instead of name-calling and jeers.
As a nation, we have tried to make up for our tragic treatment of these brave men and women. For example, last year the Ohio General Assembly officially designated March 30 as Vietnam Veterans Day.
For me personally, whenever I encounter a Vietnam vet, I reach my right hand out to shake theirs while sincerely saying, “Thank you for serving our country.” Once a veteran told me it was the first time that he had ever been thanked
On the upcoming July 4th holiday, I will be remembering Huston and all the other brave men and women who died defending our freedom. Their sacrifice has allowed America to remain, “The land of the free, and the home of the brave.”
This blog post is dedicated to my nephew, Nicholas Anthony Lombardo who is currently serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.