Delivering the keynote remarks during Town of Leesburg Memorial Day Observance at the county courthouse, John Kimball recalled his service in Vietnam. Unable to land a job after graduation from Michigan State University, largely because his 1-A draft status made a call-up likely, Kimball enlisted—buoyed by a recruiter’s assurance that he would likely land a public information officer posting. Instead, he was trained in electronics and deployed to help maintain the communication infrastructure in the war zone.
He said one of the things that he best remembers about his arrival in Vietnam was the smell—which he described as a mix of dirt, heat, motor oil, gasoline, napalm, jet fuel, incredible humidity, jungle foliage and more heat.
During the Battle of Khe Sanh in 1968, Kimball was severely injured in a grenade attack while disembarking a helicopter at LZ Stud in Quang Tri Provence. In addition to the Purple Heart, the injuries got him sent stateside to finish his enlistment managing records at Fort Ord, one of the Army’s largest training bases for the war.
“With Vietnam still really close in my rearview mirror, I watched with mixed feelings as thousands and thousands or men went through basic [training] and then took that same plane ride to an uncertain experience in the heat and the jungles of a foreign country … and that smell,” Kimball said.
“That was 50 some odd years ago—a much different time in our country. We were fighting a very unpopular war that had begun in mostly secret many years earlier and even caused one president to opt out of his re-election bid,” he said. “We were not welcomed with ‘thank you for your service,’ but with the boos and hisses and other comments from a public that really didn’t understand why we were in Vietnam—and most of us didn’t either.”
“I contrast that with the military of today. ‘Thank you for your service’ and ‘welcome home’ are heard all over the place. How great is that?” Kimball said.
Reflecting on the sacrifices made by members of the military and their families from the American Revolution to today, Kimball said, “we have a special obligation to remember and honor those who served and are serving because they saw it as their duty to a country that offers us freedoms that are envied around the world. Those who serve so others are not asked to serve in our place,” he said.
“Hearing ‘thank you for your service’ is an especially sweet sound and I am honored to offer that to all of the vets and families here today and all those who are not here to accept those things. I also pray that, as a nation and a world, we will learn to resolve our differences not by going to war but by not seeing the need to etch one more name on one more stone monument.”