“My recent experience meant nothing, and no one was interested”

AN Richard (Dick) Hanover

U.S.S. Coral Sea

I received my draft notice and decided to enlist in the Navy rather than be drafted. So, in 1970 I joined. I was trained as an ASM, Aviation Support Equipment Technician, Mechanic.
I received my orders for Vietnam and felt that it was just part of the job. I supported the War but had lost faith in the Government’s ability to wage the war with the intent of winning.
I was on an Aircraft Carrier, USS Coral Sea CVA-43. We operated in the Tonkin Gulf providing Air Support and Interdiction strikes in Laos and North Vietnam. We were also tasked with mining Haiphong Harbor.

Coming Home

I made three cruises to Vietnam during my enlistment. When home I tended to lay low amongst civilians, wearing civilian clothes in public and keeping my hair on the long side of regulation to avoid attracting attention.
When we sailed back into San Francisco Bay there were two groups on the Golden Gate Bridge: One was the Coral Sea Committee from the City of San Francisco who welcomed us home with flowers dropped from the bridge and welcoming banners, the other was protestors who met us with anti-war banners and dropped garbage from the bridge. There were protestors outside the base at Alameda also. I avoided them.
The trip home was a week of sailing through the storm-tossed North Pacific via the Great Circle Route. I had a new motorcycle from Japan aboard and couldn’t wait to get back to California to ride it. The War was behind me. I knew little of the broader picture of our mission then and just wanted to be home.
I went on leave two weeks after getting home. I rode the motorcycle to Phoenix via L.A., visiting family on the way and arriving at my Dad’s house two days later. I was relatively invisible that way. I then visited my mother in Massachusetts. I flew from Arizona to Massachusetts and back to California, traveling in civvies except when necessary to fly Military Standby. While back home, my friends and Mother were just glad to have me there. My home was near Fort Devens, so Soldiers who had been in Vietnam, or were going, far outnumbered the local civilian population, so dissension was low in the area.
Both my Dad in Phoenix and my Mom in Shirley, Massachusetts were expecting me. Neither wanted to hear about where I’d been. I kept to myself.
I tried to simulate life as it had been before, but my friends had all moved on with their lives, and I was detached. There is no way they could understand how different life was for me. Our only common ground was partying. Only 2 of many friends from those days tried to stay in touch, and one of them has since died.
Basically, everyone wanted to relive the old days. My recent experience meant nothing, and no one was interested.

Afterward

I have never fully reconnected with my old life. I am in contact with far more other Vietnam Veterans than family or civilian friends
In 1973, I married a Filipina while I was TAD to Cubi Point in the Philippines. She has been my strongest supporter in all these years, and is and has always been the one person who best understands me and the emotional crises relating to my Naval Service.
I remember when Saigon fell in 1975. I had just left the Coral Sea before she went to Saigon for Operation Frequent Wind and later, the Mayaguez incident. I was working in a motorcycle shop in San Jose’, and none of my coworkers had a clue what turmoil I was feeling, having served during the desperate days of the Easter Offensive and Operation Linebacker. I felt abandonment issues that last to this day: I should have been there with my Shipmates.
I suppressed everything for years. There was no-one to talk to or share my pictures with. Reliving those days now has been good in that I finally have friends who “speak my language”, and bad in that 40+ years of suppressed emotion are often overwhelming.
I never felt that I needed help, but that may have been a mistake. Now that I have others with common experiences to talk to, I feel evermore disconnected with those who don’t share that experience with us, though having those friends has helped in other ways.
I have symptoms of half a dozen known dioxin-related issues that do not afflict anyone else in my family, but being Blue Water Navy, the Government denies that I had any exposure.
My wartime experiences profoundly changed me. I hardly know where to begin, but the preceding responses should give you an idea.
I have been to the Moving Wall twice: once on its first go-round, then again this year at the Hollister Motorcycle Rally on Independence Day. It’s moving to see the names of Shipmates (pilots and aircrew) who died on the ’71-’72 cruise. There are a lot.
Looking back, I am proud of my participation in the Vietnam War. It was not my first choice of things to do at that time in my life, but I did what was asked of me to the best of my ability.

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