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Pahrump area veteran shares his memories of Vietnam War

There are many tragic and memorable events that occurred during America’s role in the 20-year-long Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War.

The conflict, in its duration, involved both North and South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in Southeast Asia.

In 1955, the U.S. government viewed its involvement in the war as one method to prevent the spread of communism throughout the region.

In 1964, the U.S. involvement escalated after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, where an American Navy destroyer clashed with a North Vietnamese vessel.

That incident led to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s authorization to increase the American military presence.

Roughly one year later, regular U.S. combat units were being deployed to Vietnam.

Pahrump resident Greg Cardarelli, commander of Pahrump’s Disabled American Veterans Chapter 15, was drafted into the war and eventually ended up in one of those combat units.

He arrived in Vietnam during what was known as the Tet Offensive, when the North Vietnamese launched wave after wave of attacks in the late hours of Jan. 30, 1968.

Tet, the official Vietnamese New Year, is the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture.

The offensive, according to Cardarelli was countrywide and well coordinated, where more than 80,000 North Vietnamese troops hit scores of towns and cities in the region.

War historians consider the Tet Offensive as the largest military operation conducted by either side up to that point in the war.

“Tet was the epitome of the Vietnam conflict,” Cardarelli recalled. “I was drafted into the United States Army back in 1967, and I served through 1969. I did a tour in Vietnam in January of 1968 during the Tet offensive. I got started at the end of January, so they, (the enemy), had a big party for me when I got there. They really loved me over there,” he said jokingly.

Jungle warfare

As an 18-year-old enlisted man, Cardarelli said it took him a little time to get adapted to fighting the enemy in the Southeast Asian jungles.

“As far as adapting to combat, it was just a day-to-day situation,” he said. “I did a total of 13 months. I was drafted as soon as I got out of high school. I became a radio man for an infantry company. They wanted me to re-enlist, but I told them not in their wildest dreams (would) I re-enlist, because I did not want to press my luck any further.”

On the issue of luck, while fighting a guerilla-style war, Cardarelli said it’s best to have it on your side when you first arrive or are ready to depart the combat theater.

“They told us that the first 30 days and the last 30 days are the worst because that’s when the highest casualty rates happened in Vietnam,” Cardarelli noted.

“During the first 30 days, you’re a nervous wreck, but during your last 30 days, you’re stupid. You begin to do stupid things and you think you’re invulnerable. When you are a healthy 19 or 20 year old, you really don’t think anything’s going to hurt you.”

Cardarelli also said that the initial Tet Offensive had a stunning effect on both the American and South Vietnamese armies, but the battle also inflicted very heavy casualties on North Vietnamese troops.

He noted that to this day, he still battles the emotional the effects of combat.

“I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “I went to a Vietnam Veterans center in California back in 1986. At the time, my life was turned upside down and I didn’t understand what was going on. I withdrew and I didn’t want to talk to people, including my kids and my mother. When I went there, that was the beginning of my understanding of what was happening to my life at that time.”

Additionally, Cardarelli said, he still thinks about his fellow soldiers who lost their lives as a result of combat and other reasons.

“Unfortunately, some of my comrades did not receive a proper welcome home,” he said. “This was the official welcome home exercise the Vietnam veterans have been waiting for, for more than 50 years. I lost many of my friends over there. Some have passed on from combat, and some of it was from age, sickness and health problems.”

Overall, Cardarelli said last week’s ceremony was very heartfelt for all who attended, veterans or otherwise.

“The ceremony was not about any one organization,” he said. “It was all about welcoming us all home and that’s what touched my heart last week. It really hit home. I have been a member of the Disabled American Veterans for more than 30 years and Pahrump is the only place that I have found the camaraderie and the assistance that veterans get and deserve. That’s why I love it here in this town.”

Direct U.S. military involvement in the war ended on Aug. 15, 1973.

The official end of the Vietnam War came with the fall of the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, less than two years later on April 30, 1975.

Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at sharris@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes

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