Fluorescent lights beat down on the faces of Vietnam veterans who had seen war, destruction and known loss that few others have. Nearly all of them draftees, four were on a panel, while five others were there to talk and compare experiences about a war many hadn’t spoken of since it ended 43 years ago.
“It was just completely different from anything you would expect or think,” said Gary Post, panelist. “On the bathroom, somebody had carved ‘Vietnam: the unwilling, led by the unable, to do the impossible.’ I never forgot it.”
Post was drafted for the Vietnam war in the middle of going through basic training, which he never finished. He served in the Army.
There were 10 other community members in attendance at the event held at Emporia Public Library. The panel discussed coming home from war and their experiences with PTSD and survivor’s guilt.
“I had it easy and sometimes you feel guilty about it,” said Robert Symmonds, panelist, ESU alumni and Army draftee. “These guys (the other panelists) had it tough and here I am typing away (as) a clerk.”
Bob Kimberlin, an Army veteran and attendee, interrupted Symmonds.
“I’d like to say something,” Kimberlin said. “You’re a humble man, but don’t ever be ashamed of what you’ve done…(I was in Vietnam) and you may have had paperwork that saved my life. The ammo had to be requisitioned to the companies, so every man does their part.”
Behind every grunt, there were nine supporting men behind him, according to Chris Lovett, panelist who was drafted in the Marines.
“Each person over there was a support, in some way to the grunt,” Kimberlin said. “And the grunt appreciates it.”
The veterans, on the panel and in attendance, also talked about the hardships in talking about the war.
“It took me 50 years to be able to buy the hat and wear it,” Post said. “I never used to talk about it at all or anything like that. I think things like this? Thank you...for giving us this opportunity here.”
The Emporia Public Library is recording interviews with Vietnam veterans for a segment called “Kansas Stories of the Vietnam War.” The interviews will be sent to the Library of Congress to be archived as part of the “Veterans History Project.”