When young soldiers returned from Vietnam, no one wanted to hear what physical and mental battles they fought, not even their parents.
“I said about two words to my parents and that was it. They shut it down,” said Dennis Benson, who served in the Army from 1969 to 1970.
However, as the veterans age and the public perception shifts, more people do want to know.
For the second time, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1707 will recognize Vietnam Veterans Day on March 29. The open house is from noon to 5 p.m., and free for the public, at the VFW hall at 215 W. Collins St. in Portage. All Vietnam War veterans are welcome to attend and bring memorabilia to have on display.
In 2009, former Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill into law declaring March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day.
Last year, the “Welcome home brother” Vietnam Veterans Day was a big success, said Tom Schneller, who served in the Army from 1969 to 1970.
“It went excellent. We had an unbelievable turnout,” he said. The hall had about 100 people in attendance including a wide range of civilians and veterans.
This time, the atmosphere will be less formal and more of a meet and greet. Food will be available for a donation; the TVs will loop black and white photographs to a soundtrack of the era; and resources for veterans will be available.
The veterans who planned this year’s event said there are times when they sleep sitting up like in Vietnam; have night terrors and battle with health issues from the war.
The herbicide Agent Orange came down like mist from airplanes over the jungle and onto people below. It took years for the government to verify that it caused severe illnesses.
“We went to a base and they sprayed it before we got there. It was on the leaves and left behind just dead sticks everywhere,” Schneller said.
Chris Schutz, who hauled Agent Orange and other chemicals in a C-130 aircraft, said he remembers coughing up blood at the time. He served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966 with the Air Force.
For Dave DuVall, the Navy told him to warn his family of harassment if he was killed because the sentiment might be that he “deserved to die.” He served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.
More often than not, the soldiers went to Vietnam alone; returning soldiers were forewarned about wearing the uniform beyond the bases, Schutz said.
“When I was mustered out I was told I should remove my uniform before I left the base. It took me about three days to learn not to say anything to anybody,” he said.
Whether Vietnam veterans were drafted or volunteered, DuVall said, they’re proud to have served their country.
“One of the things I think Vietnam veterans don’t get credit for is that they kept kicking the desk. This generation is reaping benefits of how persistent the Vietnam vets are; saying (to the government) this is not right: Agent Orange, PTSD,” DuVall said.
The Vietnam Veterans of America Wisconsin Chapter 221 meets the first Monday of the month at 7:30 p.m. at the hall. The chapter is open to veterans in Columbia and Sauk counties.