It’s Time to Start Talking to Veterans of Vietnam

Stephen Chamberlin
5 min readMar 8, 2021

Wait and it will be too late.

Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

We had gone swimming at the same beach in Guam (Gab-Gab) 50 years apart. One of several shards of fun facts I picked up while working with World War II veterans in the early 1990s. Yet I blew my opportunity to learn more.

These veterans are mostly gone now. I could have learned so much more — but I was naive, and just not interested. So, I didn’t ask. I didn’t engage.

Despite the reputation the “Greatest Generation” has for being closed lipped about their wartime experiences, if they found your experiences relatable (and with me they did — merely by dint of our shared exposure to the Marianas Islands) they’d talk. A lot. Yet I squandered my opportunity.

Many Vietnam veterans are now in their 70s.

The same age as the WWII veterans I knew in the early 1990s. If you know one, and if you are comfortable asking about their experiences, I strongly recommend you do it. Now. Or you will blow it the way I blew it.

Although my Coast Guard career spanned 25 years, from the early 1990s until 2015 and had lots of ups and downs, my most significant miss was whiffing on my opportunity to learn directly from the people who experienced this most significant of human events.

In the mid 1990s I was assigned to a Coast Guard unit on the Great Lakes — specifically in the city of Milwaukee, WI. I frequently interacted with a volunteer component of the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which to this day is populated primarily by women and men over the age of 65.

The Coast Watchers

The Coast Guard Auxiliary was formed during WWII as a volunteer organization, under the authority of the USCG, and charged with monitoring the coastal areas of the United States for enemy vessels and operatives. The organization still exists, but its missions have evolved. Today the Auxiliary is primarily a boating safety and lifesaving component of the CG. Auxiliarists have an excellent boating safety inspection program and they assist active-duty members with Search and Rescue.

Grasping at Straws

It’s fascinating that the organization has lasted this long — but therein lies the rub. The veterans…

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Stephen Chamberlin

Oldish guy, trying his hand at something new. Retired Coast Guard Officer. Now self-employed in the wine and spirits industry.