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Vietnam veterans share horrors at UNM

Panelists suffer nightmares, drug abuse in aftermath

Thursday marked the 34th anniversary of the night J.D. Roerig lost his squadron and almost lost his life in Vietnam.

Roerig, a Vietnam War veteran, was crying as he recounted the horror of his experiences at a veteran panel on campus Thursday.

He said that, on March 21, 1967, his Army infantry squad aboard an armored personnel carrier hit a mine and was blown apart, killing seven men instantly and severely injuring the other five— including Roerig.

Roerig said he spent a year and a half in a hospital being put back together.

“That’s the game,” he said, holding back tears. “It’s not a very fun game. I was 20 years old at the time. I had been in Vietnam for about 18 months.”

Roerig was one of five veterans who recounted his struggle with accepting what had happened when they fought during the war. The other veterans were Herb Lotz, Ted Redinger, Jay Brooks former UNM history professor Robert Himmerich y Valencia and UNM administrative assistant Tony Goodrich.

The five veterans discussed their struggle with post traumatic stress syndrome, alcohol and drugs, in addition to their internal fights over what they did during the war.

Goodrich, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam in 1968, said he has had to deal with survivor guilt for 30 years after he was only one of two men from his platoon who were not killed in action. He said he was the only one who wasn’t wounded.

“I don’t know how it happened,” he said. “My survivor guilt because of that has sometimes overwhelmed me. I would gladly trade my life for theirs.”

Goodrich said he fought in Vietnam for 365 days and every day he woke up and felt lucky to be alive.

He said he started having nightmares about the war five years ago. He said it was difficult for him to seek help after the nightmares began because he had learned not to talk about his experiences because of the backlash he faced when he returned from the war.

“I wasn’t welcome when I came home,” Goodrich said.

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He said the veterans were considered losers and drug addicts by right-wing Americans and baby killers by left-wing Americans.

Goodrich said he drank heavily and smoked marijuana to get to sleep at night, leading to significant alcohol and drug problems throughout his life.

Redinger was 17 years old when he joined the Navy and said he didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on and described his time served as “moments of pure boredom punctuated by moments of pure terror.”

He said he was a minesweeper, which meant he and his unit were the first to go up rivers just to get attacked. He said on one mine sweep, his boat was hit twice and one soldier lost his right arm.

“This guy was making noises that no human being should never make,” Redinger said.

He said the incident happened within the first 3 weeks he was in Vietnam and he chillingly realized that he still had 50 weeks of service remaining.

Lotz said he was going to school to avoid the draft because he didn’t support or believe in the war. He said he was attending the University of Chicago, but as soon as he dropped below a certain number of credit hours students had to take not to be drafted, the Army selected him for service.

He said that, when he got back home from the war, his friends did not want to hear anything about his experience, so he also learned not to talk about it. Lotz said he could not readapt to his life no matter what he did.

“I was permanently altered by my experience,” Lotz said.

The event was sponsored by the History Undergraduate Association, which brings different guest speakers to campus to give students and the University community the chance to hear about historical events.

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