“I was in Vietnam 10 months, 28 days, six hours and 22 minutes.”
Forty years later, HMC (FMF) Charles R. Haig can still remember, down to second, how longed he served in Vietnam with the United States Military. Serving as a Navy corpsman attached to the U.S. Marine Corps, Haig spent his time in Vietnam as a medic, caring for the wounded and the dead.
Haig was in Vietnam from January 1968 to December 1968. A general decided he was going to send home 100 corpsmen early for Christmas and Haig was number 97. His homecoming was a complete surprise for his family and they spent the rest of the night celebrating his return.
“We went out to breakfast and my father kept telling everybody, ‘My son, my son, he just got back from Vietnam,'” Haig said. “He was a little happy to see me.”
As a Vietnam veteran, Haig stayed enlisted in the military for two more years. He was stationed at a Marine Corps base in Virginia and was on patrol in Washington, D.C.
“I had the opportunity to protect some of our nation’s monuments.during the riots of ’69 and ’70,” Haig said. “I was on patrol with the medic department.”
Haig will never forget the time he tried to help a young protester with a gash on her forehead. She saw his uniform, refused help and spit in his face for it. The spitting was uncalled for, but Haig feels that everyone has the right to freedom of expression.
“One of the things that I strongly believe in is rights, equal rights and the right to free expression and if that’s the way you feel, you have the right to say it,” Haig said. “You don’t have the right to harm somebody else, but you have the right to make your statement, nonviolently. We fought for everybody’s right to their expression and that’s the bottom line.”
In 1972, Haig left the service for eight years, then reenlisted in 1980 and was recalled to go to Saudi Arabia in 1991 for Operation Desert Storm. His tour there lasted 91 days and he returned in July 1991.
His return from Operation Desert Storm was different from what he experienced coming back from Vietnam. The Vietnam Veterans of American, Valley Forge chapter, held a banquet in his honor before they knew he was coming home.
“They were holding it in my honor to begin with before they even knew I was coming home.I just coincidentally happened to come home,” Haig said. “I was the only member of the chapter who had gone to Desert Storm and that was my welcoming back.”
He also marched in several Fourth of July and welcoming home parades and was part of ceremonies honoring returning military. He had the distinction of being both a Vietnam and Desert Storm veteran.
“I have a perspective way different from many others,” Haig said. “The welcome home we got from Desert Storm was a complete turn around and now people recognize us and talk to us. It’s a whole different world now.”
Haig is still an active member of Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Khe Sanh Veterans Association and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Haig didn’t talk about his experiences at first, and it is still hard for him to discuss and remember things from his time spent in Vietnam and Desert Storm.
“I got involved with the Vietnam Veterans of America and got started talking to other veterans and that was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Haig said. “It helped bring it out.”
He has blocked out many of the causalities he attended to as a medic in Vietnam and has to rely on the recollections of others of the events. He wrote letters home to his father during his stay in Vietnam, and they have also been helpful to his memory and to process all that happened.
One of the hardest experiences for Haig was to go back to the Vietnam Memorial. The first time he went, he was able to walk the entire length of the memorial only because he had one of his daughters on each arm
“It took time, there is a lot of emotion there,” Haig said.
Haig is also involved with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. As a 20-percent-disabled veteran, some of his medical expenses are covered through the VA. He is also seeing counselors there for post-traumatic stress syndrome.
PTSD is something that affects many veterans, a lot of whom don’t know it. According to Haig, a veteran who is not talking about their PTSD needs to. And they are most likely to talk about it with other veterans.
“The point is they need to talk about it,” Haig said. “They need to realize that there’s nothing else you could have done and you are not bad because of that.”