Updated: August 12, 2014 6:11AM
Were returning Vietnam veterans greeted by anti-war protesters with spitting, cussing and accusations of being “baby killers”?
Yes, local Vietnam vets told me in no uncertain terms.
“I was called a baby killer. I was insulted. I was told that I will go to hell for my part in the war,” said Frank Darrington, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2697 in Munster. “I had people getting in my face, yelling and screaming about the war as if I had control over anything.”
In my Monday column, I asked this question after hearing from region historian Ron Cohen, accusing me of spreading the “urban myth” that Vietnam vets were abused in this way after returning to the states.
“You might be surprised to know there is absolutely no proof of this having happened,” said Cohen, citing the 1998 book, “The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam,” by sociologist Jerry Lembcke, which says no evidence exists.
The Vietnam vets I heard from say differently. And I heard from dozens of them from this region and across the country.
“You could not be more wrong,” Darrington told me angrily. “Stop listening and reading crap from the usual commie history re-writers ... and old commie war protesters.”
“Maybe if Ron Cohen and Jerry Lembcke spoke with people that were outside of their lefty clicks, they might be surprised to find out that this stuff really happened,” he added. “Veterans cannot offer proof. We didn’t carry cellphone cameras and sound recorders. Just our word against the old war protesters.”
This refrain continued from many other Vietnam vets, though some of them were not literally spit on by fellow Americans. Still, it felt like it to them.
“When I came back, I was active in the American Legion serving as the chaplain for three years,” said one vet from Chesterton who lost his twin brother in that war.
“One day after one of our meetings, a woman whose husband served in World War II came up to me and called me a child killer and a coward,” he said. “After losing my brother, I could not take that so I laid into her. So, yes, some of us did get kicked in our teeth and I feel we were spat on even if it wasn’t actually spit.”
Terry W. said he was asked at San Francisco’s airport how many babies he killed while serving in ’Nam.
“I didn’t know what they were talking about, and when I got back to St. Louis after midnight on Halloween, 1969, a cabbie refused to give me a ride. I caught the Greyhound bus that headed into the city and he pulled over at Highway 70 and let me out for the half-mile walk to my house.”
Larry A. said a hippie war protester called him a baby killer at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. “I kicked his ass all over the place and I got an ovation from the crowd,” he said.
Anthony I. said when he arrived in Oakland, California, in 1966, his mother drove from Massachusetts to greet him.
“When I got off the plane, there was a barrier where civilians stood,” he recalled. “As I walked over to greet my family, two women threw dog crap and spit on us. (They) called us all the usual names.”
Curtis A. also said he was spit on after arriving in Oakland and called a “warmonger baby killer” more than once.
“It’s true,” he said.
Joe B. said he wasn’t spit on but had balloons filled with red paint thrown at him.
Sonny K. responded to me, “Urban legend my ass. San Francisco Airport, 1968 — spit on three times. Fact.”
How did these young vets handle it? How would anyone? Some coped by drinking, I’m told. Others turned to drugs. Most did their best to melt back into mainstream America. But they haven’t forgotten. And many are still bitter. Understandably so.
Alan S., who was cussed at, spit on and threatened in Long Beach, California, in 1968, summed it up best, saying, “I forgave them because that is what God teaches me. Amen.”
On today’s “Casual Fridays” radio show, I will talk with Cohen, the region historian, and also with Larry Anaszewicz, a local vet who experienced such abuse after returning home.
I invite other Vietnam vets to call in with their experiences, too.
Tune in at noon Friday on 89.1-FM, streaming at lakeshore
publicmedia.org/local-programs/casual-fridays. Call in at 769-9577.
Positive Gary news
Also, remember the inspiring youth-driven public service group I wrote about last week — Imagine Gary — whose goal, in part, is to “fill negative spaces” in that city?
Its organizers and two youth members also will be in the radio studio with me today.
With such dire news coming from Gary this past week, we could all use some positive, even inspirational news from the city’s youth and their mentors.
Photo credit fix
My column chastising an alleged drunk driver who somehow wound up on a Miller beach showed a photo of his car submerged partially in Lake Michigan.
Credit for that photo goes to Miller resident Joe Kozak, who was eating dinner that evening when a wrecker drove past his home. He followed it to the beach, shot photos of the scene and shared them with members of Miller Citizen’s Corp., which forwarded that photo to me. Thanks, Joe.
Blindfolded nun raffle?
This may be a waste of money but I recently bought a $150 ticket from the 19th annual NWI House Raffle for a shot at a $225,000 home or cash prizes.
Two selling points prompted my decision: First, it’s for a great cause — St. Jude House in Crown Point and local YMCAs. And the 75 winning tickets will be drawn on Aug. 8 by — wait for it — a blindfolded nun. You can’t beat that for fairness, huh?
For more info, visit www.