Veterans’ Reflections: ‘I Wish I Had Stayed In’

WASHINGTON — Saint Sil­ver is con­sid­ered a dis­abled vet­er­an. Post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der, sleep apnea, and dia­betes relat­ed to Agent Orange expo­sure have affect­ed him since he served in Viet­nam. But he does­n’t look back in anger. He looks back with appre­ci­a­tion for the ser­vice.

National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Saint Sil­ver, an Army vet­er­an of the Viet­nam War, pos­es for a pho­to dur­ing a vis­it to the Nation­al Mall in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., July 30, 2010.
DOD pho­to by Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class William Sel­by
Click to enlarge

In fact, he said, serv­ing in the Army was the best thing that hap­pened to him. 

“Being in Viet­nam … you can’t for­get it. It’s some­thing that stays with you for the rest of your life,” Sil­ver said. “Being a vet­er­an is the best thing that hap­pened to me.” He’s grate­ful that he was able to serve his coun­try, he said. 

“I think that every young man, when he turns 18, should be oblig­at­ed to serve the coun­try,” he said. “I think we’d have less crime, less killing one-on-one. The mil­i­tary gives you some sta­bil­i­ty, and you learn to grow up and be a man.” 

The Hen­der­son, N.C., res­i­dent said serv­ing in the Army helped to shape him as an adult, and his ser­vice abroad taught him to appre­ci­ate the things some take for grant­ed in the Unit­ed States. 

“Once you get back home, you real­ize how much you love our coun­try, and how much free­dom you have in a democ­ra­cy ver­sus com­mu­nism over there, where you’re told what to do and when to do it,” Sil­ver said. 

Sil­ver served as a clerk in the Army from 1968 to 1971, though he said he nev­er worked in his spe­cial­ty. Instead, he was a util­i­ty super­vi­sor, advis­ing Viet­namese in the Mekong Delta, where he nev­er thought he’d end up. 

“They told me I passed the phys­i­cal in Jan­u­ary, and I’d be draft­ed the next month,” Sil­ver said. “So I vol­un­teered, think­ing I’d miss Viet­nam. But right after [spe­cial­ty train­ing], I went straight over to Vietnam.” 

Viet­nam was a good cause, Sil­ver said, and the lessons learned there should be kept in mind when con­sid­er­ing draw­downs and mis­sions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he believes the Unit­ed States pulled out of Viet­nam too soon, result­ing in con­tin­ued prob­lems for the Viet­namese people. 

“If we do like we did in Viet­nam, leav­ing before the job is fin­ished, oth­er coun­tries will think they can’t depend on us,” he said. “If you con­sid­er your­self an ally of anoth­er coun­try, you should be able to stay and help them through what they’re going through before you leave. Amer­i­cans nev­er real­ly lost the war over there. It was the coun­ter­parts that lost. We did­n’t lose.” 

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should­n’t deter peo­ple con­sid­er­ing mil­i­tary ser­vice today, Sil­ver said. The ben­e­fits, both tan­gi­ble and invis­i­ble, out­weigh the risks of com­bat, he added. 

“Once I got out, I wish I had stayed in,” he said. “Where can you go and get 30 vaca­tion days a year? You get hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, and you don’t have to wor­ry about it. Plus, it makes you grow up. You get a skill. After 20 years you can retire to anoth­er job. It has so many oppor­tu­ni­ties, and pos­i­tives, in spite of the war.” 

All young peo­ple don’t think that way, he acknowl­edged. “But as you get old­er, you real­ize all of the things you missed by not stay­ing in,” he added. 

(“Vet­er­ans’ Reflec­tions” is a col­lec­tion of sto­ries of men and women who served their coun­try in World War II, the Kore­an War, the Viet­nam War, oper­a­tions Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the present-day con­flicts. They will be post­ed through­out Novem­ber in hon­or of Vet­er­ans Day.) 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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