2013 marks the 40th anniversary since the last U.S. combat troops withdrew from the Vietnam War.
To this day, veterans of Vietnam still talk about the conflict, which killed 58,000 American soldiers and left countless others suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.
We met several local veterans who shared the hardships of returning to civilian life after surviving the war.
Naperville resident and past commander of the Judd Kendall VFW Jack Shiffler enlisted in the Marine Corp in 1965. A year later, he was sent to Vietnam to fight in the second battalion.
Over the course of the war, many Americans protested back home, and when Shiffler returned to the states in 1967, he couldn’t believe the disrespect one of those protestors showed him.
“This cute young lady walked right up to me and she said ‘You’re a Marine’ and I says, ‘Yes,’ and she said, ‘You just came back from Vietnam’ and I said, ‘Absolutely ma’am,’ and she proceeded to spit in my face,” said Shiffler. “It was very hard to understand when you’re just doing your duty for your country, how people could treat you like that.”
Paying tribute to those sent to defend the Republic of Vietnam is an exhibit inside the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park where visitors can see how they got involved and the role they played.
Three Vietnam War veterans came to Cantigny for a panel discussion about their experiences, largely focusing on what it was like to come home and their transition back into civilian life.
“When I got on the plane to come back, I never felt more of a feeling of euphoria in my entire life,” said Regis Snyder. “I made it through the air and when it took off and we were in the air on the Freedom Plane they called it, the guys on that plane they started hollering and cheering and I just felt so good to know that I’m going home.”
They said the media often painted a negative picture of the troops fighting Vietnam.
“You read about this is in the news and the way they’re treating veterans from Vietnam and all that. All the other people coming back from the Middle East and Afghanistan, they’re calling them heroes and how wonderful they are. I thought, I’m missing out on some of this,” said Jerry Sheeman.
Many in the military, including these panelists, kept silent for years following the war.
“What I really blame our government for is that they didn’t explain that talking about it is the way you heal yourself, to talk to other people and to try to understand what it all is,” said Jim Kurtz.
Today, these servicemen are talking about it. In fact, two regularly give tours throughout Cantigny Park.
As for Shiffler, he enjoys talking with younger generations about his experiences in the war, hoping to make a positive impact on how they view those who served our country then and those serving now.
“I swear the books only still have like a paragraph long about the Vietnam war and it does not explain it,” said Shiffler. “I think it’s imperative upon us to talk to these kids, let them know what went out, and hopefully we’ll never ever let that happen again.”
Cantigny’s Vietnam War panel was part of the park’s “Date With History” series, which features various events throughout the year educating the public on monumental moments in history. For a list of other events, visit www.cantigny.org.
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