Ya Never Know Who You'll Meet Volunteering: Viet Nam Vets

by John A
(Tyler, TX)


I've mentioned in other postings on this site that I volunteer at a hospital a few days a week. I find it a pleasure serving others and bringing a smile to someone who is hurting from injury or ill. In my volunteering I have the opportunity to meet all sorts of interesting folks.


Yesterday as I was working in the outpatient surgery part of the hospital, I sat down to take a break after being on my feet for most of the day.

Across the room sat a gentleman that I could not take my eyes off since he looked extremely familiar. But, I just couldn't place him. After all, he had a beard, long gray/blond hair and a few wrinkles that come with age and character and could not tell who he was. It was his eyes that looked so eerily familiar.

I'll try to keep the story short.

After a few minutes I struck up a conversation with him over some small talk; you know the standard stuff..where are you from, what do you do for work, etc?

We were about 10 minutes into the conversation and I asked about why he was in the outpatient surgery part of the hospital. I shouldn't have been so nosy since we're not suppose to ask. He said he had problems with the VA doctors and would rather use his private insurance for the surgery. Well one thing lead to another in the conversation and I found out he was in the Marines during the Vietnam era.

It turned out we both went through basic training at USMRD San Diego at the same time and served our hell on earth at Khe Sanh during the Tet Offensive in 1968. I vaguely remember sharing a hooch with him from time to time while getting cover from incoming small arms, mortar, artillery and rocket rounds for 77 days of @*!".

As I said, it was his eyes that gave me the urge to find out who this man was. His eyes now look the same as back then as a scared young Marine. We both were scared as hell and wondered if we'd ever make it back home. We both carry the same scars, though not physical, that hurt just the same. There's a piece of us still back in Nam fighting the war.

There aren't too many of us from our unit still around. Seems as though most of 'em are dead from agent orange or melted away into society as some of the older unseen street people.

I was happy to see Old Smitty (not his real name) again after 45 years. We plan to get together for a few beers and catch up on what we've done in life since.

Like I said, Ya Never Know Who You'll Meet Volunteering. Volunteering pays off in more than one way. I got my reward yesterday meeting up with an Old Marine buddy.


Wendy: WOW, John, what a great meeting! You could simply have walked away -- but took the time to chat with him -- and found out you really did know him! I think that's absolutely fantastic.. you followed your gut instinct. Kudos to you!

Comments for Ya Never Know Who You'll Meet Volunteering: Viet Nam Vets

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Vets in general....often, "the ultimate sacrifice"
by: Ricardo

John, after reading your encounter with a fellow vet, I had to respond with a few comments of my Own.

I, as you served my country during 1970&1971, I was drafted, and did not want to go, but it was my country calling, so instead of travelling north to Canada, I travelled half way around the world to southeast Asia, namely Thailand, and Cambodia....I thought that I was on another planet!

Talk about culture shock,but I digress. The point that I am trying to make is, if we do not reach out to others in this "game of life", think of all the lost opportunities that will have passed us by. We ALL share a common thread, and that is we are all human beings with similar needs and wants, all trying to just "make it" in this crazy world in which we find ourselves....wouldn't it be nice on occasion to reach out to another, and share?

Thank you John for stimulating my response with your "sharing."

Viet Nam Vets
by: John A

Thanks Wendy!! I appreciate your words.

As with any veteran of the particular war he fought it, there's a camaraderie between those vets of that particular era.

The Vietnam Vet along with Korean Vets have been pretty much forgotten. Unlike the DoughBoys of WW I and servicemen and women from WW II, we didn't return home with lots of fanfare and shown appreciation for our service.

This is particularly the case with the Vietnam Vet where we were called baby killers, war mongers, murders and many choice four letter word names upon our return. I even remember not being served in restaurants in California, Oregon and Washington because I was in the military.

After all a Marine is pretty easy to spot in public with his high and tight hair cut. And we were easy targets for some. People would spit on or even assault us. I've been in many fights as a result of those things. And as a Marine, when someone throws down the gauntlet, I was more than willing to oblige.

So when I encounter a fellow Marine I served with years ago, it's pretty special to me. It's an emotional bond because of the hurt and not feeling welcome in our own country. I still try to reconcile in my mind what I did to deserve that from a lot of kooky people of the day. To me, I still see that attitude from many in today's society who don't appreciate or understand what we enjoy in the great nation. It's all being thrown down the sewer.

Wendy: Marines do have a real loyalty to each other. Last winter, my step dad (WWII marine) was chatting to a Marine (much younger than him) in the doctors office. When he went to leave, the Marine stepped up, took a Marine pin off his own jacket, and pinned it on Chuck's jacket. He was sooo moved!

I remember the anti-war sentiment during the Viet Nam era, but I also think all military vets are well appreciated. We remain free today because of them.

Our family lost a 19-year old in Afghanistan in 2011... he was only there six months, stepped on a landmine, and gone. His funeral in a small Michigan town was amazing... many bikers attended, part of a group who attend many military funerals... and many had Viet Nam written all over them.

Semper Fi!

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