Many Vietnam War era veterans have waited decades for recognition. Hundreds of them will be honored during several ceremonies being held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The first one is Friday, March 24 in Lakewood. These ceremonies are part of an ongoing national effort to commemorate the Vietnam Warand recognize veterans who served during that time. The commemoration events began in 2012 and run through 2025
Army veteran Kent Kruse of Northglenn will be at the ceremony on Friday. He enlisted in 1972 and served as a dog handler with the military police in Vietnam and Germany. His main job was searching for marijuana and heroin as soldiers came home from Vietnam via Germany.
Because he was seen as a snitch, his job was both isolating and dangerous. There were death threats from the men involved in selling drugs. “The dogs had a $20,000 price on their heads and dog handler had a $10,000 price on theirs,” Kruse says. He had to live alone and needed security protection to go shopping or to the movies. His dog was his friend and confidant.
He says when he first came home from his military service, his arrival in Oakland was one of the worst days of his life. He saw how other veterans were treated by the anti-war protesters. “It was surreal. I took my uniform off and put on my civilian clothes.” He also threw away all of his medals, and says he didn’t want to be around people. The upcoming ceremony is important to him and he’s grateful that his military service helped put him through college and buy a home.
Daniel Barber of Lakewood is also among the veterans who will be honored on Friday. Drafted in 1969 he served as an Army artilleryman in South Vietnam near the Laotian border. He’d been there for just two months when the North Vietnamese attacked his unit in the darkness of early morning. He climbed into the machine gun turret of his self propelled howitzer.
“Before I could fire a shot, I was hit by fragments from a rocket propelled grenade,” Barber says, “I never saw it coming. Just all of a sudden I’m slammed back and falling down into the vehicle.”
Fragments ripped through his upper right arm and drove into his chest - puncturing his diaphragm and collapsing a lung. His 90-man gun battery had significant casualties that day. Five men were killed and 26 wounded. He was helicoptered out and eventually sent to a military hospital in Tokyo for surgery, where he was also diagnosed with malaria.
The damage to Barber’s right arm left him partially paralyzed. He spent nearly two years recovering at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Aurora. There he regained some use of his arm and was promoted to sergeant. After he left the military he became a teacher.
Barber is retired now and deemed 100 percent disabled by the VA. He says he’s grateful for the upcoming recognition ceremony -- especially for all the veterans who feel forgotten.
Kent Kruse spoke with Colorado Matters host Andrea Dukakis.
Content originally published by CPR on March 22, 2017.