Veteran: ‘We just tried to do our jobs the best we knew how to serve our country’
■ Editor’s note: These personal stories are part of The Imperial Republican’s efforts to highlight Chase County veterans and their experiences during the Vietnam War era. Due to the interest generated by the visit of The Traveling Vietnam Wall, we will continue to feature veteran’s stories that are submitted by Memorial Day weekend. If you would like to submit a story please email us at
or drop it off at our office.
By Rick Heldenbrand
Wauneta Native, living in Lincoln
It pleases me so much this day and age to see the American public so appreciative and respectful of the U.S. military as a whole. Unfortunately it has not always been that way.
From the eighth grade, I knew I was going to join the Navy. Having seen the Vietnam War on the news every night, I wanted to go there and find out for myself what it was all about.
I volunteered for Vietnam and my first duty station after boot camp, I was assigned to Light Attack Helicopter Squadron Three (HAL-3), located about 90 miles southwest of Saigon from September 1971 to April 1972. President Nixon was starting to withdraw troops, so the Navy was the first to go. Finally our time arrived and we assembled in Saigon to board our planes home.
As you could imagine, it was a long flight home, but when you are leaving a war zone, all that is meaningless. We finally touched down at Travis Air Force Base in California. Here is where my real story begins.
Our plane taxied around for a bit and finally came to a stop with a rousing cheer from all on board. There we sat for probably 45 minutes before we were allowed to disembark the plane, only to walk off the plane and onto military buses. There we sat for an extended period of time. It was approximately 11 p.m. when we got off the plane and ended up sitting on that bus—at the end of the runway—for nearly two more hours.
No one was very unhappy about any of the time spent, since we were on U.S. soil, although it was strange that we sat there all that time for no apparent reason. Finally, we departed between 1 and 1:30 a.m. for our final destination, going out the back gate at Travis AFB.
It was later learned that we were waiting all that time at the end of the runway for anti-war protesters waiting at the gates to leave so we would not be subjected to showers of tomatoes and eggs thrown at our buses which apparently happened often to units returning from Vietnam. There were certainly no parades waiting for any of us.
I returned to Vietnam for two more tours (20 months) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34) and ended 26 years of Naval Service in 2002.
All the Vietnam veterans I know really do not expect or want special recognition for their service even though deserving of it. Many can’t or refuse to talk about it.
But one thing that would be nice: tell a Vietnam veteran “Thank you for your service and welcome home.” We didn’t pick the war, we just tried to do our jobs the best we knew how to serve our country.