VETERAN’S DAY: Reflections of War

Published 10:06 am Wednesday, November 11, 2009

CHESAPEAKE — It was a war that still brings out strong emotions. The Vietnam Conflict. And Chesapeake Elementary instructor Carl Pemberton knows what it was like to be there and what it was like to come back home.

Pemberton had graduated from Chesapeake High in 1966. He was only 17, but the next year he enlisted in the Army. Basic training was at Fort Bragg with specialized training at Fort Gordon.

There he specialized in aviation navigation equipment, repairing radios on helicopters. He stayed there as an instructor because he couldn’t be sent over to Vietnam at that time. His brother was already over there and the Army wouldn’t send brothers over into combat at the same time.

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“When he came back, they sent me over in October 1969,” Pemberton recalled. He was part of B-Troop 2nd of the 17th air cavalry 101st airborne division, stationed at Camp Eagle, outside of the city of Hue in Vietnam.

“It was different. It was scary,” he said. “You are 19, 20 years old and inside a war zone. My mom had two years of worry.”

He rode in helicopters and checked out the radio to make sure they were always functioning. Occasionally he would ride as a door gunner.

“I wasn’t in a lot of combat, but I did see a little bit,” he said.

But what was as much of a shock to the young man was when he came home and the reaction he would get from some of his fellow Americans.

“When I came back I got every name in the book, spit at, holler at,” Pemberton said. “I just put it all out of my mind. … Instead of hollering at us, they should have holler at the war itself. It was disheartening. You walk through the airport and are treated like mud on someone’s shoe.”

However, through the past four decades, Pemberton has seen a change of heart among many.

“Time has softened things,” he said.

Still the experience provided an intense learning experience for the Chesapeake native.

“It made me grow up, real quick, become more mature,” he said. “I have wondered what it would be like to go back and see the area where I was, to see what it was like today.”