One Vietnam Veteran and member of the retired community at Tongduchon, South Korea shared fond memories of his time in the Army. He talked about getting “pro-pay,” which was an extra $30-a month for excellence, and he lamented over the death of a Lieutenant eager to fulfill a family legacy of successful wartime service, but he was killed during his first mission in the Vietnam jungle.
“I don’t know where everyone was this year, Command Sgt. Major Floyd Henderson (Ret.). “I called everyone I knew to remind them to come,” he said. “I was glad to see Deloney [Albert Deloney]. That’s my ‘chingu’.”
Chingu means friend in the Korean language he explained. His friend is also a retired Vietnam Veteran, who now lives in a local nursing facility and Henderson doesn’t get to see him as often as he would like.
Henderson said being a Vietnam Veteran did have challenges but he didn’t linger there. While other local Vietnam Veterans declined to talk about it. Henderson was open and honest about living abroad. He chose to retire in South Korea.
Retirement here for Henderson is a quiet life with family and friends. The benefit is he has access to the Army Hospital and receives treatment among the community of 10,000 personnel consisting of U.S. Soldiers, civilians and Korean Nationals who live and work here.
During the Vietnam War, approximately, 2.7 million American men and women served. Of those, more than 58,000 U.S. military members died, and 153,000 were wounded. There were 766 prisoners of war of which 114 died in captivity, according to statistics found at www.benefits.va.gov. Many Vietnam Veterans were severely disabled and lost limbs or required multiple amputations.
The Vietnam War began Nov. 1, 1955 and ended April 30, 1975.
In the U.S., at the same time the decades-long civil rights movement was also in full swing almost simultaneously escalating as did the War in Vietnam. The media highlighted the explosion of activism in graphic photographs. The Civil Rights Movement started in 1951 and escalated into the 60s.
“I retired in South Korea. This is my home,” said Henderson, “I left there [Baltimore] because the police would bother me all the time,” he said. “I am free here.”
His wife is Korean and she does all the shopping on the economy he says.
The hospital, Exchange, DeCA Commissary and U.S. Post Office are common places where one can find members of the Veteran community. Like Delaney, others choose to retire here. There were almost a dozen who attended the 2021 National Vietnam Veterans Day Event this year.
Henderson retired 35 years ago and only returned to Baltimore twice. Once to tell his mother we was volunteering to go back to the Army and Vietnam [after a nine-day break in service]. Then, he later returned to bury his mother after her death.
“If you don’t take care of your family, you are not a man,” he said that is the advice he would give to young Soldiers.
While in Vietnam he only kept $30 a month. He had arranged to send his check home to his wife to take care of his family.
He was drafted into the Army to go to Vietnam initially. He served two tours in 1965 and 1969.
When Henderson departed the U.S., the civil rights movement was becoming more violent. By March 7, 1965, 600 peaceful demonstrators were violently attacked during the Selma to Montgomery march. Additionally, historians note sit-ins, forced integration, Freedom Rides, large-scale demonstrations, the passing of Civil Rights legislations, riots and the assassinations of key American figures all while African-Americans served abroad in Vietnam.
When asked about his time in Vietnam in the 60s, he said, “Everything was tents and footlockers and we couldn’t have beds out there,” he said. “After six-months, two phone booths were put there with reverse charges to the United States.”
He remembers he said because he had to a huge stack of money orders authorized because his wife [then] hadn’t received the pay he was sending. When the new phone booths were installed he was able to call home for the first time.
He was thoughtful as he considered his time there.
“The helicopter would bring you in, you’d throw your bag out first, jump out [the helicopter] and you would roll.”
“Helicopters didn’t land,” he said.
“I told my mother I was going back to and staying [in the Army] until I became an E-8 [Command Sgt. Major].
That’s what Henderson did and he retired after 26 years of service.
“In my area [of responsibility in Vietnam] there were 27-mess halls, and I had to do the paperwork for all of them.”
He says his name was inscribed on a plaque at the Fort Lee School at which he instructed. He taught Army Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 76X courses when he left Vietnam.
“I went from Vietnam to Fort Lee, then when I was tired of Fort Lee, I called my assignment manager, Ms. White.”
He had never seen her, but only talked on the phone. But she gave me what I asked for…”I requested an assignment to Korea.
“When I was teaching, I was teaching by myself, I would take the best two Soldiers and made my own team,” he said.
That’s the other piece of advice he’d give to young Soldiers,
“Build your own team,” he said.
Now, his team is the dedicated group of retirees living in the Camp Casey community. They are his Chingu. Being close, he talked about his return to Vietnam. He did go once to see the country again when the country was peaceful.
“Vietnam was a nice place. The people were nice,” he said. “I didn’t go to clubs and I didn’t eat the food, but I liked Vietnam.”