When you wake up every day not knowing if it will be your last, said Don Keller, a Vietnam veteran, you become a band of brothers with the men around you. You dodge bullets and literally fight for your country and for your life.
On March 29, 1973 the last American combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. President Richard Nixon referred to this special day as “the day we have all worked and prayed for.”
The Vietnam War was the second longest war in U.S. history falling behind the War in Afghanistan.
It killed more than 3 million people, but Don Keller was not one of them.
Keller spoke at the Vietnam Veterans Day event held at Waynesburg’s VFW Post No. 4793 Friday, March 29. Junior Vice Commander of VFW Post No. 4793 Martin Wilson said this event was held in honor of those that served in Vietnam.
“We’re going to commemorate the veterans that lost their lives during the Vietnam war,” Wilson said. “We have about, I believe six of them from this county, that got killed nationally.”
The event included a moment of silence, a firing squad, taps, bagpipes, food and a special guest speaker. Wilson said this was the fourth or fifth time hosting this event; the only thing that changes every year is the speaker. This year’s speaker was Keller.
“They wanted me to talk about my experience in Vietnam from day one to the time I came home,” he said.
For Keller, the war was a tough topic to talk about. He was only 19 at the time, and had spent most of his life where he was born and raised, Greene County.
Once he arrived in South Vietnam, Keller was given the position as an RTO, radio telephone operator, and told that his life expectancy was only 28 days. He remained in this position for five and a half months until he said he got a call.
“I got a call from a chopper coming in, [it] said ‘we have a replacement for you,” he remembered. “When it landed, the chopper pilot got me on the radio and he said ‘give your radio and take everything off that belongs to you and give it to this new guy.’”
Keller was then taken away on a chopper to replace a battalion RTO that had been killed. In this new position he would be part of an eleven man reconnaissance team.
“I just became part of something that I didn’t want anything to do with, but I had no choice,” Keller said.
The team lasted four months before seven of its members were killed and the remaining four were seriously injured.
“I was hit in the arm, a shell went up through and lodged in my elbow,” he said. “I was shot twice in the shoulder. I had shrapnel in my chest. I was hit in the face, I lost my left eye. Both of my jaws were broken.
He spent a total of eight and a half months in the hospital, before returning home to a very unwelcoming homecoming. He said that they came into the JFK airport around 2 a.m. While they walked to the buses from the gates, people threw condoms filled with “just about anything” at he and his fellow soldiers.
“It wasn’t a nice homecoming and for years after that I would never admit [that] I was a Vietnam veteran,” Keller said.
Because people didn’t honor the veterans back then, events like this one show our countries respect for their service that should have been showed to them years ago, said Keller’s wife, Karen Keller. Karen Keller said this event had an impact.
“It means a lot that people show their love and devotion to the veterans that they didn’t show to them when they came back from Vietnam. They should’ve been treated a lot better than they were,” Karen Keller said.
The Vietnam Veterans Day event isn’t the only event that the VFW Post No. 4793 hosts to honor war veterans.
“We do it for all veterans, all wars,” Wilson said. “We run the Memorial Day program. We have a Veterans Day program. We have a World War II Day. [We have] a Korean Day.”