A Foreign Land

When I returned home from Vietnam, it was like I had arrived in a foreign land. I don't mean to say that there were foreigners walking around; I mean the attitude of my countryman towards Vietnam Veterans and the Vietnam War in general. They treated us as though We had started the war, thus venting their opinions and frustrations about the war in our direction.

Hell, most of us just did our jobs and hoped we would make it home alive. These constant accusations and condemnations concerning the war took a toll on most of our heads. Many of us became withdrawn and talked to no one; others became frustrated and lashed out at the perpetrators. A number of Nam Vets denied that they had even been to Vietnam at all. Most of us banded together in close-knit groups and talked of Nam only to other Veterans or ourselves. We trusted no one, only Veterans.

Nobody wanted to talk to us about Vietnam; they were bored with the subject. If they wanted to hear about Vietnam, they could turn on the Nightly News with all of its misinformation and deceit. We needed to talk to someone about Nam and what we had been through. No one was willing to listen! You can't imagine how Alone we felt. We were called "Baby Killers" and "Drug Addicts." We were asked questions like, "How Many Women and Children Did You Kill While You Were There?"

We were even ridiculed by other Veterans. Some World War II vets said we were crybabies because we wouldn't take the shit people dished out. It was real easy for them to say because they came home to parades and were treated as heroes. Korean Vets as a whole, thought that they were shit on, too, but didn't complain much. Most of them held it inside or went into the bottle to forget.

Many of us, like myself, retreated into drugs and alcohol to kill the pain. Many times we would get drunk and sit there and literally cry in our booze. I cannot tell you how many fistfights and arguments I got into over the subject of Vietnam. I usually ended up beating the shit out of some stupid Asshole that didn't know what he was talking about.

My first was a "Hippie" at LA Airport the day I returned to the states. He Told me "Fuck You Baby Killer," and he spit in my face. I hit him so hard I thought I had killed him. The MPs dragged him away with his tongue hanging out. That was the first of many.

I had a true hatred and distrust toward my government and all of the anti-war assholes. This feeling of alienation lasted for years. I was a very bitter person; matter of fact, I was down right Mean! It was sort of a "Them Against Us" thing! It is said Vietnam Veterans have a Bad Attitude! You're Damn right We Do!

I stayed self-medicated for almost 16 years after I was discharged from the Marine Corps. It is said that to get straight from Drugs or Alcohol you must reach bottom. I was just lucky that my bottom didn't include losing my daughter and my job. I had already lost my first wife.

So, in May of 1986 I decided to commit myself to an Alcohol and Drug rehabilitation center. It was called Father Martin's of Ashley in Havre DeGrace, MD. There was a lot of love there! I guess it must have worked; I'm clean now!

A couple of weeks after I returned home from the treatment center, a veteran friend of mine asked me if I would like to go to Chicago and be in a Vietnam Veterans parade. I told him no, that it was too late for a parade. Our country had already blown our welcome home by mistreating us so badly. I still decided to go along, anyway, for the ride and the camaraderie.

We departed Wilmington, Delaware, at about 12:00 p.m. on June 12th, 1986, on our way to the city of Chicago. We arrived in Chicago later on that night and checked into our hotel. The parade was to start at 10:00 a.m. the next morning. We were all tired from the long drive and nodded out as soon as we got settled into our room.

The next morning, we woke up around 7:00 a.m. We took our showers and were out of our room and eating breakfast by 8:00 a.m. We called a Taxi and were taken to Olive Park where the parade was supposed to begin. The park was named after Medal Of Honor Recipient Milton Lee Olive III, who was killed in 1965 when he threw himself on a grenade to protect the lives of four buddies.

We were really lucky we arrived when we did or we might have missed the start of the parade. There was a huge crowd of marchers already assembled. We ended up lining up in the parade on the Navy Pier, alongside of Olive Park.

While we were waiting for the parade to begin, a Vet from another unit walked up and started to talk to us. He informed us that he was a Chicago cop. My Buddy asked him, "If you're a Cop, where's your gun?" (He was wearing shorts.)

He reached down in his knee sock and pulled out a .32 cal Automatic. We all laughed our asses off! He also told us that "Vietnam Veterans Own the City of Chicago This Weekend."

The parade started to move out about 9:30 a.m. -- a half hour early. The marchers were clad in neat uniforms, ragged khakis, and even three-piece suits. Most of us had on our Jungle utilities jackets and Levis. We walked in loose formation.

The parade kicked off walking west on Grant Avenue with General Westmoreland and a few Disabled Vets leading the way. There were various Veterans organizations marching in the parade; there were also numerous bands playing.

There were people everywhere cheering us on. People were yelling "Thank You" and shaking our hands and patting us on the shoulders as we walked by. I couldn't believe it; this was great, and we had only begun to parade.

We hadn't walked half way down Grant Avenue when the parade made an abrupt halt, and people were literally bumping into each other. It looked like something out of a "Three Stooges" movie. We figured out the reason quickly though; everyone was looking up and pointing! A woman had taken her top off and was yelling, "Thank You Boys"!

We continued on Grant Avenue until we reached State Street where we made a left turn and walked south. People were yelling and screaming and still cheering us on. The people were literally mobbing us as we were walking by, but they mobbed us with Love! At some points on the parade route the crowds swelled to over 10 feet thick!

This parade was different from most parades -- there was little separation between the parader and parade watcher; the police were even turning their backs on the open cans of beers most of us had. This was strictly enforced in every other parade. I even saw a cop with a "Vietnam Veteran and Proud of It" hat on. I never heard the words "Thank You" said so many times.

We made a right on Wacker Drive; this is where a large Italian gentleman came into the ranks of the parade and grabbed me and hugged me and told me "Thank You" and told me with an Italian accent to come to his Restaurant that night and eat for free.

Almost every cop we marched by saluted us! There were also people giving us beer all along the parade route. There were signs in almost every window saying "Welcome Home" or "We Love You Boys."

Then we made a left turn on La Salle Street, and I couldn't believe my eyes. There was Ticker Tape being dropped from every window. It was as thick as snowfall! Up to this point in the parade, I had managed to keep a stiff upper lip and be a tough guy! When I saw the Ticker Tap I got a huge lump in my throat, the kind you only get when you are fighting back tears. Then It happened!

A little girl, no more than 5 years old and wearing a beautiful white dress, came running out into the ranks giving out red roses and saying, "Thank You, Sir, for Going To Vietnam."

The tears came down like rain! This tough-assed Marine had just been softened by an Angel! I sobbed uncontrollably; I hadn't cried since I was in Vietnam! I was emptying out all of those years of Anger and Hatred into Chicago's streets. I felt like a wimp but could do nothing about it. The only consolation was, everyone around me was crying, too, spectators and veterans alike.

We were nearing the Reviewing Stand now, and we decided to square our asses away and stop babbling before we got there. When we marched by the reviewing stand, our Drill Instructors would have been proud. You could hear the heels of our boots and shoes a half a block away. We were marching as though we had just gotten out of Boot Camp! We were Now Proud to be Vietnam Veterans!

Just before we got to Jackson Street, we saw a Hooker standing on the corner yelling, "Hey Guys, Come And See Me Tonight, For Free!"

We continued on to Jackson Street and made a left turn; and to our amazement, people were still cheering us on, right up to where it ended at Grant Park! The parade had covered over 2.8 miles!

When we got to the Park, I was standing there with a can of beer in each hand and a beer in every pocket. My buddy came up and took them all away from me and smiled! It was pretty Ironic that the parade ended at Grant Park, though! Grant Park was the scene of violent, anti-war protests in the 1960s when the war in Vietnam was at its peak.

When the parade was over, we walked around the park for hours shaking hands and making friends. The organizers said there was supposed to be entertainment, and I was going to hang out; but, I looked up and saw a large billboard staring down at me for "Jack Daniel's" Tennessee whiskey. I had just gotten out of a treatment center and knew that if I stayed, I would Drink.

I had picked a hell of a time to quit drinking; Beer Was Free To All Vietnam Veterans throughout Chicago! I left and walked the five miles back to the hotel. I knew I had missed a real happening, but I felt strongly about staying straight. The other guys stayed out all night and had a great time.

When I woke up the next day, I was refreshed and felt great. I decided to retrace the route of the parade. I hailed a taxi and went back down to the Navy Pier where it all began. I walked up Grant Avenue, and there were still signs in some of the windows. I stopped and stared up at the building that the Young Woman had gone Topless on. I walked on to Wacker Street and stopped in front of the Italian Restaurant where the gentleman had hugged me.

Then I came to La Salle Street and made a left. I walked down the street very slowly taking everything in. The signs were still in the windows and pieces of Ticker Tape still in the street. Tears were running down my face, and I had a big smile.

All of a sudden, a young black boy about 11 years old appeared. He walked up to me with an outstretched hand. I put my hand out, and he shook my hand! He said, "Thank You For Going To Vietnam for Us, Sir!"

I looked around to see if anyone had told him to say that. Then I said, "Thank You," with tears running down my face.

He said, "Why are you crying, Sir?"

I said, "For Joy, Son, For Joy!"

The Chicago Vietnam Veterans Parade was an overwhelming success. It boasted of over 200,000 Vietnam Vets marching in it and attracted over 500,000 spectators. It healed a lot of wounds on both sides of the fence, both Servicemen and women and protestors alike. I believe the parade was good for everyone!

When I returned home, people said I was different in some way. I said, "I left a lot of Anger in Chicago!"

I will never forget my weekend in Chicago! I Guess I Really Did Need A Parade After All! Thank You, Chicago!

Thank You!!!!!

Former L/Cpl. Jack T. Hartzel-0331
Echo Co. 2nd Bn. 9th Marine Regmt.
3rd Marine Division
I-Corps 66-67-68

Copyright © 1999 By Jack Hartzel, All Rights Reserved

You can email Jack at: gunsup@epix.net

Revised 12-22-2006 - DGSH