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Vietnam vet: I wouldnt change anything
Vietnam Veteran Larry Dunham shows the Silver Star he was awarded for heroism during an engagement where he saved the lives of fellow soldiers while under enemy fire. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL
Larry Dunham isn’t much for the parades and the public celebrations that come around Veterans Day.

The large groups of people and general atmosphere remind him too much of the time that he spent in Vietnam in the earliest part of the 1970s. It is a period of time he still struggles with on a daily basis. Attempts to be a part of the huge celebrations that Manteca puts on have even triggered flashbacks.

But that’s not to say that Dunham – an Army veteran who was awarded the Silver Star as well as the Purple Heart – doesn’t appreciate what Veterans Day means for both those who don the uniform of the armed services and those who respect and honor that contribution.

“I appreciate the support of veterans out there, and the fact that I live in a community that supports veterans and what they’ve given to this country,” Dunham said. “I know that there are quite a few veterans out there, and I support and honor them.”

It was in March of 1970 that Dunham first arrived in Vietnam after finishing his infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Without a designated unit, Dunham and his squad mates bounced around before eventually ending his tour with the 101st Airborne Division.

It was during those nomadic months that Dunham saw the bulk of his combat action while serving in Vietnam. He engaged in more than 30 firefights and heroically garnering a Silver Star for his bravery in a brutal ambush at the bottom of a dry riverbed.

“We were moving through and all of a sudden fire broke out,” he said. “The guys taking the point were pinned down by fire, and when I came up from the rear I could tell that the machine gun wasn’t firing. I got hit with shrapnel from a grenade, but I was still able to move forward and get to the machine gun and fix the firing mechanism.

“After that, I could lay down fire in the direction of the enemy and give the guys in the front a chance to get out. Essentially I was able to save the lives of those men, but that’s what you did when situations like that.”

Unfortunately, Dunham’s homecoming wasn’t quite as warm.

After arriving at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport on his way home, Dunham was greeted by people in the concourse that threw the contents on their drinks on him as he walked through the terminal in his uniform. It was alarmingly common theme for veterans returning home from Vietnam during the civil unrest of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

When thinking about that experience, and the permanent damage he sustained from his military service, Dunham can’t help but show his emotions.

“Those were the people that I was over there fighting for,” he said, wiping the tears away from his eyes. “You join the military to protect the American citizens and the way of life that we enjoy. Today I have to avoid the big celebrations and the large groups of people because they serve as triggers for me. Forty years later I still have nightmares.

“But if I had the chance to live my life all over again, I wouldn’t change anything. I love this country and what it stands for, and nothing is ever going to change that.”