Newburgh Vietnam War veteran reflects 50 years after US withdrawal

Newburgh Vietnam War veteran reflects 50 years after US withdrawal
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 10:47 PM CDT
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NEWBURGH, Ind. (WFIE) - Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the United States’ withdrawal from Vietnam. As the nation reflected on Vietnam Veterans Day, 14 News spoke with Gary May of Newburgh.

Gary served in Vietnam before he even turned 20.

“I wanted to be the silhouette cutout of the marine in his dress blues that was at the recruiter’s office,” he said. “I remember thinking I want one of those. Not that cardboard cutout, but I want that to be me.”

Over 50 years later, he said his time in Vietnam is something he looks back on with complicated feelings.

“I never did see any kind of reasonable objective or a reason for being in Vietnam,” May said of the war. “I remember vividly one of the Papa-Sans, the oldest, generally male village leader. I was point man, so I was the first to encounter what we subsequently encountered, and he was at the edge of the village, and our eyes happened to meet while I was going through there, and I know it’s projection, but my thought that I took away from that was he was saying to me, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’”

May said he’s seen the country go back to fruitless war again in Iraq and Afghanistan, and each time he thinks of the suffering he’s seen.

He also reflects on military recruiting and how that can influence young people who may not be ready to make a decision to serve.

May also has to reflect each day on his own disability. He lost his legs in Vietnam.

Still, he said he never looks back with regret.

“To say, ‘Yes I would do it again and do it different so this wouldn’t happen,’ would effectively be dismissing the life that you’ve had after the disability,” he said.

May has spent that life helping people who bore similar scars from their time in the military.

He said many struggle to heal.

“They just seem to not be able to get past the heavy lift of the disability or of the marine corps or of the military experience,” he said.

May said his family is ultimately what has helped him heal. It also inspired him to help others.

Through Veterans for Peace and a lifetime of work, he’s done just that.

His efforts even took him to the White House to work on a bill to help get benefits for victims of Agent Orange.

So as the nation reflects on the 50-year anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, he hopes the country can learn from the war, and from the people who were forever changed by it.

“Get along with people and just generally be good citizens,” he said. “Be thoughtful and be informed and be engaged. I think those are the important outcomes from this.”

Last year, the PACT Act was signed to grant further benefits to veterans.

Click here to learn more about those benefits.