After serving aboard three aircraft carriers over nine years during the Vietnam War, Wardee “Gunner” Bruce was finally coming home to his friends and family in the United States. But as the plane landed at Travis Air Force Base, Bruce and his fellow returning soldiers were given one final piece of advice — change out of their uniforms.
“It felt terrible to hear that,” said Bruce, who would go on to serve in the U.S. Navy for 30 years. “There was no one welcoming us back or thanking us and that led to a lot of our guys wanting nothing to do with society anymore.”
Now, Bruce and his fellow Vietnam Veterans are getting the acknowledgement and appreciation they were denied back then as part of the National Vietnam War Veterans Day on March 29.
On Thursday the City of Turlock and community members sought to honor those who fought and those who died in the war with a ceremony that included yellow ribbons being tied to the War Memorial Cannon in remembrance of the men and women who served during the Vietnam War.
“Vietnam Veterans weren’t afforded the same respect as the other veterans, and now we are going to correct that,” said Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa.
It was on March 29, 1973 that the last troops and support units withdrew from South Vietnam. Over the course of the war, more than 3.4 million U.S. soldiers and support units were deployed to the Southeast Asia region, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 58,000 lost their lives while serving.
Richard Gayton served as a helicopter chief and door gunner during the war and was one of the fortunate to make it out of the war alive. But after seeing the hostilities brewing stateside, he opted to continue his time in the military.
“I decided to stay in to be with my buddies,” Gayton said. “They knew what we had been through. It’s one thing when people disagree with one another, but it’s completely different when you feel like your whole country doesn’t like you.”