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Welcome Home: A veteran's story
To Thomas Watt, one of the biggest shocks about Vietnam was his own survival. Then, when survival turned out to be as treacherous as war, he turned to his native roots.
OMAK, Wash. - When his infantry company was ordered to Saigon in January 1968, Thomas Watt was thinking "party time." After surviving eight months in the jungles of Vietnam and a couple of major battles, the soldier was ready for a little rest and relaxation.
Then enemy mortars and artillery began to shake the earth beneath him. It may have been the lunar new year, but it was no party. The 1st Infantry Division, the historic Big Red One, had been called in to protect Gen. William Westmoreland's headquarters in Saigon known as Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, or MACV.
The Tet Offensive was under way.
Thirty years after the end of the fighting, Vietnam War veterans are having a homecoming in Branson, Mo., this week to relive memories, rekindle friendships and retell their stories.
BRANSON, Mo. – The Big Red One on Thomas Watt's beret was a dream come true for John R. John, just as it had been 37 years ago when he was pinned down by enemy fire.
It was what the Vietnam veteran hoped to see when he traveled here from his home in Mansfield, Texas – not the flag-waving, not the hurrahs, not the song and dance this southwest Missouri town is famous for.
It was the insignia of the 1st Infantry Division that John longed to see. It was the same insignia he wore on the shoulder of his Army fatigues on Tuesday, just as he had worn it on May 4, 1968.
For Indians in white man's army, the enemy was a lot like themselves
BRANSON, Mo. – Before Duane Simpson left his home on the Colville Indian Reservation to join the Army, the elders of his tribe took him into the mountains to purify him and prepare him spiritually for war.
He wanted to be a warrior, respected by his people. Simpson's uncle had to break ice in a stream for the ceremony in which the 17-year-old boy was cleansed with smoke, sweated and then doused with water four times in the winter of 1964.
When it was done, his elders told him, "Your spirit and ours will protect you."