Holyoke Vietnam veteran recalls hardships of war and returning home

Veterans Voices

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Our troops weren’t always welcomed home with open arms. Vietnam War veterans can tell you that first-hand.

“Baby killer, this and that…. war is war, things happen, and you cant change it….”

Holyoke native Walter Zemrock was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966, at the young age of 19.

“It was a frightening experience,” Zemrock said. “I mean to go from being home and never having to carry a gun or anything like that, and to be handed one and told to go out on patrol or go out on guard duty, this and that, it’s scary. It was scary.”

Zemrock was a part of the 1/9th Air Calvary Regiment, often flying in choppers to help set up forward landing zones. He spent 11 months at war in Vietnam.

“Like everyone else I had a few bad moments there I don’t like to talk about too much,” Zemrock said. “I went over there and helped a lot of people that couldn’t fight for themselves. It was a really hard battle over there. Of course war isn’t a very pleasant thing, you’re always seeing dead bodies, soldiers wounded and what not, but yeah I served my time and I’m grateful that I made it back in one piece.”

Like many Vietnam veterans, Zemrock had friends who didn’t make it home. More than 58,000 American troops died during the war. Nearly 1,600 Soldiers still remain unaccounted for. Zemrock acknowledged that he is very fortunate to be alive.

“My 20th birthday over there, I’ll never forget that,” he recalled. “We were on guard duty and our bunker it was booby trapped, and we almost got blown up, the three of us that were in it.”

Those types of close calls haunted him for years to come.

“Back in the early 70s, I put my family through hell,” Zemrock said. “I had PTSD. Nobody knew what that was back then…..  Least little noise or least little movement by somebody freaked you out. I was at a family picnic and one of the relatives threw a firecracker, it was the fourth of July, and it just tore me up, I fell to the ground and all that stuff. It’s normal reaction you know.”

Zemrock said he is glad to see how much veterans care has improved over the years. He even attends a weekly session in West Springfield with other Vietnam veterans for support. But above all, Zemrock is happy to see that our veterans today are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

“It’s an honor to be recognized as a person that went and fought for freedom and served the country,” he said while wearing his Vietnam Veteran baseball cap.

Photo Gallery: Walter Zemrock U.S. Army

Veterans Voices

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