A Talk With Vietnam Veterans

Jesse Breidenbach


Jillian Mike, Staff Reporter

A veteran is defined as a person who has served in a military force, especially one who has fought in a war, and has been honorably discharged from his or her branch of the military. Veterans Day is a day to pay tribute to all veterans, both the living and the dead. The holiday began on November 11, 1919, which was the first anniversary of the end of World War 1. The holiday was officially made a national holiday nineteen years later in 1938, making this year the eightieth anniversary. Veterans Day was not the original name of the holiday, it was first named “Armistice Day” however it was changed by President Eisenhower in 1954. There are about 20.4 million veterans in the United States, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and about 6.7 million of them fought in the Vietnam War. These men and women risked their lives to fight for our country and now are honored in society however, they were not always thanked and honored, as they are today. I interviewed five United States Veterans, who fought in the Vietnam War, to see what being a veteran means to them.

The first veteran I interviewed was Robert Genovese. He enlisted in 1960 at the age of eighteen and served in the Air Force as a Staff Sergeant. Mr. Genovese was deployed to Vietnam in October of 1966 for one year. When asked how he thought his time in the military affected his views on life, he said: “Military life afforded me the opportunity to broaden my horizons, so to speak. It was a learning experience in many ways. Meeting and getting along with others from all over the country who had different upbringings. It taught me many things including self discipline, confidence in being on my own for the first time, etc.” After leaving the military, Mr. Genovese accepted an accounting job, but soon realized that was not what he wanted to do and found a career in sales which he excelled at. He said that the biggest difference in his life returning from deployment was his son, Michael, whom he had not met. Mr.Genovese said: “I was very happy to see him, my wife, and son, Tony.” Mr. Genovese was unfortunately diagnosed with Agent Orange Cancer in 1981. He added, “Early on, I received support from a few Vietnam Veterans which I truly appreciated. It was then I decided to help my brother and sister veterans in any way I could. I have done that, and will continue to do that as long as I can.” Robert Genovese is the co-founder of the Veterans Who Care Committee, which he started to help his fellow veterans. Finally, when asked what being a veteran means to him, Mr. Genovese said, “It means a lot to me. I am extremely proud to have served my country honorably, and to have been in the company of so many who I had the honor and privilege of serving alongside.”

The second veteran I spoke with was Mike DeVivo. He served in the Marine Corps as a Lance Corporal. Mr. DeVivo joined in 1968 when he was nineteen, and was deployed for about a year. When asked about serving in the armed forces, he said, “I think it teaches you to be reinforced, and teaches you to be a team player and to be responsible. And I think that carries in through a lot,” when asked how the military affected his views. When Mr.DeVivo left the military, he got a job installing telephone switch equipment, and later went to school. When asked what the biggest difference in his life returning from deployment, he responded: “There were things my friends thought were important that I didn’t think was important…They would debate the qualities of different car waxes, of all things. And I’m kinda sitting there going you gotta be nuts, and when I came back from Vietnam, it was even more pronounced. So were things they worried about, and I’m still worried about the people I left in Vietnam, that I was with and they’re still debating car waxes.” And finally, Mr. DeVivo said, “I did something for the people and the country that I love, we all took that oath…I literally walked my talk… I loved the country so much I wanted to see it be protected.”

The next veteran I interviewed was Dave Lafontaine, who served in the U.S. Army as a Specialist Fifth Class. Mr. Lafontaine was about twenty when he joined the army, and he was deployed for twenty five months and twenty five days. When I asked how he thought the military had affected his views on life, Mr. Lafontaine said, “It made something out of me. I never took care of myself, I always had my mother to take care of me. I learned how to do things she was shocked I even learned how to do. Like making a bed.” Next, I asked if he thought veterans were treated differently, he responded, “When we first came home we weren’t treated nice. People hated us. And now it’s a lot different…Before they wouldn’t even talk to you. I was spit at, people didn’t want to know you.” When he returned from deployment he said, “It’s hard to adjust, but you learn to do it. You learn to adjust… I just adjusted to everything.” When asked how being a veteran meant to him he answered, “I served my country I did what I had to do and I’m proud of and I do it again if I had to. I wouldn’t hesitate.”

Then I interviewed Phil Arcuri. He served in the U.S. Navy as a Third Class Petty Officer, Mr. Arcuri joined in May of 1966 and he was nineteen. Mr. Arcuri was deployed twice, one seven month cruise and one six month cruise. He said,”When I left I was a young man, didn’t know anything about real life. You had your parents, if you needed money you’d get money from them. They washed your clothes, they fed you. Now you’re thrown in with a bunch of guys and you have to figure your own budget, because you didn’t make a lot of money. You had to take care of your own uniform, so you grew up real quick,” about how the military affected his views on life. When Mr. Arcuri left the military that he started working, and he said that it was his training in the Navy he was able to work his way up from a maintenance man to a manager to an engineer. After returning from deployment he said, “When you came home you were kinda happy you made it home, because you knew some of your brothers and sisters didn’t.” He said that he know respects the men and women going into the military, because not many people join nowadays. Finally, when I asked what being a veteran meant to him, Mr. Arcuri said, “To me it’s an honor being a veteran.”

Finally, I interviewed William Mason, who served in the Marine Corps as a PFC. He was seventeen when he joined, in 1968, and he was deployed for three months. When asked if the military affected his views on life Mr. Mason said, “Totally one hundred percent, to the positive.” After deployment, Mr. Mason was hospitalized in a VA hospital for two years, due to his combat wounds. Later, after having left the military, he said he went into employment in training. Next I asked him, how being a veteran affected his daily life, and he responded, “A lot. Career wise, goal wise, where I am today, who I am today. The way I react the way I operate, had everything to do with it.” Lastly, I asked Mr. Mason, what being a veteran meant to him, personally, and he said, “Pride. I love my flag. Very privileged that I had the opportunity to serve my country, and to give my right arm to my country.”

Thank you to all of the veterans featured in this article, Mike DeVivo, Phil Arcuri, Dave Lafontaine, William Mason, and a special thanks to Robert Genovese and Kathy Breidenbach for helping arrange this interview and connecting us with these men. It was very educational and incredible to hear the stories of these men who loved our country enough to risk their lives for it. For more information on these men and the treatment of veterans, watch the accompanying video to this article entitled “A Talk With Vietnam Veterans”, directed and edited by Jesse Breidenbach. Remember the veterans in your life, and the sacrifices they made for America. And to all the veterans out there, thank you for your service.