March 29th has been set aside as a day we honor those who served in the Vietnam War. It was established in 2017 with the passage of the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act. The day is to recognize and commemorate the sacrifices made by those who served in Vietnam as well as that of their families.
My father, an Army lifer, served two tours of duty in Vietnam. His first tour of duty was in Cam Ranh Bay with the 544th Engineer Detachment October 1967 until October 1968. According to an Army history of the Engineers in Vietnam, this was only two years after they first arrived in Cam Ranh Bay. And yes, he was there for the Tet Offensive. Fortunately, it was not hit as hard as many other places in South Vietnam.
His second tour of duty in Vietnam was with the 554th Engineer Battalion where he served as the Construction Operations Sergeant and then as First Sergeant for Co. A. This was from April 1970 until April 1971. He was first in Lai Khe and then later the entire battalion moved into the southern highlands building road QL-20.
My dad was 52 when he left Vietnam the second time. A year later he would be given a medical retirement due to a whole host of medical problems including a TIA or mini-stroke. Whether it was due to exposure to Agent Orange or due to heavy smoking will never be known. He died from COPD 9 years later almost to the day of his medical retirement. If he were still alive, he would turn 101 in a few days from now.
In my mind’s eye, the Vietnam vet is the slightly older guy in college. In reality, they are today’s grandfathers and great-grandfathers. The last two men killed in the war – Cpl Charles McMahon and LCpl Darwin Judge – were born in 1953 and 1956 respectively. They were embassy security Marines killed in a rocket attack a day before the fall of Saigon. Judge, the younger of the two, would now be 64. That is probably the bottom end of the age cohort of Vietnam vets. Most are in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s.