Fellow Vets . . .

During the latter part of the Vietnam War, men who served with distinction were returning home to an ungrateful nation (for the most part). Our families suffered along with us through nightmares, night sweats, alcoholism, and drug abuse, and a disease later to be known as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

Returning vets faced difficulties finding work, because people were frightened by stories in the newspapers or on TV portraying Vietnam vets as unstable. Every day there were stories about Nam vets doing crazy things like robbing banks or forcing cops into shoot outs so they could die like warriors. Others committed suicide in other ways. It was an awful time and a legacy of war. Putting our civilian lives back together was not easy, yet we did the best we could. Few jobs called for someone to “run point,” “sweep” for mines, or engage an enemy in a firefight.

In 1969 I tried to get a job at the Armstrong Cork Company in Millville, New Jersey, applying for the most menial job in the factory: shoveling ground glass into the furnaces for melting. The old Army doctor, who gave me my physical, told me I would not be hired due to the severity of my wounds plus an unwritten policy against hiring Vietnam vets. He did not lie.

In Vietnam, as a Marine, you never left anyone behind; not even the dead. Yet, I have been left behind in the rice paddy of America for a crime I did not commit. I have been left behind in a cage thirty-nine years now, because a DA screamed at me before a jury, that, as a Marine, I am used to killing people and that killing was “no big deal.” He charged me with murdering a known drug dealer and informant because “the shooter” had to be a weapons expert, and I was. I was a Primary Marksmanship Instructor at Quantico and trained snipers.

The DA was admonished by the Judge, and his tirade was stricken from the record, but I believe it impacted the jury (because of sentiments about Vietnam vets at the time). And, even though the Judge (in his instructions to the jury) said there was “no direct evidence” against me, I was sentenced to spend the rest of my natural life at hard labor when I was twenty-eight.

If you are a veteran of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, I pray this does not happen to you: that your honorable service is used against you. Further, I pray that you are never deserted by your comrades and left behind as I have been: a prisoner of my own country.

Joe Labriola, former Sergeant, USMC