BALTIMORE–A Maryland Vietnam veteran uses his experiences and expertise to advocate for the military community during his retirement. Maryland Veterans Commissioner Stanley Seidel said he feels he has a calling to give back. He says he is humble about his story because he focuses on serving others.
“People go into the military not because they want to get rich, but because they want to serve America; that is the reality,” he said.
Originally from Hillside, New Jersey, Seidel joined the U.S. Army in 1967. Military service was a calling for him and other members of his family. His brother is a Marine Vietnam veteran, and his son served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I grew up in a town, and a time where we venerated the greatest generation World War II veterans, my father served in [the Army] World War II and my mother was a prisoner of Germany because she was Jewish,” he said. “So that was part of my upbringing growing up, recognizing if we don’t support freedom, we are going to lose that freedom.”
Seidel’s MOS was 11 Bravo, an infantry Soldier. He received basic and Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. His first tour of duty was in an armored division out of Germany. In March of 1968, he was selected, along with others, to serve in Vietnam.
“I jokingly say, I thought [Germany] it was too cold, so they found a warmer place for me,” he said.
Seidel said he was somewhat alarmed when watching the Tet Offensive unfold on the television, a significant escalation and one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War. He was 19 years old when he received notice he would be serving in Vietnam.
“My thoughts were, ‘I am being asked to serve, and I am going to go serve,’ that’s it,” he said.
He was sent to the 4th Infantry Division, also called the “Ivy Division,” located in the central highlands of Vietnam. Seidel added that Soldiers who served in the southern part of Vietnam were more likely to serve in a combat zone.
“There was that fear [that you would be placed in the middle of a combat zone], but in reality, that is not what happened,” he said.
Seidel said he would go on patrol, looking for signs of the enemy. Serving in Vietnam was an eye-opening experience, he said, because he was suddenly working side-by-side with people from diverse backgrounds. He formed outstanding bonds with his fellow service members because they were there to protect each other.
“There was a lot of walking; Vietnam was a beautiful country; at least where we were, it was really gorgeous,” he said. “It was where I saw water buffalo for the first time, and the vegetation was unbelievable.”
Quoting Charles Dickens’ classic “A Tale of Two Cities,” he said, “it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times,” about his time in Vietnam. Seidel’s service in Vietnam ended in December 1968.
“It was nine months that made a big impact on my life, to say the least,” he said.
With emotion in his voice, he recounted that he keeps in touch with some comrades from Vietnam, but “some did not make it back, and I will just leave it at that.”
After Vietnam, Seidel was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, and served with a ceremonial platoon on Long Island, New York. He left the Army in 1970.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to make the readjustment,” he said. “I think it would have been a lot harder if I went straight from Vietnam to the civilian sector. I was lucky in that respect, it was more of an easing transition.”
Healing and support from friends
Seidel said after he left the military, he isolated himself for approximately nine months to process his experience and decide what to do ext. He ignored negative messages about Vietnam from the public and the media.
“I was lucky to have good friends from high school who reconnected with me,” he said.
Seidel said he knew of other service members who could not adjust as well to civilian life. Because of the struggles Vietnam veterans faced, post-traumatic stress disorder became a recognized psychiatric disorder in 1980, five years after the Vietnam War ended. In World War II, it was called “battle fatigue,” and in World War I it was called “shell shock,” he said.
“You see things the average human being is not going to see; that is the reality,” he said.
Seidel said he has lifelong friends who have helped him stay grounded and were instrumental during his time of transition. Also having a strong sense of self helped him stay positive and resilient, he explained.
“I just ignored people,” he said.
Continuing to serve
After taking some time off, he returned to school and earned a bachelor of arts in history from Rutgers University. He said his time in the military gave him the discipline he needed to succeed in college.
“I knew that if I went to college right after high school, I would have flunked out,” he said.
He met his wife, Charlotte, in college, and they moved to Florida after graduation. His first job after college was a parole and probation officer.
“I didn’t really like it, so they offered me a job as a disabled veterans outreach program specialist, with the employment service,” he said. “My job was to go out and connect with Vietnam veterans and try to work with them to help them find employment and training.”
“Since 1978, I have worked employment and training programs for veterans at the local level, statewide as well as Federal,” states an article written by Seidel on the Department of Veteran Affairs website.
Seidel retired as the Director of Veterans Employment and Training assigned to the State of Maryland for the U.S. Department of Labor. According to him, it is vital for veterans to connect with other veterans, share their stories, and learn about resources and benefits.
“I have been fortunate where this has been my career, in serving my fellow veterans, I have been lucky in that respect,” he said. “I have a mission; my mission has always been about working with fellow veterans.”
He is willing to give blunt advice, he said, and as an infantryman, he is able to make meaningful connections with other veterans. This is why he wears his infantry hat in public, to spark conversation with other veterans, he said.
“I say to them, are you aware of all the benefits the state offers? The federal benefits?” he said. “A lot of them do not know. And they need to share this information with their spouse and children.”
Promoting local resources
Seidel volunteers with the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training or MCVET, pronounced “mac-vet.” MCVET provides a home, hope and help for homeless veterans to rejoin society with dignity as employed, responsible citizens.
He helps connect MCVET leadership and veterans with resources. Helps them get on their feet.
“It’s a great program; that’s why I come here, even though it [takes me] an hour and a half, minimum,” he said.
Additionally, he promotes ServingTogether. Affiliated with AmericaServes, it is a coordinated network of public, private and nonprofit organizations serving veterans, service members and their families in the Greater National Capital Region. ServingTogether helps military-connected people obtain resources like counseling, food, healthcare, legal services and more.
For Maryland residents, he is eager to spread the word about the Maryland Workforce Exchange, a resource available to those seeking employment, mwejobs.maryland.gov.
The Maryland Workforce Exchange has staff specifically dedicated to serving veterans with priority of service, he said. Staff can assist veterans with their resumes and connect them with employers via job fairs.
He also shares his military experience as a guest speaker at local high schools.
“I say, this is an opportunity for you to get a career, depending on what you want,” he said. “For every infantryman, there is ten support staff, so if you go in the Army you will more than likely not be infantry.”