The United States estimates that there are about 610,000 veterans of fought in Vietnam some six decades ago who are still alive today.
Wednesday was their day. Vietnam Veterans Day. Officially.
It’s unclear how many Vietnam veterans live in Bryan County, but among them are Pembroke resident B.J. Clark and Richmond Hill native Donald Singleton.
Clark, originally from LaGrange, spent two tours in Vietnam aboard aircraft carriers and made the Navy a career.
Singleton was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. He was wounded in 1967 while on a patrol. The soldier who saved his life by jumping on a grenade, Specialist Dale Eugene Wayrynen, was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
Here’s what Clark and Singleton had to say about the war, all these years later.
“I was in a squadron of 12 United States Navy Bombers (A4D Skyhawks) and we lost three pilots to POW captivity over there. One died in captivity, the other two spent almost seven years as POW’s,” Clark said. “We lost 68,000 young service members. Many more came home with their lives in tatters and never recovered.”
Clark, a longtime active member of Pembroke American Legion Post 164, went on to have a second career as a salesman after his time in the Navy, but he now sees parallels between then and and now.
“I see us headed down that path again and hope I’m wrong,” Clark said. “God bless our country.”
Singleton, who said he “joined the Army and went into the paratroopers because I wanted to serve this country,” wears his service on his sleeve and is one of Richmond Hill’s most visible and honored veterans.
Singleton, who these days uses gardening as therapy, came home and built a career as a railroad engineer and raised a family, all while dealing with the aftermath of a war many in society wanted to forget.
“I want people to know Vietnam veterans are out there, still, dealing with it,” he said. “We didn’t come home to parades. The Vietnam veteran was forgotten for a long time.”
But he never forgot. “Not a day goes by that I don’t remember Vietnam,” Singleton said. “And I don’t need anything to remind me of it. It’s with me every day.”