Michael Eubank of Longview doesn’t talk much about his time in Vietnam. He shrugs off his honor and says, “I got blown up a couple times and that is just what happens.”
A recipient of the Purple Heart, he was among five local veterans honored during Friday’s annual Purple Heart Day celebration at CampV in Tyler.
The event, hosted by Community Assisting Military Personnel and Veterans and the East Texas Veterans Community Council, provided purple dog tags and commemorative badges to the men, who served in World War II, in Vietnam and in the Global War on Terror.
And so Eubank, who was once shamed for his service by unwelcoming civilians back home, is proud of the way his fellow veterans in the Patriot Guard and Purple Heart Riders have helped honor soldiers and change a perception of how America treats veterans when they return from war or active duty.
“Nobody gave a (expletive), they didn’t care if you came home alive, dead, hurt, messed up or wounded,” said Eubank. “No one (cared) except your family. You came back, you came back, Who cared? Nobody.”
He said that all changed in the mid-2000s when the Westboro Baptist Church started picking at protesting at military funerals. Some of the funerals were of soldiers who were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“When the Patriot Guard started honoring and protecting soldiers at funerals and ceremonies, you started seeing respect starting to happen,” said Eubank. “All of a sudden, people said, ‘Jeez we need to respect these guys when they come home.’ Basically, the Patriot Guard started that.”
“We made a deal, we will never let another soldier come home, or even if they didn’t leave the states, no soldier will go unprotected or unappreciated,” Eubank continued. “At first, thank you’s were a blindside. Then you got used to it, which is nice.”
Eubank is the national sergeant at Arms for the Purple Heart Riders. They are not a large group, a few hundred across the country, as they are wounded warriors who ride motorcycles.
“The Patriot Guard and the Purple Heart Riders keeps me going,” he said. “That keeps us in a brotherhood of our own.”
Raymond Ward of Tyler is a Vietnam War veteran who joined the Marines Corp in 1968. Because of two injuries, he was retired on Feb. 10, 1970, returning to Tyler to teach and later as a claims agent for Allstate.
“We had to search, seize and destroy the enemy,” said Ward. “As a squad leader, I had to protect the Air Force base in Danang.”
“I was wounded in a night ambush — while setting up the ambush — we were ambushed!” Ward continued. “I was out of the country recovering for four weeks and was sent back for a second tour. While in the A Shau Valley, we were the fodder, we would go out and make contact with (the enemy) and call in the big guns. That was the second time I was wounded.”
He said he would do it again.
“My country called me to do a job,” said Ward. “Making it back and taking care of the guys you were responsible for.”
Another Purple Heart veteran who was honored was Patrick Rogers of Tyler was in the U.S. Army from 1994 to 2013 and was injured twice.
A suicide bomber with “about a ton of explosives hit our perimeter fence next to our mess hall and our mess hall collapsed on us,” Rogers said.
Another time, he was with soldiers who were killed when another explosive went off and he was injured again.
“Since I’ve been out, my wife has helped a lot. I’ve made a lot of friends and I’ve helped out at CampV and I volunteered. I’ve helped quite a few other vets when they have issues which keeps me centered,” he said.
Rogers trains hunting dogs, hunts and fishes and said along with raising a family that keeps him focused. He then looks at the Vietnam War veterans being congratulated.
“These guys fought a war that was so totally different, extreme-wise and how the country was at the time, the lack of support compared to now,” Rogers said. “Today? We need equipment, we get it. Back then, the military was in transition and these guys dealt with it. They fought a war and won the war as far as I’m concerned.”
Vietnam War veteran Wayne Hanlon of Payne Springs was also honored for his Purple Heart. The tank commander had his tankers blown up three times by IED’s he said.
“I just kinda got in the way of things!” Hanlon joked.
As volunteers and community members who put on the ceremony at CampV came by and thanked him, he remembered what it was like when he returned from Vietnam.
“We didn’t get any respect when we came home. They didn’t care if we were alive or dead or what. They would spit on us, disrespect us ... so it meant a whole lot to see the world change,” said Hanlon. “Today, it’s good to see the fighting men and women are finally getting the recognition they deserve.”