Monte Conley will be one of the Vietnam veterans who will be watching Saturday as the annual Vietnam Veterans Day parade in Springfield, Ohio, winds down Fountain Avenue.
But there was a time when vets such as Conley, who served 13 months in Vietnam, would rather not publicly identify themselves.
“It didn’t matter if you were in the Marine Corps, the Army or whatever — we were all ‘baby killers,’ we all wore green and people spit on you,” Conley said, who marched in the first Springfield Vietnam Veterans Day parade last year.
“It took me 40 years, but now I broadcast it,” he added, while proudly pointing to his Marine Corps hat and T-shirt he was wearing as he sat in his living room recently.
Veterans, of Vietnam and other wars, and citizens will show their gratitude for the commitment of soldiers who served in Vietnam at Springfield’s parade and ceremony Saturday — the date proclaimed by President Obama in 2012 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The parade beings at 10 a.m., led by the Vietnam Veterans of America Color Guard out of London, Ohio, and will march south down Fountain Avenue to the bridge over Buck Creek.
There will be a short ceremony at the bridge that will include a prayer, a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps and the tossing of a wreath into the creek to honor memories of those who lost their lives in Vietnam. The parade will conclude with a larger ceremony with speakers and music in the Cliff Park Amphitheatre.
Conley was drafted into the Marine Corps when he was 18.
“They took us by ‘qualifications,’ but the ‘qualifications’ was we were the first four names on the alphabet,” Conley said.
After his boot camp and artillery training in California, Conley was sent to Vietnam and was one of the two machine gunmen in his company stationed near Da Nang — in charge of operating the machine gun during firefights and stationed as a lookout guard at their Marine base. He was later moved into a military police position after the stress of fighting caused him to wake up from a sleepwalk carrying the machine gun in his arms.
“I had never had it happen until then — I had never sleepwalked,” Conley said.
Upon his return back home, Conley would wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares about being called back to fight in Vietnam.
“It was nightly; I would have dreams that they were coming to get me and I’d be saying, ‘I done served, I’ve done my time,’ and that went on for years,” he said.
Not until Conley’s uncle took him to the Dayton VA Medical Center almost 40 years after his return from the hot and humid battlefields of the Vietnamese bush was Conley able to find help to heal the scars of war.
“There’s scars that don’t show on the outside that’s going to be with us veterans until we die,” Conley said.
With health services through the VA and weekly meetings with other veterans at the Springfield VA Community Clinic, Conley grew more comfortable about sharing his experiences of war with others. He admits, however, it is still at times difficult to bring up wartime memories.
”Sometimes we talk about Vietnam and things that went on there and then it gets intense, so next time we go in, we get away from that to unwind from it,” he said.
Different from the treatment he received upon returning from Vietnam in 1969, Conley now has people coming up to him and thanking him for his service. Every year on Vietnam Veterans Day and other events to commemorate military service, he gets emotional thinking about how other servicemen like himself are struggling to find healing.
“I get choked up at times about it,” he said. “I look at all the veterans who are coming back now, and they’re going through a lot of the stuff that we went through.”