On March 29, 1973 the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam. Today, March 29 is recognized as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
The day honors all veterans who served during the Vietnam era and their families. That includes about 9 million Americans, 2.7 million of whom served in Vietnam — over 58,000 whose names are etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. because they gave their lives in service to their country, according to the Vietnam Veterans Day post on the American Legion’s website.
Not only is March 29 recognized as the day the last U.S. combat forces left Vietnam, March 29, 1973, is also the day U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam was disestablished and also generally accepted as the day that Hanoi released the last of its acknowledged prisoners of war.
50-years later, Vietnam veterans living in Tooele County recall their service and their return home.
Jimmie Barnes, Stansbury, now 72, served in the Army in Vietnam from 1971 to 1972.
Barnes worked on air navigation equipment. His experience with electronics got him assigned as a radio man on a foot patrol. He also served as a gunner on a Huey helicopter.
Shipped home from Saigon, Barnes said he and his fellow soldiers received orders not to wear their uniforms as they returned home.
“We were told to wear civilian clothes. It was a direct order,” he said. “It was like we had to sneak back into our own country.”
Nobody spit on him or called him names as he came home but there were a lot of emotions when returning home, according to Barnes.
“Most didn’t talk about it and still don’t like to talk about it,” he said. “I saw some bad things but I like to talk about the good things. There were times that were scary as hell.”
Good things during a war?… Barnes talks about riding a motorcycle to Saigon while on leave.
After Vietnam, Barnes enlisted and served in Japan, Korea and Europe, eventually ending up at Dugway Proving Ground. After leaving the military, Barnes worked as a civilian at Dugway.
Barnes advises friends of Vietnam veterans to not ask a lot of questions and drag up bad memories.
“We weren’t welcomed home like other veterans,” Barnes said.
Barnes said he has “brothers” or friends who he met during the war whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
Ed Buys, now 78 years old, was 19 when he served his first tour in Vietnam from 1964 to 1965. He then went back for a second tour of duty in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.
The Army became a career for Buys. He spent 33 years in the Army before retiring.
Buys worked on helicopters. During his second tour, he was a tech inspector who made sure repair work was completed properly.
“It felt like somebody dropped the ball on the war,” Buys said. “We shouldn’t have been there or we should have done a better job,” he said.
Buys landed in San Francisco when he returned home from Vietnam.
“We didn’t get a good reception,” he said. “I would do it again. My thoughts were in the right place … serving my country.”
James Yale, now 69 and living in Pine Canyon after leaving Dugway, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1971-1972.
“There’s some sad stories I don’t want to tell,” he said. “There was a lot of camaraderie among soldiers, but some didn’t make it back.”
Yale said he was in the Calvary and was dropped by helicopter all over the place including near the Cambodian Border at what was known as “Post #5.”
“We would be gone on patrol two to three weeks at a time,” he said.
Yale said on Vietnam Veterans Day he would probably go to a ceremony to think about the other soldiers that didn’t come home.
“You always carry a piece of them in your heart,” he said.
Yale said when he returned home to McChord Air Force Base in Washington state, there were demonstrators outside the building.
“We had to walk through them,” he said. “They spit on us and called us names like ‘baby killers.’ When we got to the hospital, the doctors said the demonstrators had been out there for two weeks waiting for soldiers to return from Vietnam.”
While Yale encountered no physical attacks, he had a friend that was not so lucky.
“I had a friend that had lost a piece of his foot (in the war),” Yale said. “They took away his crutches and beat him outside the PX (post exchange, an on base military department store). He got a concussion and damage to his eye.”
Yale said the war may have been a bad situation, but he has no regrets about serving.
“There are horror stories that still haunt me,” he said. “There have been people that have helped me deal with that.”
Yale now works with the local Disabled American Veterans chapter helping veterans file disability claims to get their benefits.
After honoring those who served during the Vietnam War with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., while he was serving as Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter said, “As Secretary of Defense I’m proud to use this moment, this place, on this day to say ‘Thank you, and welcome home.’ You could never hear those words enough.”