It has been 50 years since the United States ceased military operations for the war in Vietnam.
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The conflict cost the lives of 58,000 American soldiers, along with millions of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. Sadly, many people believe that our veterans were not treated as well as they should have been when they returned to their homeland. Veterans like Jim Webb aim to right that wrong, one soldier at a time.
Jim Webb served as a United States Marine in Vietnam, and he later went on to become a United States senator. He hopes to keep the memory of the sacrifice our soldiers made alive in any way he can, which is why he accompanied a group of Notre Dame students to a battlefield in Vietnam to show them the conditions firsthand.
“They needed to see this,” Jim explained. “They needed to understand what it was like for the people on the ground, and particularly for the Marine Corps.”
While they stood in the now-empty field where more than 7,000 soldiers lost their lives, a local man approached the group. He pulled a soldier’s dog tags from his pocket, and the Notre Dame professor promptly bought it from the man for $20.
The name on the dog tag identified Vietnam veteran Corporal Larry Hughes, a fellow Marine to Jim. Back at home, Jim tracked down the family of Corporal Hughes, who had made it home from Vietnam but died a few years ago. He was able to meet up with the soldier’s son, Carl Hughes, and his sister, Carl’s aunt Patricia.
Carl admits he was skeptical when he first got Jim’s call.
“I was like, ‘oh, this has got to be some kind of a scam, or something,’ It doesn’t sound real,” he confessed.
Once he realized the dog tags were real, he and the family were happy to have them back. They stirred up a lot of memories, both good and bad, of an uncertain time.
“I just couldn’t believe it!” said Patricia. “It took me way back in time to when I was a teenage girl, and my brother’s gone, and we don’t know if he’s coming home.”
Carl said his father never spoke to him about his time in Vietnam, and Patricia recalls the way he changed out of his uniform right away after work because of the way people treated Vietnam veterans. The family never forgot the scorn he faced, and they’re determined to honor their soldier’s service.
Both Carl and Patricia’s son enlisted in the Marine Corps to follow in Colonel Hughes’ footsteps. Patricia also took an active role to ensure that soldiers receive the respect they deserve in the future.
“I was in with the Marine Corps Parents, because we said we will never let our sons be treated like they treated the Vietnam vets,” she said.
Jim had the rediscovered dog tags framed along with Hughes’ military ribbons, and they held a ceremony for family and friends to honor his service in Vietnam. It was the closure this military family didn’t even know they needed!
It’s never too late to show our respect. Thank you, Colonel Hughes, and everyone who served and continue to serve our great nation.
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