Two West TN veterans remember time spent serving in Vietnam
JACKSON, Tenn.- This Monday, Americans will observe Memorial Day…a time to remember the servicemen and women who gave their lives defending America’s freedom. Last month marked the 41st anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News recently sat down with two Vietnam veterans who..more than 50 years ago..took an oath to defend their country.
Today, they reflect on a war that would change their lives forever.
“We didn’t even know where Vietnam was,” said Retired Sgt. James W. Cook of the U.S. Marine Corps.
“It was my duty to..it was my job, so i didn’t think about it,” said Retired Master Sgt. Willie Miller of the U.S. Air Force.
The 1960s was a turbulent time for America. On the other side of the world, two young servicemen who call West Tennessee home were heading into a conflict that would directly affect them.
James W. Cook enlisted in the United States Marines in 1961. He had just turned 18. By January ’66, he was in Vietnam..
“We constantly trained.. and we were ready for whatever we felt like we were called upon to do,” said Cook.
Willie Miller enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served two tours in Vietnam..loading cargo planes.
As a young Marine, Cook trained constantly for combat. He said along with that came the fear of the unknown.
“When I got into Vietnam, yes, fear was part of it. Anyone that tells you they’re not fearful when you get ready to go into combat, you better
get away from ’em cause they’ll get you hurt,” said Cook.
Miller said for him, staying focused on his job helped him cope with the unknown and coming under under attack from the enemy.
“At night-time, we would have snipers shooting at people at the base.. Had a couple of times they tried to over-run the base. I got a
couple of scars,” said Miller.
But for Cook, his physical scars go much deeper.
“I got a piece of shrapnel…right here in my chest and went down in and tore my left kidney and my spleen out. They didn’t know if I was gonna live or not,” said Cook.
He would later be awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.
For both Miller and Cook, their time serving in Vietnam is not easy to think about, much less talk about.
“I never talk about my military service to my family, to nobody, cause to me, they did not have a need to know when i came back,” said Miller.
“I got a friend of mine in Lebanon, Tennessee. “He’s a Vietnam veteran. And me and him talked this morning and he cried with me on the phone… and it’s just there.. we can’t help it,” said an emotional Cook.
Miller who ultimately attained the rank of Master Sergeant said he along with other Vietnam veterans were ridiculed when they returned home.
“I was in San Francisco and to turn around and have a person spit on you…it was shocking. Now, I had been over there…serving my
country and I came back here and you treat me like I’m a third-class and it’s heartbreaking to see this,” said Miller.
Cook who would go on to reach the rank of Sergeant E5 said the fact he and fellow veterans did not receive a hero’s welcome, makes him bitter.
“I got kicked in the teeth, so to speak when I came back along with every Vietnam veteran. “I volunteered. I knew when I put the uniform on, it was to fight for my country if necessary. But I also thought my country would fight me and I don’t think they did,” said Cook.
Both men said it was their duty and honor to serve their country. They encourage all Americans this Memorial Day to honor all servicemen and women who gave their lives serving our country.