In 1969, Oceanside resident William Taylor, then 20, received a draft letter to go to Vietnam. He left college in his second year and decided to accelerate his draft to show the government that he wasn’t resisting the orders. He did clerical work in service and arrived home safely after 13 and a half months.
This past Saturday, Taylor and 46 other veterans were taken on a flight to Washington, D.C., by Honor Flight Long Island to visit the war memorials.
According to Bill Jones, HFLI president, West Point 1972 graduate and Army veteran, “This special flight includes 38 Vietnam War veterans who will receive long overdue recognition and thanks for their service. They’ll be accompanied on this flight by two World War II veterans and seven Korean War veterans. What this flight really represents is a ‘big hug’ to all our veterans from Honor Flight, their families and supporters, who make such flights possible.”
Taylor, now 73, started his service by reporting for duty at the Knights of Columbus in Valley Stream. From there he was shipped off to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn and moved for basic training to Fort Jackson in South Carolina. There he was trained in clerical work and learned how to type 20 words a minute with no previous typing experience.
He started his journey to Vietnam after reporting to Fort Lewis in Washington at the end of January 1970. He flew to Alaska, then Japan, then to Vietnam on a 24-hour flight. On Jan. 31, 1970, he landed and for the first time he saw the Vietnamese in straw hats and the beautiful scenery.
“You don’t realize that you’re there until you actually get off the plane and feel the heat, get your bearings,” Taylor said. “You’re looking around, and I landed in Cameron Bay, and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the country was. I could compare it to Hawaii or any beautiful island that you go to down in the Caribbean. It was just lush, beautiful palm trees and stuff like that, and I was just thinking to myself, ‘how could someplace be so beautiful and be so horrible.’”
Assigned to the 359th Transportation Battalion as a company clerk, Taylor stayed at headquarters doing reports and managing awards for medals. He typed with one finger on each hand the whole time and marked each passing day with a letter X on his hat. “Each day you were just hoping that you make it to the next day,” he said.
He served six months in Pleiku, where he faced a few mortar attacks close to the compound that “put me on edge for a couple of weeks,” and then merged with a bigger company in Charang Valley.
For his 21st birthday he decided to use his rest and relaxation credit the military allows to go to Hawaii for a week. He left on his birthday on July 30, 1970, for Hawaii, first flying to Guam and then crossing the dateline into Hawaii where it was 12 o’clock July 30 still. “So,” he said, “my 21st birthday turned into a 42-hour day.”
In Hawaii Taylor met up with his then girlfriend and a friend stationed on the island who showed them around, and they saw Jimi Hendrix live, a month before the musician died. “I always wanted to see him, and I got to see him. It was just completely mind-blowing.” Taylor reflected
Back in the U.S. he revisited an interest in plumbing supplies, and for 50 years he’s been in the wholesale and retail plumbing business. For the last 17 years he’s been going to the VA Center in Babylon to receive services and meet up with his friends. A friend at the center signed Taylor and other veterans at the center up for the Honor Flight journey before the pandemic, and this has been the first flight since.
Taylor hopes to meet more veterans through the experience of visiting the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials; Arlington National Cemetery for a Changing of the Guard; the Air Force Memorial; and the Iwo Jima Memorial.
“I’m looking forward to it because I don’t know how I’m going to react,” he said, “because 57,000 people’s names are on that wall -- that’s a lot of people that died and for what, for what purpose, because we ended up just leaving and we were supposed to stop the Communists from coming in. Soon as we left, that was it, it was over … everyone who died, they had mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles and they all went through that loss.”
When Taylor and other Vietnam veterans returned home, they weren’t given the appreciation for their service other veterans had received, which Taylor didn’t notice until the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans received praise. He said, “I didn’t begrudge them of that, but I felt that I wasn’t appreciated, so maybe this flight will make me feel that I was appreciated, and it was all worthwhile.”
Taylor has noticed a stigma some veterans feel when obtaining mental health services but says for a few years now that stigma has tapered off. “Guys, sometimes they get depressed, but thank God for Wednesdays,” he said. “We go there and it’s very helpful.”
Looking back on his service, Taylor said, “I would do it all over again, just for the friendships that I made and the closeness, I’ve never felt that close to anybody before. Even friends at home, you know, it was a different kind of friendship. … You feel closer to people over there because everyone depends on each other, everybody has to have each other’s back.”