Part two: U.S. Air Force
By Alex Cordero
Military appreciation month continues and we resume bringing you the stories behind brave soldiers from the community willing to share their experiences. During this series I’m beginning to learn that, even after dealing with traumatic experiences, the bravest thing a veteran soldier can do is share his or her story. But for a Vietnam War veteran to be able to share their story, it also takes trust.
John McGuire, a U.S. Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, was drafted in 1967 and joined the Air Force because he did not want to join the Army and go to Vietnam. Much to his dismay, after serving his first duty assignment at Cape Cod Air Force Station in Massachusetts for three years, he learned that for his last year of service he was to be sent to Saigon, Vietnam.
Read More: Part 1 – U.S. Army
He served as deputy chief of staff personnel at the headquarters of the 7th Air Force, which was responsible for the air war in Vietnam. While in Vietnam John witnessed atrocities of war and even after being told the Vietnam War “[was] true and [was] just” by the men who vowed to protect our country, he began to question the logic and morality behind certain orders given and actions taken during combat. John went on to explain how during the war when soldiers would question the logic behind their orders they were considered difficult to deal with. These men would then become first choice, more often than others, to lead ‘walk points’ in which a soldier was ordered by his sergeant to be front and center of a small group of men exploring unfamiliar ground in which they were most likely be the primary target to be killed.
He worked long hours and had only half a day off on Sundays. One weekend his colonel, who was also one of his mentors, invited him to play golf with him on a Sunday. He described that the golf course was in between Saigon and the Air Force Base. The golf course was mined all around the edges after a series of attacks by North Vietnamese forces on hundreds of cities and outposts in South Vietnam; the attacks occurred on a lunar year holiday on Jan. 31 in 1968, also known as the Tet Offensive. The golf course was surrounded by “mind fields, barbwire and machine gun towers and there we are playing golf.”
While serving, things were very different back home: “the streets were alive with protest, with free love, marijuana, rock n’ roll music, the Beatles.” When he returned to the states in 1971, he soon realized that our country had moved on and that he was trying to come back to when he left off. “You come back and all you want to do is forget and become part of society again…that’s not possible. But nobody ever tells you that.”
After listening to John’s story, it became clear to me that the reason trust is still a struggle after so many years is because this particular generation of soldiers were misled to fight in a war that later was discovered to be part of one the biggest political scandals in U.S history.
I asked John if he felt there was any difference in American society today, “it has helped the human condition but America is still addicted to war.”
Forty-eight years later and John continues his journey on what “coming home” means to him.
John is a strong advocate for equine therapy and is currently working on having Legion Post 13 Pasadena fund an equine program and be able to offer it to local veterans.