Vietnam vets discuss war during SAIL luncheon
SHEPHERDSTOWN — The Vietnam War may have ended on April 30, 1975, but for some local residents, the memories of the war continue to this day.
During Shepherdstown Area Independent Living’s monthly Brown Bag Luncheon on Friday afternoon, Navy veteran Mike Austin spoke about his experience in Vietnam, as a communications advisor between the U.S. military and South Vietnamese.
“I was proud to serve in the Navy,” Austin said of his 23-year-career. “I was privileged to be involved in Vietnam in my military career. I attended a Presbyterian college before that, so I believed it was predetermined for me to be involved with Vietnam, and for it to have such an impact on my life.”
For Austin, his military career was influenced by his decision to study southern Asia in college. His college education helped him build a deeper understanding of the Vietnam conflict, during his military education.
“My education gave me a tremendous insight into operations. I got about eight months of learning the Vietnamese language, culture and tactics,” Austin said. “If you remember, we weren’t very well prepared for Korea, so they made sure to not make the same mistake with Vietnam.”
According to Austin, his military occupation code kept him from joining some of the fighting, much to his chagrin.
“I arrived in Saigon. Myself and my crew, we saw all of the bombs coming in, and we thought we were missing all the war,” Austin said, mentioning he and his fellow troops did see action before the end of the war. “The last month of the war, we fired 10,000 rounds on the opposing troops. My crew, we had the honor of firing the last round before the end of the war.”
After Austin spoke, he opened up the floor for discussion, which fellow Vietnam War veteran Tim Murphy took advantage of, to speak of his time as a Marine in the conflict. According to Murphy, the war’s ending was difficult for the Marines, as the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam fought to stay in the country until he was forced to leave by President Richard Nixon.
“The ambassador didn’t want to leave, to the point that the helicopter pilot Jerry Berry had to land and tell him the United States president had ordered him to leave,” Murphy said, with a chuckle.
The ambassador, Murphy said, then agreed to leave, but in his hasty departure, a dozen Marines who had helped with the helicopter on the ambassador’s roof were left behind.
“His crew chief said, ‘Are we going back for the Marines?’ They had all left as soon as the ambassador was in the helicopter, and forgotten about the Marines,” Murphy said, mentioning a rescue mission brought all of the Marines safely back.
As Austin looked back at the war, he left the luncheon group with some personal insights.
“We in the military got a lot of credit, but there were some wonderful people we worked alongside, diplomatically,” Austin said. “We owed a lot to the Foreign Service. There were about 30,000 Southern Vietnamese that were marked for collaborating with the United States troops.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been very smart about covering our tracks when it comes to the relationships we formed. We made the same mistake with the Iraq War,” Austin said. “There’s a lot still to learn with the Vietnamese experience, especially with Iraq, and, hopefully, Afghanistan.”