Honoring local vets on National Vietnam War Veterans Day
Today, March 29th, the country observes National Vietnam War Veterans Day. President Trump created the holiday in 2017 on the 50th anniversary of the war in Vietnam.
Paul Conway is a Vietnam War Veteran and works as the Veterans Services Officer for Gilliam, Wheeler and Sherman County. Conway resides in Wheeler County and began working as the Tri-County Veterans Services Officer in 2006.
Conway retired in 2010 when he was 62 but says that he wasn’t ready to stop working. “My wife wasn’t either,” Conway says, “I was driving her crazy.” Conway went back to work at Asher Clinic for four years but felt a calling to serve veterans. So, Conway returned to Veterans Services in February of 2020 and picked-up where he had left off.
According to Vietnam War Veterans Jerry Anderson, Gene Anderson, and Bill Gubser – Conway is a valuable resource for veterans in the area. For Vietnam Veterans, Conway is someone who understands what it was like to be a soldier in Vietnam. Conway was in Field Artillery in the Army and served in Vietnam from 1969-1970.
Jerry Anderson resides in Arlington and grew up in Ontario, Oregon. Jerry joined the Army after a friend said he was enlisting. Jerry completed basic training at Ft. Lewis and became a Helicopter Crew Chief. He served in Vietnam from 1969-1970 where he was shot down three times and regularly sprayed defoliants (Agent Orange). Jerry says that he didn’t talk much about his experiences in the war after returning home but he is currently writing a book about his time in Vietnam. Jerry says that he was encouraged to write by a counselor and that it has helped him significantly.
Bill Gubser of Fossil volunteered for the Army and went to Ft. Ord, California for basic training. Gubser served in Army Infantry from 1969-70. Like many war veterans, Gubser does not like to talk about his experiences in Vietnam – except for one. “I got to see Connie Stevens with Bob Hope,” on a USO Tour Gubser says. “I even got up on stage.”
Gene Anderson resides in Condon but grew up in Hillsboro. Gene served in the Navy and volunteered when he was 17 with his mother’s signature. Gene says that his experience was very different from the others as he was mostly in Guam away from the conflict from 1971-1973.
But upon returning home all three men said that they experienced the same thing: a country in turmoil and a public that was openly hostile towards service members.
Bill Gubser says that he was spit on in San Francisco when he returned to the U.S. Jerry Anderson says he had the same experience at Travis Airforce Base and that the Bay Area was the worst place for soldiers to return to. Gene Anderson said that people who he had known his whole life and that he had grown up with wouldn’t talk to him. “They would pick fights, it was a turbulent time,” he said.
The one memory that all men looked back on fondly was buying a new car. “I bought a 454 Chevelle for $3,500,” said Gubser with a wide smile. Jerry chimed in – “I got a Chevy Nova SS for $3,000.”
But as veterans, their service was not honored as it had been for previous generations.
Paul Conway says that is why it is important for Vietnam War Veterans to have a holiday of their own. “Vietnam War Vets were not honored the way that veterans were in other wars,” he says.
Commemorating the holiday is one way for the public to recognize those who served and to give them the thanks that they deserve.
The group said that in recent years, things have changed somewhat and that people have thanked them for their service. Jerry says that the younger generation has shown interest in his photos and that they ask questions about his time in Vietnam.
Regardless, all three men say that having a local Veterans Services Officer is very important. Bill Gubser says that Paul is available, hands-on and cares about veterans. “Bigger places have less, and smaller services are great for us,” he said. Jerry Anderson agreed, saying “We’re glad to have Paul – he’s always available.”
Conway says that there are 570 veterans in Gilliam, Wheeler and Sherman County and that 60% are Vietnam Veterans.