Luciano S. Martinez: Don’t forget Vietnam War Veterans Day

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, right and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, bow there heads in silence as they mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War by laying a wreath at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

“Where have all the young men gone? Gone for soldiers everyone.”

So sang the the Kingston Trio in “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”, in 1962, during an early stage of the Vietnam War.

Now, 45 years after the end of the war, our country commemorates the sacrifice of the soldiers who served in Vietnam with a National Vietnam War Veterans Day each year on March 29.

Who were these soldiers? Let me tell you about three of them who were friends at Salt Lake City’s East High School: Sgt. Nick W. “Doc” Miller, Cpl. Wayne Feinauer and myself, SPC-5 Luciano S. Martinez.

Nick joined the U.S. Army in 1966, and ended up serving as a combat medic with the famed 101st Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles,” in Vietnam during 1967-1968. His unit was involved in heavy fighting for much of 1968. Eventually, over 50% of its members were either killed or wounded in action. He, himself, was wounded and received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star for his bravery.

About Vietnam, Nick says, “Not knowing from one minute to the next if a bullet will find its lethal mark is frustrating. The smell of rice paddies sprinkled with buffalo dung, blood and burning flesh are ingrained into one’s immortal memory.”

Nick retired from the military in 2000, after serving in the Utah National Guard and the Army Reserve. He received a degree from the University of Utah in Social Sciences, and later worked for the Veterans Administration counseling veterans with PTSD. He now lives in Hurricane.

Wayne Feinauer entered the U.S. Army in 1968, after attending the University of Utah. He had married his wife, Carol, two years earlier, and had only been in the Army for a few short months before he was sent to Vietnam in September of that year. Wayne was killed in action on Jan. 14, 1969, leading a convoy as an Military Police gunner. His vehicle hit what we called a “mine,” now referred to as an IED (improvised explosive devise) and flipped over, killing him. Convoy duty was especially hazardous in Vietnam because we never knew when a Viet Cong “sapper” might plant explosives the night before. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, posthumously.

I joined the U.S. Army in 1966, about the same time as Nick, after dropping out of a Catholic seminary college in Oregon, where I was studying to be a priest. By July, 1967, I was serving in Vietnam as a result of the big U.S. manpower buildup which would eventually reach 500,000 soldiers in 1968. I was more fortunate than Nick and Wayne in the assignment I received while in Vietnam. I was assigned to USARV (United States Army Vietnam) Headquarters at Long Binh working for the commanding general of the 1st Signal Brigade.

Life was fairly peaceful for us at Long Binh until the early hours of Jan. 31, 1968, at 0330 hours, when we were attacked by the Viet Cong. This was the beginning of the Tet Offensive. Over 160 other locations were also attacked that night and the following day. For the efforts of our section during Tet, my fellow soldiers and I received the Army Commendation Medal.

Upon my release from the Army I enrolled at the University of Utah in 1969. After graduation I became a Spanish and history teacher at West High School in Salt Lake City in 1972. This led to a 31-year career in education.

Today, many of the soldiers who served in Vietnam are gone from this life, but they are still remembered for the heroic acts they accomplished. Many of the rest of us are ill from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange. Both Nick and I are classified as disabled due to the toxic effects of this poison and receive compensation and assistance through the VA.

Remember all Vietnam veterans on March 29, and understand that we took to heart what President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Luciano S. Martinez

Luciano S. Martinez, Murray, is a lifetime member of the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.