While Americans spend Memorial Day honoring soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, one local veteran who survived the Vietnam War shares his experiences. Naperville resident Mike McGrath recalls his involvement in a war that left more than 58,000 Americans dead and hundreds of thousands injured.
McGrath was drafted into the Army at age 21 and sent overseas four years later in 1966 to fight as a platoon leader in the Vietnam War.
“We tried to find enemy troops in the area,” said McGrath. “They would go into the villages and conscript local peasants to their army. So it was our job to keep the bad guys out of the villages.”
The Vietcong were Communist-led Guerillas who were fighting to overthrow the South-Vietnamese government when America stepped in.
“We found out that a lot of these people in the South did not want to be communists,” said McGrath. “So we wanted to protect their freedom and stop the spread of communism.”
In 1968, Richard Nixon withdrew U.S. troops from Vietnam. McGrath says their return home was not a welcoming one.
“A lot of us, maybe suffered a little bit when we got back home because there were war protesters and many times, Vietnam veterans were not treated very well.”
McGrath hopes today’s troops receive a warmer welcome home than Vietnam War vets ever received.
“We want them recognized for the great sacrifice they are making,” said McGrath.
“I think a lot of the Vietnam guys, our ideas are the world war two people, the greatest generation. So they are kind of an idol to us, an inspiration so we hope we can do the same for the young people today.”
Since his service, McGrath has continued to support the troops. His positions include past Commander of the Judd Kendall VFW post and Vice Commander of the American Legion.
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