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Vietnam veteran shares memories

Richard+Pittman%2C+who+received+the+Medal+of+Honor+for+his+efforts+in+the+Vietnam+War%2C+spoke+to+John+Tyler+Elementary+students+March+19+about+his+experiences+after+the+war.+
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Vietnam veteran shares memories

Richard Pittman, who received the Medal of Honor for his efforts in the Vietnam War, spoke to John Tyler Elementary students March 19 about his experiences after the war.

Richard Pittman, who received the Medal of Honor for his efforts in the Vietnam War, spoke to John Tyler Elementary students March 19 about his experiences after the war.

Devin Wickstrom

Richard Pittman, who received the Medal of Honor for his efforts in the Vietnam War, spoke to John Tyler Elementary students March 19 about his experiences after the war.

Devin Wickstrom

Devin Wickstrom

Richard Pittman, who received the Medal of Honor for his efforts in the Vietnam War, spoke to John Tyler Elementary students March 19 about his experiences after the war.

He shook his head sternly while recalling a moment that would change his life forever.

“I could never believe that I alone deserved it.”

For Richard Pittman, it was the men who died that day who deserved it.

The Stockton native and Franklin graduate joined the Marine Corps Reserve after being denied by the other military branches because of his blind right eye. When he was at camp, the officers asked everyone if they wanted to be a regular, so Pittman raised his hand and went to infantry training. He was preparing for Vietnam.

He wasn’t drafted right out of high school like many others during this war. He enlisted himself in the corps when he was 20 because his younger brother, who at the time was 17, was in combat in Vietnam.

“I was raised in a family where I took care of my little brother,” he said. “I thought that if I went there then he would get to come home.”

Pittman probably saved his brother. While he was shipped overseas, his brother came home.

One day after returning stateside, Pittman received a phone call that would change the way American citizens would treat him. It would also be the event that would give Pittman Elementary its name.

He was getting the Medal of Honor.

“When I got the call, I didn’t know which battle I was receiving it for because I was in so many,” Pittman said. “Then I remembered the firefight. One hundred thirty people died that day. Those are the ones that deserve it,” he said, referring to Operation Hastings in 1966.

Word got to his hometown, Stockton, about the award. About 2,400 people came to the airport to greet him; his high school band, reporters, councilmen, and every other supporter cheered him on for his actions.

“But it’s important to remember that I had a very different homecoming than most soldiers in that war. Most of them were avoided in public, called baby-killers and even spat on.”

To current students, this reaction to soldiers may sound disgraceful or even unbelievable. This generation of students has grown up in a time of war, where most of them learned to respect and thank soldiers for their service. Politicians, whether Republican or Democrat, make sure to speak highly of veterans. Even today’s songs support patriotism.

But it was a different time then. Soldiers didn’t receive the same social treatment like they do today. Pittman recalls one anti-war protest that occurred when he was a recruiter in Sacramento. Protesters marched around his building, carrying caskets that had each military branch insignia on it. Some of them even had the recruiters’ names carved into them.

“They would throw mock blood on us, some schools never allowed us to enter campus. Some kids would even call us to come to their home for an interview because they were interested in enlisting but when we would get there, the parents wouldn’t let us on the property and would yell obscenities at us.”

While recalling what the war was like, Pittman said it wasn’t anything like anyone would see on television. Bullets wouldn’t ricochet. They hit people. He was in a lot of firefights, which are battles using mainly guns instead of bombs, and they are usually disorienting because of the bullets flying everywhere. Still, it wasn’t hard for Pittman to stay focused on fighting.

“War is about staying alive by taking care of each other,” he said. “In a firefight, you’re fighting for the guy on your left and the guy on your right. It’s not about apple pie and the good ol’ USA.”

Although the war and social reaction to soldiers was tough, Pittman said he had a great career. “I’m not trying to persuade anybody to join, but being a Marine is an honorable profession.”

He currently lives in Stockton with his wife, but the horrors of Vietnam still affect him today. “Loud noises make me jump. I can hear everything in the middle of the night. But I’ve learned you can’t defeat your demons. You just have to learn to live with them.”

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Vietnam veteran shares memories