“They wanted to know about his last days”

Corporal John Parise
3/26th Marines, U.S. Marine Corps

I wasn’t doing well in college and being a patriotic guy I joined the Marines. I served from 1966 to 1969. My MOS was 2542, teletype operator. I volunteered for Vietnam after being stationed in Okinawa for five months. I arrived in there on 7 July 1967 and was assigned to the 3/26th Marines at Khe Sanh.

A slot for my MOS, 2542 teletype operator, did not exist at Khe Sanh so, I was assigned as a message runner, convoy security duty, and perimeter guard.

I had originally extended for six months, but while it was in the works, a memo came down that they knew of an extensive buildup of NVA in the “region” of Khe Sanh and were expecting “something.” The point being they “knew” something was going to happen at Khe Sanh.

The Tet offensive was no surprise as the press reports it. I worked in the communications section of the 3/26th Marines, and we got a memo in early December, I saw the damn memo. It said basically that bad shit was coming down the road.

Because of this, I made up an excuse and canceled my extension. I know this makes me look bad, but the truth is that upper management knew Tet was coming.

Coming Home
I from San Francisco to Chicago on United Airlines first class! I was treated like royalty by the flight attendants. I did not run into any problems when I came home. No one spit on me or called me a baby killer.

My family didn’t know exactly when I was coming home. They did know that I would be home sometime at the end of December 1967. I took a cab home; no one was at the airport to meet me. When I got home, I dropped my sea bag on the sidewalk in front of my house and just stared at it for a few minutes. It seemed unreal. I guess I was a little numb at this point.

When I got home, I sat in the bathtub for almost an hour, my Dad knocked on the door to make sure I was alright. It had been a year since the last time I actually took a bath.

I had an argument with my Dad at the dinner table my first night home…I ultimately stood up and said to him…”I’ve paid my dues; I don’t need to listen to this shit now”. I walked away from the dinner table, and my Dad couldn’t believe I talked back to him. He later gave me the keys to his car, and I went out to a bar with some friends. While I was still home on leave, I read in the paper that a close friend of mine had died in Nam, just two weeks short of coming home. I went to his funeral and his parents invited me to their home afterward. They wanted to know about his last days and my thoughts of their son. That was the most difficult thing I ever had to do.

In my neighborhood, all Nam vets were treated with great respect.

Afterward
I never felt a disconnect like some vets did. When Saigon fell in 1975, I knew we would probably lose that war. The war was controlled by politicians; that never works out well.

I have heart disease from Agent Orange but otherwise, I am OK. I have no other issues, other than some bouts of survivor guilt.

My wartime experiences made me more cynical about authority. I used to believe our leaders knew what they were doing, militarily, but now I believe they didn’t have a clue as to what they were doing. We lose lives taking ground, only to abandon that ground soon after. What the hell kind of strategy is that?

I have never been to the Wall. I would probably break down and cry, and I don’t like being out of control.

Looking back, even though the outcome was bad, I was proud to have served, will always feel that way.

We all wanted to come home but did not know what would await us

Interwoven with the author’s own experiences and reflections on the Vietnam War are the personal narratives from Vietnam veterans on how their lives, emotions, and health were impacted by the war and by how they were treated when they came home. Many of those that served in the Vietnam War are still dealing with its effects. In this important book, for which more than 150 Vietnam veterans were interviewed, a strong light is shone on the lingering legacy of the war. These Vietnam veterans describe not the war itself, but how their lives were changed by it and by the reception afforded them when they came home. Some volunteered, others were drafted. Some saw combat, others dealt with its aftermath. Some thrived after coming home from Vietnam. Still, others led successful lives but have had to deal with the effects of PTSD, Agent Orange illnesses, and moral injuries. A great many struggled to reclaim their places in civilian life. The horrors and shock or war were compounded by the “welcome” home–many Vietnam veterans received hostile receptions from their own people and the organizations that should have provided support. Those that came home from Vietnam had to move on as best they could, on their own terms. Here are their stories.