Vaughn Hardacker here: This year there are a couple of anniversaries of major events in my life. On March 6, 1965, the U. S. Marines landed at Danang, Republic of Vietnam, officially kicking off the war, and on June 16, 1965 I graduated high school in Caribou. What do these dates have to do with forming me into the person I am now? Graduating high school says all that needs to be said about that subject. As for the other, within one year I would enlist in the U. S. Marine Corps and in another year and a half I would be in Vietnam.
This year being the golden anniversary of the Vietnam War many veteran’s groups are giving recognition to those of us who were there. As a member of the Marine Corps League, I did some research into our state’s contribution to that war. I decided to put my focus on those who made the ultimate sacrifice and was surprised to learn some eye-opening facts: Over 340 men gave their lives (I have one source putting the actual number at 341 and another at 343 (this equates to 5.8% of the total dead), I have not been able to find the discrepancy between the two numbers. The first casualty from Maine was Captain Herbert F. Hardy, US Army. He died as a result of enemy action on March 4, 1964. He was from Great Pond in Hancock County. The second and third casualties were Captain Roger E. Gauvin, U.S Army and Private First Class Richard P. Bubar, both of Caribou. Richie Bubar died on November 1, 1964. His death hit me particularly hard as I knew him personally and his parents and mine were very close friends. The first U. S. Marine to be killed in Vietnam was Corporal Gary D. Tracy from Limestone, who was killed on June 6, 1965. The last Maine serviceman to lose his or her life in Vietnam was Lieutenant Commander Robert S. Graustien, US Navy, of Fryeburg in Oxford Country. The youngest Mainer to lose his life was Private Bruce A. Abdellah, US Army, of East Holden in Penobscot County. Who was 95 days short of his twentieth birthday when he was killed on October 26, 1971. According to the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, five men killed in Vietnam were only sixteen years old and the oldest killed was sixty-two and 61% were twenty-one (I celebrated my twenty-first birthday there) or younger. The war still lingers on in those of us who are still alive and many of us are still reluctant to talk about our experiences with anyone but another Viet-vet. As a matter of fact, we still harbor a great deal of resentment about the way we were treated when we returned. The general attitude about the war and those of us who served there was so negative that we were virtually driven underground. Even today, when attitudes have softened, I bristle when someone says, “Thank you for your service.” Unfortunately, I feel that the phrase has become another platitude (like “Have a nice day” that has no feeling behind it) and my first reaction is to ask myself “Why weren’t we told that forty-six years ago?” and I seldom, if ever, answer the so-called well wisher. There is, however, one statement that enrages me more than that: “I didn’t go over but wish I had.” My answer to that has always been: “Well, trust me when I say you didn’t miss anything.” Of the 2,709,918 Americans who served in Vietnam, less than one-third are estimated to be alive today, with the youngest American Vietnam veteran’s age approximated to be 54 years old. According to the 1995 census 1,713,823 of those who served in Vietnam were still alive; 9,492,958 Americans falsely claimed to have been there. (During the most recent census 13,853,027 falsely claimed being here, so FOUR OUT OF FIVE who claim to be vets are NOT.) The census taken during August of 2000 estimated the Vietnam veteran population surviving at 1,002,511 or a net loss of 711,000 during the five years 1995 to 2000. That’s 390 per day.
To those of you who say: “Thank you for your service.” Our war has been over for forty something years and many of the younger people thanking us are most likely not aware of the scathing comments and actions to which we Vietnam veterans were subjected upon our return. So I must say that Vietnam veterans need to put the negative feelings behind us and accept the phrase for what it has become, another stranger saying “Good morning” as we pass on the street; just a way of greeting someone (who we really don’t care if their morning is good or not).
When I meet with other Vietnam Veterans and we talk about the war, the question: “Knowing what you know now, would you do it again?” The answer from me and my colleagues (almost exclusively Marines) is “In a heartbeat!” But that is the way we Mainers are. Every Mainer has relatives who fought in our nation’s wars. My uncle, Vaughn L. Hardacker of whom I am his namesake, gave his life in August of 1944 fighting in the hedgerows of France, his youngest brother, Elias (Earl) E., was awarded the silver star in Belgium in December 0f 1944.
In closing, before saying, “Thank you for your service” take a moment to reflect about what you’re saying. If you’re saying it without truly meaning it, just say “Good morning”. Also if a Vietnam veteran stares at you and walks by without answering, please realize that some of us are still not used to dealing with gratitude from the general public and aren’t entirely sure how to respond.