When Sgt. Harold Allison returned from Vietnam to his native Huntsville in 1970, he didn't receive the reception he deserved.
Instead he and several other Soldiers in uniform were met by war protesters when they got off the plane. The 20 demonstrators carrying signs threw eggs at them and called them "baby killers."
"I was proud of the uniform until I got off the plane," Allison said. "We were not welcome."
He was drafted in April 1968 and served two years in the Army. He attended jump school with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Allison went to Vietnam in April 1969 and served there until April 1970 as a radio transmitter operator with Company B, 1st Battalion, 173rd Airborne Division. He was at Landing Zone Uplift, which was between Quinon and Bongsong.
"I was what you call a 'jungle rat,' which is infantry," Allison said. "You know how many years it took me to talk about Vietnam? About 30."
The experience was so traumatic, the former paratrooper preferred for years not to talk about it.
"Catastrophic," he said of Vietnam, "because you never knew if your day and time was coming because you saw so many of your friends blown into oblivion. Body parts scattered all over the place. There was nothing you could do about it because it was war."
The war depicted in books and on television and in the movies doesn't come close to reality, according to Allison. He remembered the filth. He remembered the blood. He remembered the explosions. He remembered sitting in darkness at night when he and his fellow Soldiers couldn't show any light in order to avoid a possible ambush.
"I survived," he said. "I survived. But I don't know how. I've seen so many of my friends (who didn't make it). I didn't think I was going to make it back. And it was only by the grace of God that I did. You often wonder why is it you were chosen to survive but your comrade didn't. It's obvious we have a date with destiny. I guess that's why it took me so long to really talk about it."
At least 16 of his 32-member company didn't return home. The survivors included the company commander, Johnny Wilson from Georgia, who retired as a captain.
Allison was a private first class when he arrived in the jungle and left Vietnam as a sergeant. "I was offered OCS (Officer Candidate School) to become an officer," he said. "But after Vietnam and my experience, I decided it wouldn't be in my best interest."
He was well-decorated with medals for his wartime service. But at 66 he deals with chronic pain and walks with a cane. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, poor circulation, peripheral neuropathy and spinal conditions. Allison has 40 percent disability but is battling Veterans Affairs to give him 100 percent.
Allison dropped out of the old Councill High in ninth-grade and went to the Job Corps in Lincoln, Nebraska. He got his GED in the Job Corps and was drafted into the Army. After Vietnam, he left the service and took classes for a year and a half at Calhoun Community College. He had realized in Vietnam that he really wanted to enter radio. He worked in radio broadcasting from 1974 until 2000. In the 1990s, he was subcontracted to do entertainment work at the Redstone clubs as a disc jockey. He's retired now and living on Social Security and the VA.
"I got to the point I couldn't work anymore because of my legs, and that was 2012," he said.
He and his wife, Mary, celebrated their 10th anniversary March 3. He has three daughters -- Balinda Fletcher, Sabrina Pride and Evangela Allison, all of Huntsville -- and 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Allison does a lot of writing and enjoys listening to jazz. He's a survivor and he shares a positive message. "My overall philosophy is appreciate life and those around you," he said.
A life member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Huntsville Chapter 1067, he appreciates this nation's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the war. But he adds a reminder.
"I trust in the celebration they will also realize the sacrifices that were made by not only Vietnam veterans but all veterans in this country who are more deserving of appropriate medical attention as well as compensation for their endurance," he said.
Editor's note: This is the 11th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.