“We Were Good Soldiers”: War Stories from Nebraska Vietnam Veterans
April 28th, 2015
Itâ€™s been 40 years since the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam war, but memories are still strong for those who served during that time, including some of Nebraskaâ€™s more than 40,000 Vietnam-era veterans.
Greg Holloway was a 20-year-old kid from the small town of Harvard, Nebraska, when he was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in 1967.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Vietnam2_KVNO.mp3]
After less than six months of fighting heâ€™d been in three major battles, and earned three Purple Heart medals for combat wounds, the last coming from a North Vietnamese grenade.
â€œBlew the back of my head out, shredded my face and my right side, blew a hole through my left foot, tore me up pretty bad,â€ Holloway recalled for NETâ€™s recent â€œGenerations of Nebraska Warriorsâ€ project. â€œ(The) medic got up, got up there and started working on me. Mark Fulton was the medic. He said that the guy threw one more grenade at us, but when it blew, it blew straight up. He didnâ€™t think Iâ€™d make it. He just was stuffing rags in all the holes. I was the worst heâ€™d worked on.â€
Holloway, who now lives in Bee, survived to tell his story, but many didnâ€™t. Almost 400 Nebraskans died during the more than a decade of U.S. fighting in Vietnam. Many more were wounded, like George Albright, an Army veteran originally from Greeley who now lives in Lincoln.
â€œI had some friends (who) got wounded real bad,â€ Albright said in the â€œGenerationsâ€ interview. â€œI had a buddy out of Tennessee, he got shot across the neck and I got shot through the arm, and I had to put a tourniquet on his neck because he was bleeding so bad. Then I got shot through the helmet; a sniper shot me through the helmet, and came down the side and went out by my eye.â€
Marty Ramirez left Scottsbluff and got to Vietnam in time for the Tet Offensive in 1968, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Soon after arriving Ramirez, an Army soldier, wrote his parents, telling them he didnâ€™t think he was coming home.
â€œNot until the first battle came then you realized, â€˜Oh my God, this is a real deal,â€™â€ Ramirez said in his â€œGenerationsâ€ interview. â€œIt was chaos. There was no leadership. Guys were shooting above and Iâ€™m there in awe. I said, â€˜What the hellâ€™s going on here?â€™ This is not what you saw in the movies, and this is not what you trained for. It was total chaos.â€
Many Vietnam veterans received a less than welcoming reception when they did return home. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Jim Cada of Lincoln said thatâ€™s one reason he didnâ€™t talk about his experience for years.
â€œPeople didnâ€™t like us anyway,â€ Cada remembered for the â€œGenerationsâ€ project. â€œSo you really didnâ€™t talk about anything because the things that we saw, and the things that were done that we saw happened, somewhat embarrassed about. Somewhat sad about. Thereâ€™s a lot of stuff that went on that you donâ€™t want to talk about yet.â€
â€œWe were spit at and nobody liked us because of what we had done, where we were,â€ Cada added.
Omahan Roger Nelson, originally from Ainsworth, did base security and artillery support for the Air Force in Vietnam. â€œTelling somebody that you were a part of the Vietnam experience wasnâ€™t really good because you kind of put on as an outcast,â€ Nelson said, in an oral history recording for a 2012 NET veterans project.
Rose Weddell of Lincoln saw some of the worst of this. She enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps hoping to serve in Vietnam, but instead was assigned to a recruiting station in San Francisco.
â€œMilitary soldiers were coming back, and some of them were actually being physically assaulted in their uniforms, coming back from Hawaii, from Japan, from their duties in Vietnam,â€ Weddell recalled for the oral history project. It was really quite a despicable time, in my opinion.
So what do Nebraskans who served in Vietnam want others to understand about their experience now, 40 years after the end of the war?
â€œI think that we were good soldiers. I think thereâ€™s a total misconception about the Vietnam veterans,â€ said Ramirez, who earned a Purple Heart and now lives in Lincoln. â€œThat we put, like any other soldier in combat, our lives on the line. Not so much the ideals that we fought for because those were hazy. But I grew up watching John Wayne, World War II movies, and this I thought was the thing to do.â€
â€œOn Veterans Day you can always stand proud and salute the flag and say that I did my part,â€ Nelson said.
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