“I learned very quickly that no one really cared that I served in the service, and they didn't really want to know. There were a few of us there that were Vietnam vets. We pretty much kept our mouths shut, went to school, did our studies and moved on,” Whitt said. “That's pretty much what I did for years and years.”
Whitt said even his father, a World War II veteran, didn't want to talk to him about Vietnam.
It wasn't until the mid-1980s that Whitt felt comfortable talking about his service.
“We (a reserve unit) went to Washington, D.C., and went to the Vietnam Wall. That's the first time I have been to it. I broke down, it was very emotional for me and, up until that point in time, I could not read about Vietnam, I couldn't talk about it. There wasn't anything I really could do to deal with in that era until I went to the wall and seen some of the friends I had had on there, giving their all,” he said.
Whitt retired from the Army Reserves in 2008 as a command sergeant major.
“It's been wonderful over the past 10 years to watch the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans return from their tour of duty and be welcomed with open arms,” Whitt said. “But on the other side of the coin, as a Vietnam veteran, you feel very shunned and disappointed in the way you were treated when you returned. You learn to live with it.”
After finishing his time in the Marines in 1972, Behrens returned to Oklahoma to continue his education at Central State University, now the University of Central Oklahoma.
He still feels uncomfortable talking about his time in the military.
“Unless you have experienced combat, you can't talk to other people about it, they can't relate. I think most people who have been in combat don't really like to talk about it,” Behrens said. “There's a lot of things that are unpleasant about it and think that's probably why VFWs and American Legions survive today, because veterans can go in there and have a beer and talk about those types of situations if they need to.”