WEST HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH)– After the Vietnam War, returning veterans, more often than not, did not return to a hero’s welcome. But, make no mistake they were heroes.
News 8’s Keith Kountz recently sat down with a Purple Heart recipient from West Haven injured on the battlefield about the importance of serving the nation.
More than forty years later Leon Brown’s memories of life on the battlefield in Vietnam are as clear as ever. Brown enlisted in the Marine Corps straight out of West Haven high school in 1965. While training at Camp Lejuene in North Carolina, he experienced a kind of racism that he had never dealt with before.
“When I went to Camp Lejuene there was a billboard right above the main gate for the Ku Klux Klan. It was everywhere, I mean I couldn’t go into some restaurants,” said Brown.
Three years later after a stint aboard ship Brown was sent to Vietnam.
“It was hot and heavy, it was 1968 by then it was pretty hot and heavy,” said Brown.
He was injured on the battlefield that same year fighting with his company against an enemy force that had more soldiers and more firepower.
“I went down like a sack of potatoes and another marine that was with us, thank God, he picked me up, put e over his shoulder and carried me back into the perimeter,” said Brown.
He suffered another serious injury just hours later when he was hit by shrapnel from a rocket.
“I didn’t think didn’t anybody was going to make it out of that, that was powerful stuff, man,” said Brown.
The attack left Brown with shrapnel in both legs, nerve damage to one of his legs and a loss of some hearing. He retired from active duty in 1969 as a corporal.
But despite his heroic accomplishments like most who served in Vietnam, there was little fan-fare when he got back home.
“The older guys, they don’t talk much about it, when we came home, there were no flags and parades when we came back,” said Brown.
For his service Brown was awarded the Purple Heart, Vietnam service medal, good conduct medal and a Presidential citation among other honors. He continues to stay in touch with the men fought alongside and hopes someday young people will truly appreciate the men and women who served in Vietnam.
“You talk to a lot of young people today, they don’t even know about Vietnam, most of these younger kids have never heard of the Vietnam War,” said Brown.