National Vietnam War Veterans Day, a Black Hills veteran’s experience coming home

Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 5:12 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - Here in the Hills we tend to honor veterans daily, with memorials hung up on street lights through Rapid City and more.

However, Vietnam war veterans are being celebrated on the national level Tuesday, as it’s officially National Vietnam War Veteran’s Day.

”It’s funny how it works,” says Dave Gates, a Vietnam war veteran at the Rapid City VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), “I came back from Vietnam and, of course, nobody wanted to know that I was a Vietnam veteran. I got ostracized. You could not wear a Vietnam veteran hat back then. So, I just got to a point real quick -- I never told a soul. It was too real. It was a war going on. We just buried it. Slowly, people started to soften a little bit. The next phase was, I am sorry about the way I treated you. You know, that’s tough. You had your chance back then to say a ‘welcome home,’ type thing.”

“Us veterans who have been damaged by war are in our third life. My first life was a young innocent Dave Gates. You know, he was in the bowling league and chasing girls and drinking beer. Just having a high old time. Innocent before I left. The second life is when I went to war. Third life is when I came home to a country who’s still in their first life and I’m in my third.”

“Come back with, you know, not everybody did, not everybody came back with problems. I totally buried it. It was a job to deal with all of these dead guys until my friend died, and all of the sudden it became real. It came back in 2018. I’m like somebody who just came home from war. All of the sites, the smells, everything. They call it two day rocking chair syndrome. Vietnam vets are retiring now. They all buried it, we all buried it. You’re sitting around watching TV in your rocking chair, and they figure it takes two days before you PTSD comes back. They have got to keep running to stay ahead of their PTSD.”

“People need to understand the suicide rate that’s 22 a day -- probably more than that right now, because of Afghanistan. They’re going through the same thing. We came back and we were the first veterans who were not acknowledged and thanked home. Now, all these guys we got a whole new generation of Vietnam veterans who came back from Afghanistan and are wondering, ‘What did I go for? Why did I even go over there? Why did I lose my friends? Why did I have to be the one to kill somebody, and you turn around, I get scarred for life because of this and turn around and you just bail? Like, this was all for nothing for me. These guys, that’s who I want to be here for.”

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