COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - One veteran spoke of the friendships and hardships from his service in Vietnam on the 50th anniversary of U.S. combat troops arriving in the country.
Fifty years ago Sunday, two battalions made up of hundreds of Marines arrived in Danang. Those soldiers were sent to assist the South Vietnam government defeat communist forces from North Vietnam.
Veteran Paige Lanier was not part of the initial group deployed to the country.
"When I went to Vietnam, I was a brand new second lieutenant, just commissioned out of field artillery OCS [Officer Candidate School] in 1966," said Lanier. "Was I nervous? I don't know. Too many years have gone by."
It's been decades since Lanier was under enemy fire but he still remembers his days in Vietnam.
"In Vietnam, we were in combat every day," said Lanier. "I am glad I did it once but I wouldn't want to do it again."
Lanier is decorated with medals. He also has an autographed picture shaking a President's hand. At the point of deepest involvment, the U.S. had 543,000 troops deployed in South Vietnam. Lanier said his comrades weren't welcomed home.
"We were lost after the Vietnam thing," said Lanier. "They were spit on, there was blood thrown on them, they were called baby killers. It was very unfortunate because we weren't baby killers, we were there to do a job and we did the job the best we were trained to do. And I think moreover we did a good job."
More than 58,000 U.S. troops died during the war. Lanier said for those that returned, war stories brought pride and pain.
"Oh, it did change my life. For the first 10 years after coming back, alcohol played a big part in my life. Most of us used that as a crutch for a while," said Lanier. "I know guys that have suffered all those years. Like I said, not all of them came back whole."
The last American troops left Vietnam in March 1973. Lanier said he walked away from the war with life-long friends he continues to stay in touch with.
"The saying goes, 'You didn't fight the war to defeat the enemy. You fight the war for your brothers in the foxhole with you.' And that's how so many of these guys look at it today. They're friends, and have been for 50 years," said Lanier.
Lanier said while a lot has changed since Vietnam, a lot has stayed the same.
"As we compare what we have today to what we had in those years, the only thing that's changed is time. We still got good American soldiers, these young guys are great," said Lanier.
Lanier is organizing an event on Friday and Saturday to bring together Vietnam veterans. For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.