The men and women who returned from the Vietnam War faced hostility from many who opposed that conflict.
But in the half-century since, our country has attempted to correct that injustice. One of those efforts has been to honor veterans on the 50th anniversary of the year of their service. This recognition is long overdue.
The United States has set aside the years from 2012 through 2025 to remember Americans who fought in the Vietnam War. This year, we honor the 50th anniversary of those who fought in Vietnam in 1968.
Arkansas contributed much to the war, and I recently had the honor of speaking to nearly a thousand Arkansas veterans of the Vietnam era. It was a day to salute all of our Vietnam veterans and to reflect on the death of the nearly 600 Arkansans who died fighting in Vietnam.
We have among our coterie of veterans a legendary sharpshooter, two soldiers who became generals, and a fighter pilot who valiantly resisted the North Vietnamese in a POW camp. You can read about some of them in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
The late Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Norman Hathcock II was one of our notable warriors. Gunny, as he was called, was a Marine sniper who holds the Marine Corps record for the highest number of kills.
Gunny enlisted when he was 17. He qualified as expert marksman while he was in boot camp.
In 1965, Hathcock achieved Distinguished Sniper level, and that year he won the 1,000-Yard National High-Power Rifle Championship. He later helped establish the Marine Corps Scout/Sniper School at Quantico, Virginia.
Gunny’s most legendary shot has been replicated in several movies, including The Sniper and Saving Private Ryan.
Gunny’s second tour in Vietnam ended on September 16, 1969, when the assault vehicle he was riding in ran over a mine.
Although he was covered in flaming gasoline, he returned to the vehicle and rescued seven Marines. He served for another ten years, in spite of his injuries, training snipers in the Marine Corps. He refused a recommendation for a Medal of Honor, but was awarded a Silver Star in 1996.
Nick Bacon was another of our soldiers. Nicky Daniel Bacon enlisted in the Army in 1963 when he was 17 and served until 1984. On August 26, 1968, Staff Sergeant Bacon assumed command of his platoon as one after another of his platoon leaders fell. Under Nicky’s brave leadership, the platoon eliminated an enemy gun crew and rescued fellow Americans trapped at the front. President Nixon awarded Nicky the Congressional Medal of Honor.
After Nicky retired, Governor Jim Guy Tucker appointed him Director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs. Governor Mike Huckabee reappointed him. Nicky had a hand in the development of the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery and the establishment of the Arkansas Veteran’s Coalition. Nick Bacon passed away in 2010 at the age of 64.
In an interview late in his life, Nicky spoke for many veterans when he said: “I was never prouder, I was never in better shape, and I was never more sure that I stood for something in my life than I was when I wore the uniform. When I retired, I couldn’t replace that.”
So to those such as Gunny and Nicky and their families, thank you.