I remember the West-Pac of 1972-1973 when Sailfish operated in the Tonkin Gulf. There were several crew members who decided to re-enlist when Sailfish operated there since all pay including Variable Reenlistment Bonus’s (VRB’s) were not taxed. Cigarette packages and boxes had no tax stamps on them and were available at $2 per carton ($0.20/pack). We were also able to send all of our mail back home without postage and only had to write the word ‘Free’ in the upper right hand corner of the envelope. The mail was then sent out once we made port. I remember my dad showing me one of the letters he got from me way back then and commenting on the word “Free” written where a stamp would have been.
Once I left the Navy and began my life as a civilian, I decided to join the local VFW Post. I filled out all of the paperwork which was sent in for membership review however, it was returned as ‘Denied’ because there was NO documentation of my being in Viet-Nam during any conflict which dis-allowed my membership. To this day I have never set foot back inside of any VFW Post, and even refused to attend local USSVI group meetings when I worked out of Washington DC because they held their monthly meetings inside one.
What I later found out was that the Navy rebuked the awards from our entire crew without our knowledge stating that Congress and the President at the time (Nixon) post dated the end of the ‘conflict’ to match the date that the first group of POW’s set foot back on American soil – in other words, they took our Viet-Nam Service medals away because they ended the war before we got there to perform our operations.
I remember a time when one of my twin daughters who grew up believing that I was a ‘Real’ Viet-Nam Vet because she’s seen my old Navy paraphernalia decided to surprise me with a hand made personalized quilt made especially for me by local Georgia artisans who design, assemble, and present their creations to various hand selected veterans based on written submissions to their group. I remember my daughter asking me to be at a specific place at a specific time just north of Atlanta, but wouldn’t give me a reason why. Once I pried the information out of my wife and found out what was going down, I politely refused to attend and accept – obviously to the disappointment of the artisans and my daughter.
Most recently while wearing one of my many submarine hats, I was approached by a member of the local VFW here in Middle Georgia who was signing up Viet-Nam vets to join the VFW so that our Govenor at the time, Nathan Deal could formally recognize all of Georgias Viet-Nam veterans with fancy certificates. I politely refused and went about my business.
So, am I a Viet-Nam Vet?….. Well, according to the Department of Defense, Department of Veteran Affairs, and the United States Federal Government, and other ‘Real’ Viet-Nam vets, I’m not….. There is no documented record of my being there any time during the conflict…… However, I still have my ‘modified’ awards form that I found buried in all of my old discharge papers… I suppose at least I’ve never had to pay back the federal government all the taxes on the tax free pay that I received, or had to repay the post office for the free postage on my old letters, or reimburse the federal government for taxes on all of those sea store cigarettes I purchased….. Too bad the government never recognized our service in a much more important conflict…. The “Cold War”…. But that’s another story!
And THAT my friends is the “Rest of the Story”…