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40 years on, Vietnam troop withdrawal remembered

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 2:25 p.m. MDT

In this March 29, 1973 photo, Camp Alpha, Uncle Sam’s out processing center, was chaos in Saigon. Lines of bored soldiers snaked through customs and briefing rooms. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future.  (The Associated Press) In this March 29, 1973 photo, Camp Alpha, Uncle Sam’s out processing center, was chaos in Saigon. Lines of bored soldiers snaked through customs and briefing rooms. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. (The Associated Press)

The last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago Friday, and the date holds great meaning for many who fought the war, protested it or otherwise lived it.

While the fall of Saigon two years later is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, many had already seen their involvement in the war finished — and their lives altered — by March 29, 1973.

U.S. soldiers leaving the country feared angry protesters at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future.

Many veterans are encouraged by changes they see. The U.S. has a volunteer military these days, not a draft, and the troops coming home aren't derided for their service. People know what PTSD stands for, and they're insisting that the government takes care of soldiers suffering from it and other injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Below are the stories of a few of the people who experienced a part of the Vietnam War firsthand.

In this April 2, 1973 photo, President Richard Nixon and South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu are in profile as they listen to national anthems during arrival ceremonies for Thieu at the Western White House in San Clemente, Calif. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press) In this April 2, 1973 photo, President Richard Nixon and South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu are in profile as they listen to national anthems during arrival ceremonies for Thieu at the Western White House in San Clemente, Calif. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press)

'PATRIOTISM NEEDS TO BE CELEBRATED'

Jan Scruggs served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, and he conceived the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a tribute to the warriors, not the war.

Today, he wants to help ensure that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan aren't forgotten, either.

His Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is raising funds for the Education Center at the Wall. It would display mementos left at the black granite wall and photographs of the 58,282 whose names are engraved there, as well as photos of fallen fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"All their patriotism needs to be celebrated. Just like with Vietnam, we have to separate the war form the warrior," Scruggs said in a telephone interview.

An Army veteran, Scruggs said visitors to the center will be asked to perform some community service when they return home to reinforce the importance of self-sacrifice.

"The whole thing about service to the country was something that was very much turned on its head during the Vietnam War," Scruggs said.

In this March 27, 1973 photo, surrounded by luggage of other departing GIs, U.S. Air Force airman reads paperback novel as he waits to begin processing at Camp Alpha on Saigon's Tan Son Nhut airbase in Saigon as troop withdrawals resume after 10 day-delay. More than 900 will leave with all U.S. troops out by Thursday. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it.  (Charles Harrity, AP photo) In this March 27, 1973 photo, surrounded by luggage of other departing GIs, U.S. Air Force airman reads paperback novel as he waits to begin processing at Camp Alpha on Saigon's Tan Son Nhut airbase in Saigon as troop withdrawals resume after 10 day-delay. More than 900 will leave with all U.S. troops out by Thursday. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (Charles Harrity, AP photo)

He said some returning soldiers were told to change into civilian clothes before stepping into public view to avoid the scorn of those who opposed the war.

"What people seemed to forget was that none of us who fought in Vietnam had anything to do with starting that war," Scruggs said. "Our purpose was merely to do what our country asked of us. And I think we did it pretty well."

'MORE INTERESTED IN GETTING BACK'

Dave Simmons of West Virginia was a corporal in the U.S. Army who came back from Vietnam in the summer of 1970. He said he didn't have specific memories about the final days of the war because it was something he was trying to put behind him.

"We were more interested in getting back, getting settled into the community, getting married and getting jobs," Simmons said.

He said he was proud to serve and would again if asked. But rather than proudly proclaim his service when he returned from Vietnam, the Army ordered him to get into civilian clothes as soon as he arrived in the U.S. The idea was to avoid confrontations with protestors.

In this March 27, 1973 photo, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese members of the joint military commission, foreground, shoot photos of U.S. troops as they board an Air Force plane for the flight home from Saigon's Tan Son Nhut Air Base. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it.  (Neal Ulevich, Associated Press) In this March 27, 1973 photo, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese members of the joint military commission, foreground, shoot photos of U.S. troops as they board an Air Force plane for the flight home from Saigon's Tan Son Nhut Air Base. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (Neal Ulevich, Associated Press)

"When we landed, they told us to get some civilian clothes, which you had to realize we didn't have, so we had to go in airport gift shops and buy what we could find," Simmons said.

Simmons noted that when the troops return today, they are often greeted with great fanfare in their local communities, and he's glad to see it.

"I think that's what the general public has learned — not to treat our troops the way they treated us," Simmons said.

Simmons is now helping organize a Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day in Charleston that will take place Saturday.

"Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another. We stick with that," said Simmons, president of the state council of the Vietnam Veterans of America. "We go to the airport. ... We're there when they leave. We're there when they come home. We support their families when they're gone. I'm not saying that did not happen to the Vietnam vet, but it wasn't as much. There was really no support for us."

In this Thursday, March 30, 1973 photo, As the last 55 troops to leave Vietnam debarked their Air Force C-141 at Travis Air Force Base. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press) In this Thursday, March 30, 1973 photo, As the last 55 troops to leave Vietnam debarked their Air Force C-141 at Travis Air Force Base. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press)

A RISING PANIC

Tony Lam was 36 on the day the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam. He was a young husband and father, but most importantly, he was a businessman and U.S. contractor furnishing dehydrated rice to South Vietnamese troops. He also ran a fish meal plant and a refrigerated shipping business that exported shrimp.

As Lam, now 76, watched American forces dwindle and then disappear, he felt a rising panic. His close association with the Americans was well-known and he needed to get out — and get his family out — or risk being tagged as a spy and thrown into a Communist prison. He watched as South Vietnamese commanders fled, leaving whole battalions without a leader.

"We had no chance of surviving under the Communist invasion there. We were very much worried about the safety of our family, the safety of other people," he said this week from his adopted home in Westminster, Calif.

But Lam wouldn't leave for nearly two more years after the last U.S. combat troops, driven to stay by his love of his country and his belief that Vietnam and its economy would recover.

In this Wednesday, April 12, 1973 photo, Daniel Ellsberg, co-defendant in the Pentagon Papers trial, talks with newsmen after he testified in Los Angeles. Next to him is his wife, Patricia. Ellsberg, who vividly described his journey to disillusionment in Vietnam on Wednesday, will climax that story on Thursday, telling jurors how he risked his government career to copy the Pentagon Papers, hoping to end the war. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it.  (AP Photo) (The Associated Press) In this Wednesday, April 12, 1973 photo, Daniel Ellsberg, co-defendant in the Pentagon Papers trial, talks with newsmen after he testified in Los Angeles. Next to him is his wife, Patricia. Ellsberg, who vividly described his journey to disillusionment in Vietnam on Wednesday, will climax that story on Thursday, telling jurors how he risked his government career to copy the Pentagon Papers, hoping to end the war. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press)

When Lam did leave, on April 21, 1975, it was aboard a packed C-130 that departed just as Saigon was about to fall. He had already worked for 24 hours at the airport to get others out after seeing his wife and two young children off to safety in the Philippines.

"My associate told me, 'You'd better go. It's critical. You don't want to end up as a Communist prisoner.' He pushed me on the flight out. I got tears in my eyes once the flight took off and I looked down from the plane for the last time," Lam recalled. "No one talked to each other about how critical it was, but we all knew it."

Now, Lam lives in Southern California's Little Saigon, the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam.

In 1992, Lam made history by becoming the first Vietnamese-American to elected to public office in the U.S. and he went on to serve on the Westminster City Council for 10 years.

Looking back over four decades, Lam says he doesn't regret being forced out of his country and forging a new, American, life.

In this April 10, 1973 photo, Gen. Alexander M. Haig, center, is greeted by acting ambassador Charles Whitehouse, left, and another embassy official following Haig's arrival, in Saigon, the last stop in his whirlwind tour of Indochina. The trip was made at the behest of President Nixon. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it.  (Neal Ulevich, Associated Press) In this April 10, 1973 photo, Gen. Alexander M. Haig, center, is greeted by acting ambassador Charles Whitehouse, left, and another embassy official following Haig's arrival, in Saigon, the last stop in his whirlwind tour of Indochina. The trip was made at the behest of President Nixon. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (Neal Ulevich, Associated Press)

"I went from being an industrialist to pumping gas at a service station," said Lam, who now works as a consultant and owns a Lee's Sandwich franchise, a well-known Vietnamese chain.

"But thank God I am safe and sound and settled here with my six children and 15 grandchildren," he said. "I'm a happy man."

ANNIVERSARY NIGHTMARES

Wayne Reynolds' nightmares got worse this week with the approach of the anniversary of the U.S. troop withdrawal.

Reynolds, 66, spent a year working as an Army medic on an evacuation helicopter in 1968 and 1969. On days when the fighting was worst, his chopper would make four or five landings in combat zones to rush wounded troops to emergency hospitals.

The terror of those missions comes back to him at night, along with images of the blood that was everywhere. The dreams are worst when he spends the most time thinking about Vietnam, like around anniversaries.

In this March 28, 1973 photo, a Viet Cong observer of the Four Party Joint Military Commission counts U.S. troops as they prepare to board jet aircraft at SaigonÍs Tan Son Nhut airport. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it.   (Neal Ulevich, Associated Press) In this March 28, 1973 photo, a Viet Cong observer of the Four Party Joint Military Commission counts U.S. troops as they prepare to board jet aircraft at SaigonÍs Tan Son Nhut airport. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (Neal Ulevich, Associated Press)

"I saw a lot of people die," Reynolds said.

Today, Reynolds lives in Athens, Ala., after a career that included stints as a public school superintendent and, most recently, a registered nurse. He is serving his 13th year as the Alabama president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, and he also has served on the group's national board as treasurer.

Like many who came home from the war, Reynolds is haunted by the fact he survived Vietnam when thousands more didn't. Encountering war protesters after returning home made the readjustment to civilian life more difficult.

"I was literally spat on in Chicago in the airport," he said. "No one spoke out in my favor."

Reynolds said the lingering survivor's guilt and the rude reception back home are the main reasons he spends much of his time now working with veteran's groups to help others obtain medical benefits. He also acts as an advocate on veterans' issues, a role that landed him a spot on the program at a 40th anniversary ceremony planned for Friday in Huntsville, Ala.

It took a long time for Reynolds to acknowledge his past, though. For years after the war, Reynolds said, he didn't include his Vietnam service on his resume and rarely discussed it with anyone.

"A lot of that I blocked out of my memory. I almost never talk about my Vietnam experience other than to say, 'I was there,' even to my family," he said.

In this March 27, 1973 photo, an American GI takes a nap atop his luggage as he and other troops wait to begin out processing at Camp Alpha in Saigon, as withdrawal of U.S. troops resume after a 10-day dispute over POWs.  All U.S. troops are due out Thursday. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it.  (Chick Harrity, Associated Press) In this March 27, 1973 photo, an American GI takes a nap atop his luggage as he and other troops wait to begin out processing at Camp Alpha in Saigon, as withdrawal of U.S. troops resume after a 10-day dispute over POWs. All U.S. troops are due out Thursday. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (Chick Harrity, Associated Press)

NO ILL WILL

A former North Vietnamese soldier, Ho Van Minh heard about the American combat troop withdrawal during a weekly meeting with his commanders in the battlefields of southern Vietnam.

The news gave the northern forces fresh hope of victory, but the worst of the war was still to come for Minh: The 77-year-old lost his right leg to a land mine while advancing on Saigon, just a month before that city fell.

"The news of the withdrawal gave us more strength to fight," Minh said Thursday, after touring a museum in the capital, Hanoi, devoted to the Vietnamese victory and home to captured American tanks and destroyed aircraft.

"The U.S. left behind a weak South Vietnam army. Our spirits was so high and we all believed that Saigon would be liberated soon," he said.

Minh, who was on a two-week tour of northern Vietnam with other veterans, said he bears no ill will to the American soldiers even though much of the country was destroyed and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese died.

Former North Vietnamese prisoner of war James H. Warner poses in Boonsboro, Md., on Thursday, March 28, 2013, the eve of the 40th anniversary of the withdrawal of the last U.S. combat troops from Vietnam. Warner, 72, of nearby Rohrersville, Md., says his 5 1/2 years of forced labor and interrogation reinforced his conviction that the United States was right to confront the spread of communism.  (David Dishneau, Associated Press) Former North Vietnamese prisoner of war James H. Warner poses in Boonsboro, Md., on Thursday, March 28, 2013, the eve of the 40th anniversary of the withdrawal of the last U.S. combat troops from Vietnam. Warner, 72, of nearby Rohrersville, Md., says his 5 1/2 years of forced labor and interrogation reinforced his conviction that the United States was right to confront the spread of communism. (David Dishneau, Associated Press)

If he met an American veteran now he says, "I would not feel angry; instead I would extend my sympathy to them because they were sent to fight in Vietnam against their will."

But on his actions, he has no regrets. "If someone comes to destroy your house, you have to stand up to fight."

A POW'S REFLECTION

Two weeks before the last U.S. troops left Vietnam, Marine Corps Capt. James H. Warner was freed from North Vietnamese confinement after nearly 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war. He said those years of forced labor and interrogation reinforced his conviction that the United States was right to confront the spread of communism.

The past 40 years have proven that free enterprise is the key to prosperity, Warner said in an interview Thursday at a coffee shop near his home in Rohrersville, Md., about 60 miles from Washington. He said American ideals ultimately prevailed, even if the methods weren't as effective as they could have been.

"China has ditched socialism and gone in favor of improving their economy, and the same with Vietnam. The Berlin Wall is gone. So essentially, we won," he said. "We could have won faster if we had been a little more aggressive about pushing our ideas instead of just fighting."

In this March 31, 1973 photo, Adm. John S. McCain Jr., left, and his son, Lt. Cmdr. John S. McCain III meet for the first time in Jacksonville, Fla.  As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press) In this March 31, 1973 photo, Adm. John S. McCain Jr., left, and his son, Lt. Cmdr. John S. McCain III meet for the first time in Jacksonville, Fla. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press)

Warner, 72, was the avionics officer in a Marine Corps attack squadron when his fighter plane was shot down north of the Demilitarized Zone in October 1967.

He said the communist-made goods he was issued as a prisoner, including razor blades and East German-made shovels, were inferior products that bolstered his resolve.

"It was worth it," he said.

A native of Ypsilanti, Mich., Warner went on to a career in law in government service. He is a member of the Republican Central Committee of Washington County, Md.

A DIFFERENT RESPONSE

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Duane Johnson, who served in Afghanistan and is a full-time logistics and ordnance specialist with the South Carolina National Guard, said many Vietnam veterans became his mentors when he donned a uniform 35 years ago.

"I often took the time, when I heard that they served in Vietnam, to thank them for their service. And I remember them telling me that was the first time anyone said that to them," said Johnson, of Gaston, S.C.

"My biggest wish is that those veterans could have gotten a better welcome home," the 56-year-old said Thursday.

Johnson said he's taken aback by the outpouring of support expressed for military members today, compared to those who served in Vietnam.

In this March 29, 1973 photo, Camp Alpha, Uncle Sam’s out processing center, was chaos in Saigon. Lines of bored soldiers snaked through customs and briefing rooms. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press) In this March 29, 1973 photo, Camp Alpha, Uncle Sam’s out processing center, was chaos in Saigon. Lines of bored soldiers snaked through customs and briefing rooms. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press)

"It's a bit embarrassing, really," said Johnson. "Many of those guys were drafted. They didn't skip the country, they went and they served. That should be honored."

ANTI-WAR ACTIVISM

John Sinclair said he felt "great relief" when he heard about the U.S. troop pull-out. Protesting the war was a passion for the counter-culture figure who inspired the John Lennon song, "John Sinclair." The Michigan native drew a 10-year prison sentence after a small-time pot bust but was released after 2 ½ years — a few days after Lennon, Stevie Wonder and others performed at a 1971 concert to free him.

"There wasn't any truth about Vietnam — from the very beginning," said Sinclair by phone from New Orleans, where he spends time when he isn't in Detroit or his home base of Amsterdam.

"In those times we considered ourselves revolutionaries," said Sinclair, a co-founder of the White Panther Party who is a poet and performance artist and runs an Amsterdam-based online radio station. "We wanted equal distribution of wealth. We didn't want 1 percent of the rich running everything. Of course, we lost."

The Vietnam War also shaped the life of retired Vermont businessman John Snell, 64, by helping to instill a lifetime commitment to anti-war activism. He is now a regular at a weekly anti-war protest in front of the Montpelier federal building that has been going on since long before the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In this March 29, 1973 photo, In a curious ending to a bizarre conflict, American troops board jets under the watchful eyes of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong observers in Saigon. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press) In this March 29, 1973 photo, In a curious ending to a bizarre conflict, American troops board jets under the watchful eyes of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong observers in Saigon. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press)

The Haslett, Mich., native graduated from high school in 1966 and later received conscientious objector status. He never had to do the required alternative service because a foot deformity led him to being listed as unfit to serve.

"They were pretty formative times in our lives and we saw incredible damage being done, it was the first war to really show up on television. I remember looking in the newspaper and seeing the names of people I went to school with as being dead and injured every single week," said Snell, who attended Michigan State University before moving to Vermont in 1977.

"Things were crazy. I remember sitting down in the student lounge watching the numbers being drawn on TV, there were probably 200 people sitting in this lounge watching as numbers came up, the guys were quite depressed by the numbers that were being drawn," he said. "There certainly were people who volunteered and went with some patriotic fervor, but by '67 or'68 there were a lot of people who just didn't want to have anything to do with it."

Dishneau reported from Hagerstown, Md., and Reeves reported from Birmingham, Ala. Also contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Chris Brummitt in Hanoi, Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok, Gillian Flaccus in Tustin, Calif., Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati, Kevin Freking in Washington, Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vt., Susanne M. Schafer in Columbia, S.C., and Jeff Karoub in Detroit.

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