Today’s Veteran’s Day celebrations were not always so welcoming. Many Vietnam Veterans remember all too well the negative and hurtful experiences they received upon coming home. Naperville resident and marine Jack Shiffler shared some of his memories and now works to honor those who serve.
Shiffler enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1965 and a year later, the 21 year old found himself in Vietnam. He started out as an engineer, but Shiffler said that lasted about 15 seconds. He then became a grunt.
“I got on this truck and I asked the driver, I said ‘Do we get a gun?’’ said Shiffler. “He said, ‘Not yet. Not until you get to the battalion.’ I said, ‘Okay, so this is my entrance into Vietnam.’ [And] I thought, ‘Oh what have I done to myself?’”
The Marine spent the next year in Vietnam standing guard and looking for the enemy.
“Because I’m a full-fledged grunt, I am lucky to be alive. I shouldn’t be, by all ways shape and form. There were about seven times that I should be dead, but I’m not,” he said.
Shiffler made it back to the states alive, but many of his friends would never step foot on American soil again, and he remembers each and every one of them.
“We were out on a patrol one day and a mom and son come out with a little baby and of course Harris says ‘Here hold the gun I want to go see the baby.’ She gave him the baby. She turned and ran away. The baby blew up. He blew up and cut him right in half. All I saw was just his waist and he fell right over. My first reaction was why in the world would anyone kill their own baby? It’s probably because they were threatened,” said Shiffler.
When he and fellow Marines returned to the states it wasn’t the Homecoming they were hoping for.
“I got out, walked into the airport, got in there maybe 20 feet and little gal, couldn’t have been 5’4”-5’3” dressed in an orange Mumu came up she said ‘You’re a Marine?’ I said, ‘Yes ma’am I am.’ She says, ‘You’re just back from Vietnam?’ I said, ‘Yes I am’ and she proceeded to spit in my face and call me everything in the world,” said Shiffler.
Even here in Naperville, the reaction of the people wasn’t what Shiffler expected. Not even in his church.
“He’s going along with his ceremony and I saw a lot of my friends, and they said, ‘Oh, Im glad you’re home,’” said Shiffler. “Then he stopped right in his sermon and he said, “Well I had a pretty good sermon today, but seeing as we have one of those drugged up baby killers in the audience, I think we ought to talk about that.’ I went ballistic. My mother, God bless her soul is about 4’11 if she weighed 90 pounds it was a lot. I remember me standing up and I was going to head towards the pulpit and she just put her finger right here and walked me out of the church, but half the congregation went with me. [And] I thought ‘How can this happen in the house of God? How can this be?’ I never really did get an answer, but that was the time there were a lot of people against that war.”
Shiffler uses his experiences as an example for the younger generation. He was the commander of the Judd Kendall VFW for three years and is involved in multiple veteran organizations.
When asked what Veteran’s Day means to him, he said, “It means everything. Veteran’s Day is our chance to shine.” Shiffler hopes the next generation of veterans will get their chance to shine and keep the VFW alive.
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