WASHINGTON, D.C. - Less than three months ago, I entered "35th SPS" in a Google search. This was the security police squadron I was assigned to in Vietnam in April of 1968 at Phan Rang AFB. I was curious about any information that was available on my old unit.
Several hits illuminated the computer screen and one in particular caught my eye. It was the Vietnam Security Police Association, a group dedicated to security policemen and augmentees who served in Thailand and Vietnam during the war years (1960-1975). Security Policemen were the Air Force's "infantry troops" who guarded the perimeter of Air Force bases (security towers, mobile patrols, canine units, and heavy weapons), internal security areas (bomb dumps and flight line entry points), base police, and off-base convoys.
The association reunites old friends, serves veterans that are affected by post-traumatic stress syndrome, shares the latest medical information on Agent Orange, and maintains contact with active security personnel and the Security Forces Academy.
Vietnam Era veterans, for the most part, are sensitive about the perception of that unpopular war where the public opposition was directed to the returning veterans, instead of the executive office that micro-managed the war daily from halfway around the world. Fortunately, for the veterans of our present Southwest Asian conflict, the public opposition has swung 180 degrees back to the Oval Office.
The Air Force is, as it was during the Vietnam War, an all-volunteer service with a four-year commitment. First term airmen, returning "to the world" from Southeast Asia tried to put the war far behind them. They grew their hair as long as sergeants would allow, being certain not to wear a uniform in public, and blending into the general population not calling attention to themselves as military personnel.
Other than close family, a returning vet would not get any recognition for his service or even a simple "thank you."
As I checked the VSP roster online, I found a friend that I haven't been in contact with since 1969 and I called him in Missouri. I also found someone else in New London who overlapped my tour of duty in Vietnam by one month and who was assigned to a different police squadron at Phan Rang.
I joined the association and made reservations for the annual reunion with the VSPA over Veterans Day weekend in Washington, D.C.
The association's itinerary included: a reception dinner; a trip to Arlington Cemetery to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where our wreath was laid; a visit to Andrews AFB where we were guests of the 316th Security Forces Squadron (whose responsibilities include the safety of Air Force One), a veteran parade down Constitution Avenue where the association marched as a unit; an awards banquet with the Air Force's "Top Cop" Brig. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog (note: her father was my squadron commander at Phan Rang); and placing a second wreath at The Wall in remembrance of 111 Air Force Security Police and augmentees lost during the War.
Camaraderie and the sharing of experiences during a reunion helps to heal the veteran's heart no matter where, when, or how they have served their country. For Vietnam veterans, the common greeting is "welcome home."