Reflections of a Vietnam War veteran
By Pete Schwieder
Special to Village Life
Each year at this time as Veterans Day approaches it seems as if I am forced to remember the time that I spent in Vietnam.
My mind tells me to forget the lives taken in combat and the lives of my friends who killed as well. But, my heart swells with tears of sorrow for my friends and others who lost their lives serving our country back in the ’60s and ’70s. There were 5,573 men and women who died in Vietnam from the state of California. One of them was a best friend from high school. For the last two years during Memorial Day services in Sacramento at the California Vietnam War Memorial, I have had the honor of reading their names. The average age of the veteran who lost their life there was 18 years and 2 months.
There were three of us who went into the military service out of high school; we all vowed that we wanted to return a hero from Vietnam … kind of a John Wayne thing, I suppose. That was the innocence of youth. It seemed that one month we were at the high school prom and the next we were in the jungles of Vietnam. Bud Kimball went into the Marines and was killed in his second month there. Al Rascon and I went into the Army; he was trained as a medic and I as an electronics communications technician. Al was awarded the Medal of Honor and made the Army a career, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
I spent my 18th birthday (Nov. 10) in a sandbag bunker looking up at a near full moon at about 2 in the morning wondering if my girlfriend and family back home remembered my birthday. I felt sorry for myself, I guess, as most of us were teenagers and were confused as to why we as a country were even involved in Vietnam. The more time we spent there, the intensity within ourselves increased. We had no way out of the system at that point. Our fellow soldier became our brother as we had to take care of one another. We returned back home to a society that hated us and, for the most part, we were not recognized for our time spent there or for the lives that were lost. We veterans had no choice but to hide our service time and the things we were involved with and move on with our lives. I married, had two children and went to college (Pepperdine University) at night for 14 years, earning my degrees while working full-time. I made a career in the computer industry.
I spent two tours in Vietnam as a communications specialist with the 5th Special Forces. My task was to keep our field teams’ communications equipment in full operation. I was the only field communications troubleshooter who worked north of Nha Trang to the DMZ for the entire country in 1963 and 1964, flying in and out by helicopter nearly every day servicing both A and B detachments.
Today, as a parent I could not imagine a son of mine being away from home in combat, let alone giving his life and taking another man’s life. We need to be thankful and proud of our men and women who have served their country in the past and those who are currently on active duty world-wide. We pray that you all return home safely to your families. We thank you for your service to our great country. God Bless America!
Pete is the co-owner/broker associate of Insight Real Estate. He and his wife Carole reside in El Dorado Hills.