Vaughn C. Hardacker here. If you are a follower of this blog you know that I am a veteran of the Vietnam War. It has been over fifty years since I returned from Southeast Asia like many of my fellow veterans, I have physically returned but don’t think I’ve mentally left there yet–nor will I ever do so completely. I still debate with myself about my inability to cope with certain aspects of that experience is due to the way we were treated when we returned or events that happened while we were there.
It is pretty much accepted that being able to talk about traumatic events is a vital step in a recovery process. We were not given that opportunity. Instead we metaphorically went underground. We let our hair grow out (in the mid to late sixties it didn’t require a uniform to be identified as a member of the United States military; a high and tight haircut did that for us), many of us anesthetized our pain with alcohol and drugs, and we even went so far as to deny we had served in Vietnam whenever somebody asked us if we served. To this day when I hear someone of my generation say, “I didn’t go to Vietnam, but I wish I had,” (I’ve actually had numerous people say that) my response is, “You didn’t miss a thing.”
Fortunately times change. Since our military has become involved numerous police actions (Many veteran organizations denied admission to Vietnam veterans using the excuse that it was not a declared war. In other words a police action) the attitude toward we Vietnam veterans has improved one hundred percent. On August 15, 2019 as part of the small town of Washburn’s annual Washburn days, the Traveling Wall came to Aroostook County. What made it special, the Wall has been to various county locations in the past, was that the event planners asked Vietnam Veterans to be active participants. On Friday, August 16, 2019, I was honored to be asked if I would speak to a group of students
and answer any questions they might have. The event organizers had made arrangements for every K-12 student who was attending school on that day to visit the wall and to meet with us. Without belaying the point, it was possibly the most therapeutic thing that has happened to me in fifty years.
Aroostook County did its bit during those turbulent times. Of the 50, 300 plus names on
the Wall, 32 were from county (one of them was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously) and several of them I knew personally. I have done a lot of research into the war and was surprised to learn that of the first three soldiers killed in the war two were from my hometown of Caribou. Captain Roger Gauvin was killed when the helicopter he was flying crashed as a result of enemy fire on March 15, 1964 (historians mark the beginning of the Vietnam War as March 8, 1965 when the Marines landed at Danang, even though the Veteran’s Administration considers the period 1955 to 1975 as the Vietnam War Era. However, US troops were in Vietnam as early as 1945, as a result of the ending of World War II. Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey, head of an American OSS mission, was killed by Vietminh troops and became the first American soldier to die in Vietnam. Richard Bubar,
a friend and the first KIA I knew personally, died on November 1, 1964. It has been said that the Afghanistan Police Action is the longest in U. S. history. An argument can be made that the Vietnam War went on for thirty years and is still the longest military action in U. S. history.
In total Caribou, Maine was to lose six of its sons during the war. The event planners had
posters made with each of their pictures and had placed them along the Wall making the experience more meaningful to the students and visitors. Putting a face to the name hit home.
During the two days that I spent at the wall, especially when I met with the students, it suddenly dawned on me that I have reached that point in my life that events that I lived through and participated in are now being taught in history classes–talk about feeling old!
In an earlier post I expressed the difficulty I had responding when someone thanked me for my service. After the way those students in a small northern Maine town greeted me I can finally say: “You’re welcome…and I’d do it again.”
As a final note:
As many of you may know I am the Commandant of the local Marine Corps League Detachment. This year we are having a fund raiser concert to support the Toys For Tots program. Toys For Tots was founded in 1947 as the primary charity of the Marine Corps Reserve. In Maine the only reserve unit is based in Brunswick at the former naval air station. my detachment has tried to fill in the void by assisting TFT in its mission. Last year we distributed toys to over 2,600 children in northern Aroostook County. We were able to do this by raising over four thousand dollars in a November 10 concert (November 10 is the Marine Corps birthday) featuring Georgette Jones, the daughter of country music superstars Tammy Wynette and George Jones. More than half of the profit raised was sent to the TFT national headquarters. This year our concert will be held on November 9 (we selected the November date because of the proximity to Veteran’s Day and the USMC birthday) and will feature Billy Dean a country music top ten recording artist.
We are currently attempting to raise money to pay for Mr. Dean and would greatly appreciate any support we can get. If you are able to help us with a donation please do so. Make any checks out to The Marine Corps League (any amount will be a help) and mail it to me at:
Vaughn Hardacker P. O. Box 121, Stockholm, ME 04783-0121.