Goshen VFW commander happy to see National Vietnam War Veterans Day established

The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

GOSHEN — He survived a deadly rocket attack and suffered the effects of Agent Orange, but John Alheim says he still didn't have it as rough in Vietnam as others did.

The longtime Goshen firefighter and commander of VFW Post 985 enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 19 and worked in communications during his one-year tour of duty. He was assigned to a relay station outside Da Nang when it was destroyed by enemy forces in February 1967.

"They blew it up with us in it," said Alheim, 70. "I came out OK, but they killed a bunch of people."

So it's not for his own sake but for fellow veterans that he was glad to learn that March 29 has been named National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The act establishing the holiday, coauthored in February by Sen. Joe Donnelly, marks the day in 1973 when the last combat troops were ordered out of Vietnam.

"With this bipartisan bill signed into law, we can finally give our Vietnam veterans the additional recognition they deserve," Donnelly said in a statement. "These Americans sacrificed to protect our country – they are our family, friends and neighbors, and it is important to honor and remember their patriotism, service, and sacrifice."

Alheim said the new holiday caught him by surprise, but he thinks it's wonderful news.

"Vietnam veterans need to be honored for what they did,"  he said. "They went, they did their duty and they came home. Unfortunately, they came home to a lot of bitterness from people who didn't understand the war."

He remembers coming home himself on New Year's Eve, flying into Chicago and driving the rest of the way. The clock struck 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 1968, while he was still on the road. 

Alheim said he didn't get the cold – even hostile – welcome of the returning soldiers who were cursed at and spat on. He did need a kidney transplant years later, thanks to the effects of the defoliant Agent Orange, but he said the chemical hit a lot of guys even harder.

He wouldn't venture to guess how many Vietnam veterans are living in Elkhart County, though the Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., lists the names of more than 20 from the county who died during the war. Statewide, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says there are more than 150,000 Vietnam veterans in Indiana.

Alheim served with a motley crew, thanks to the draft. His squadmates included gang leaders, entertainers and other smalltown boys like himself. He had grown up with some of the people he knew over there and said in some ways it was kind of a small world.

"We got along well, for throwing a bunch of us together. For a small kid from a small town, I learned a lot," he said. "There was good interaction. We learned from the various backgrounds that were there and I learned there's good in everybody."

But they were thrown into a very strange, dangerous world where the rules of who you could fire at or who was firing at you were a far cry from the all-out warfare of World War II or Korea, Alheim said. An anthem among his men was "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," a 1965 song by The Animals: "We gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do."

"They were sent over to do a job and they did the best they could. They left their family, homes and lives behind," Alheim said. "They should be recognized, not so much for me but for what they did."

(16) comments

CRS Saigon

Hats off to John Alheim a fellow Communications guy, who like thousands of others of us worked in a relay station or other message centers during the war. We all feel for John and those who were not as fortunate to have escaped or were injured, which must have been a terrible day in which he and buddies will never forget. There was no place safe there, and we all knew it but never wanted to talk about it or admitted it. Com centers were not the only stationary target there, but it very obvious, with our tattletale antenna towers, we weren't there just to tune into the AFVN Radio Station. In addition, it goes without saying we all are sorry to learn John also suffers and carries the residual part of the war with Agent Orange issues. I think I can speak for all of us who wish they could shake John's hand and thank him for his service and for work that he did there, which may have allowed those reading this to be here today. So I salute Commander Alheim and hope he and all veterans,, family and friends will have a very meaningful upcoming 4th of July. I know I will.

strtdude

Nice try Becket / mbernard. I said it was imperial aggression . You just can't wrap your brain around all that it could encompass ? Actually it is obvious. How about you explaining to us all, as requested, the "mission" you spoke of in Vietnam if it was so obvious.

Leeet

Am I the only one who STILL does not understand that 'War' ? Other than saying "because they were ordered to", I doubt even the men who went there can tell you why they were there.....that seems to me to be the 'problem' with this 'War'.....Thank God I was too young to be drafted to go there....

Becket

You may well be the only one left with such a huge lack of understanding. Had you actually participated in an organized disciplined effort to work as a cohesive unit to accomplish any mission, you would think, reflect and speak much differently. Your vitriol and mockery of veterans is a clear demonstration of your diminished acuity.

strtdude

Folks, maybe Mbernard can tell us all what the "mission" was in Vietnam. Other than imperial aggression and slaughter that is.

Leeet

...that means so much coming from you, mbernard, "KILL 'EM ALL AND LET GOD SORT THEM OUT".....I stand behind my THANK GOD I WAS TOO YOUNG to have been drug into this WRONG side of History.....so sad....WWJD

RickVerde

Well done, very well done, and so obviously true !

Becket

Leeet >>> Perfect example of your intellectual acuity and lack of dignity. It is always a good thing to double-down on your lack of knowledge. (/s.)

Strtr >>> If Google isn't working for you, try Bing. Perhaps you would like too explain to everyone just which "natural resources" we plundered or extracted from Vietnam. I was unable to locate any information on that issue with either Google or Bing. Please, enlighten us all.

RickVerde >>> Thanks for your comments. I rarely reply or even comment any longer but some ignorance by these local-yocals is just too juicy to overlook. Since the election there are far too many other challenging sites requiring attention. I still enjoy your writings, though, Rick.

strtdude

Folks, with the available info on the realities of the Vietnam conflict, how can anyone speak of it as anything other than a corporate plundering and mass murdering taking place among all involved? Of course "They" killed a lot of people. Care to speak of how many "We" killed? We would Jail people for setting two dogs violently against each other for profits , and yet say nothing when two humans are violently set against each other for profits. Amazing isn't it?

Becket

Thank you for your responsible service to America and each of us as citizens, John Alheim. You continue aiding the youth today in the extra efforts you extend. Some agree, some disagree with military service but all enjoy the freedoms that these people have provided.

strtdude

Too bad we don't have a memorial for the innocent peasants that get blown to pieces while we steal their natural resources.

Ma Yoder

Oh, GROAN! Will you never cease, Randy? Your Mantra is becoming tired. "It is a conspiracy." "It is a conspiracy." "It is a conspiracy."
I don't see you refusing to use those "natural resources" such as are used in the manufacture of your computer components, the making of US coins, gold plated Bling, etc.

strtdude

I do not have any gold plated bling Ma. And are you refusing to admit that innocent people really do get blown to pieces during the theft of their natural resources ? Are you saying that it is just unavoidable business as usual ? Do you live in some make believe land where these resources are acquired in a fine, upstanding and noble manner ? To use less resources, I am not going to go live in the physical wilderness Ma, but I have the feeling that you are lost in a political one. It is called a heart Ma. Try using it a little more often and be careful because that empathy thing can really get you to wondering, "just who do we think we are ?" Gods?

strtdude

And please Ma, in the future,quote me correctly. It's the corporate imperialists, it's the corporate imperialists it's the corporate imperialists.

Ma Yoder

Why not one for all the innocents that the Muslim extremists are killing and the oil they are stealing to purchase more weapons?

strtdude

I'm game Ma and on that memorial to the innocent victims of resource theft, let us acknowledge the funding of the extremists that comes from The USA, Britain, and Israel, that then is funneled through Saudi Arabia. You are funny Ma, did you think I would disagree?

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