Wisconsin Public Radio asked StoryCorps to stop by their Green Bay studios just in time to give local Vietnam veterans a belated “welcome home.” The event brought veterans together at the Green Bay Packer’s storied Lambeau Field – LZ (Landing Zone) Lambeau.
During the weekend, Downtown Green Bay roared its thanks alongside the engines of motorcycles, with drivers sporting jackets that proudly proclaimed their military tiers of service, whether it had been the U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, or the U.S. Army. Cars had American flag bumper stickers that showed support for prisoners of war. Men and women walked about, medals and ribbons pinned on their jackets, berets, and hats, and lawns held signs welcoming the veterans to LZ Lambeau.
John Paul Pieper was one of the vets who stopped by our booth to tell his story. He arrived accompanied by his wife Kathy, wearing a white shirt that showed his support for POWs.
John talked about how at 17 years old he obtained his parents’ permission to enlist in the U.S. Navy with five of his classmates in 1973. The following year he was assigned to go to Vietnam. He spoke of the camaraderie and support of his crew that kept him going during wartime and of the events he had to put aside during those years in order to continue functioning.
There were two events that John still carries with him over thirty years later: helping a young girl reunite with her mother and assisting a young refugee woman who went into labor while aboard his ship. Tears filled his eyes as he smiled at Kathy and recounted the moment when the six year-old child put her arms around her mom. John said that these are the events that changed him, and he chooses to treasure these over the scary, sad, and desperate moments he witnessed during the Vietnam War.
After four years in the U.S. Navy, John had the choice to re-enlist, but he chose instead to return to the United States and became a teacher. Vietnam had a profound effect in his life. John says that his time in the military provided him with discipline, afforded him the opportunity to see amazing things (both good and bad), and helped him learn just how valuable human life is.