ODESSA, Texas (Big 2/Fox 24) – Opposition to the Vietnam War deeply divided our country. We spoke with several Vietnam veterans here in the Permian Basin who recalled their time serving and what it was like coming home.
It’s estimated more than three million people died in the Vietnam War and the local veterans we talked with still remember the dark times of fighting in that way. They also remember hurtful words spoken to them by fellow Americans.
Bill McNeill served in the United States Navy Special Forces during the Vietnam War. He spoke with us about the Permian Basin Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He played an important role in getting this in our area.
“I did it for them. I don’t want them to be forgotten,” said McNeill. “They gave their lives for this country and they don’t need to be forgotten.
On that memorial the names of soldiers, 225 of them just from the Permian Basin, eight of them missing in action.
McNeill said, “That’s the cost of freedom.”
He also comes from a family of veterans. “My family stood up when the time came to stand up,” said McNeill.
But losing fellow soldiers was only part of the emotional battle many Vietnam veterans endured.
Robert Nicol served during that time in the U.S. Army. He recalls some painful moments. “When I got home, I got doc manure thrown at me, rotten tomatoes thrown at me, eggs thrown at me, calling me baby killers, mother killers and all of that,” said Nicol. “We were not welcomed back home when we came home.
Michael Samp another Vietnam veterans said, “There were people that were derogatory, they were spitting on us. You guys are nothing but baby killers.”
“What I did, was what I was ordered to do,” said Nicol. “It wasn’t going out and killing any babies.”
Nicol, 83-years-old now, still has nightmares. “President Nixon had it where we couldn’t shoot the enemy until he shot at us first and that was no good. Nobody wanted to go out in the field after that, but we had to go out,” said Nicol.
For Samp, the memories are painful as well. As a medic, the Odessa resident remembers the carnage.
“The guys that go there coming out of middle American and the small towns were not used to seeing body parts blown apart and children dying and people on fire. Those are things that veterans don’t talk about because civilians don’t understand,” said Samp.
The three local, Vietnam veterans hope people learn from the past.
Samp said, “A hero is somebody that you should look up too and who exemplifies the American spirit and that’s what our military people are all about. They exemplify the American spirit.”
They also want to make sure those who paid the ultimate price are always remembered.
“I want people to honor the military because if it wasn’t for the military, they wouldn’t be free,” said McNeill.
The Permian Basin Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Midland November 12th of 1994.