Editor’s note: this article is part of a multi-story series.
By Trent Rosser
Pete was back in the United States. He was shipped to Orlando, Florida on minesweeper for the Navy Reserves. Since radioman was his primary specialty, and they didn’t have spot for that on a training ship, he was transferred to Charleston, South Carolina on another minesweeper. He stayed until 1969 when he got out of the Navy. With 3 Purple Hearts, one of the first things that he did was to go see his mother. He traveled to Midland, Texas to see her.
I asked about his experience when he came home. It was a troubling time in America and many military personnel were being chastised. They were called “Baby Killers” and being spit on.
“I really didn’t run into any of those issues, When we first got home, we were in San Francisco, everyone went to the bus station, but I went to the airport so I could fly out. The cab that took me, I guess he took the back route, all I saw was protesters from a distance. When I did get to the airport, they were bringing in Marines that were on the way over there. Companies of Marines. All I remember is that I was wearing my greens, green fatigues. I didn’t know where my sea bag was and Navy uniform was. I was just going to fly to Dallas and then Midland. The sergeant of the company of Marines looked at me and then back to his company and said, 'YOU SHOW THAT SAILOR SOME DAMN RESPECT WHEN YOU WALK BY, that man has been over there.' A lot of people did think I was a sailor because of my greens. When I arrived at Dallas, I had a layover. One guy offered to buy me a steak. That is the most problems that I ever had.”
When military personnel are injured or killed in combat, the military will notify the family by telegram. The last time Pete was injured, this did not happen. He was going home. The first time he was injured, they sent the telegram by Western Union and second time he was injured, a car pulled up in front of his mother's home. A captain and Chaplin arrived from Lubbock, Texas to deliver the telegram to her. It was dark when he did arrive in Midland, Texas. His mother claimed it was the best day of her life.
I asked Pete, “What is the best memory that you have when you were in Vietnam? Of course it was a stupid question. This was war and there are no good memories of war. But Pete surprised me when he said, “I guess, one of my classmates was over there on another monitor. My mother and his mother were good friends, and I run into him. And when we would get back from patrol, we would get on the pier that was tied to the ship and we would have beer call. We got to drink 3 to 6 beers that they would give us and then they would cook steaks for us, or tried to anyhow. Most of the times we didn’t have steaks. I ran into him on beer call. We would be going out on patrol or coming in from patrol and his boats would be going out or coming in. We would pass each other on patrol one of us coming and the other going, and vise versa. Our way of communication was to get on the gun mount and wave the gun barrel up and down to show each other that we are alright. That was one of the good things. ”
One thing that has become better throughout the years is the recognition that the men and women that fought in Vietnam deserve. I asked him his thoughts on this.
“It’s a lot better. When I got back, no one wanted to talk about Vietnam. As the years progressed, say in the late 70’s and early 80’s no one wanted to acknowledge it. After 9/11 and going into Afghanistan, those guys honored us and I think that helped. The service people that came back, they had big ceremonies and stuff and they said this is not right, because the Vietnam Veterans didn’t get nothing. And, now days it is really nice to see someone acknowledge us. But then there is also that some people, since we are getting such recognition, we see a lot of people that are wearing Vietnam Veteran hats, but are not Vietnam Vets. Heard of people participating in ceremonies for Vietnam Vets, but were not Vietnam Vets. They are wearing the medals that was not earned by them. Stolen valor is what we call it.”
Fast forward many years later. Pete has retired from Southwestern Bell Telephone company with many years of service to them. He is happily married with 3 grown kids, and 2 grand kids. Then the ugly face of war shows back up. On March 23, 2018 his wife rushed him to the hospital. He thought that his appendix had ruptured. Fortunately, it was not his appendix. Unfortunately, Pete was diagnosed with non-curable Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma, caused by agent orange from serving in Vietnam. He hadn’t been feeling well in quite some time, but as one of the doctors said “These guys wait so long and are so tough because of everything that they been through. He could have had this for years.” Pete was a warrior in Vietnam, and he continued to be a warrior. After months and months of chemotherapy, Pete’s cancer is in remission!
Pete and the other Vietnam Veterans are heroes. ALL Veterans are heroes. Pete is my hero, he is also my father. I have always strived to be a good man, and I pray that I could be at least half the man Pete is. This past week we celebrated Veterans day. One day of the year we acknowledge our Veterans. We should acknowledge them every day. Remember freedom is not free, people like Pete has paid for our freedom. Be sure to thank a Veteran, not just for Veterans day, but every day.