When he first came home back in 1969, people looked at David Driscoll like he didn’t belong.
Nearly 50 years after his military service, Driscoll joined six others in being recognized by U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, of Mitchell, during a Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Pinning Ceremony on Wednesday morning at the Mitchell Veterans Park.
“I’d walk down the street and people were like, ‘What are you doing home?’ Not all of them but that sticks in your mind,” Driscoll said. “You remember the bad parts more than you do the good parts.”
Driscoll joined Dennis Butterfield, Dennis Kaus, James Nielsen, Larry Van Natta, Cecil Wilson and Duane Kummer in being recognized with a ceremonial pin and congressional coin from Johnson.
“This is one of the most rewarding things I do,” Johnson said. “We've done it all across South Dakota. And it's really the central message, ‘That a grateful nation thanks and honors you for your service.’ Some of these veterans tell me they have not had anybody from their government say that in the last 50 years.
“This is the right thing to do,” he said.
Johnson recognized each veteran individually, letting them share stories from their time serving before joining for a group picture at the end of the ceremony.
“It kind of went from heaven to hell,” Driscoll said of his four years serving being discharged as an E-4.
“First night, in Hawaii. I was at this high command… The night the USS Pueblo was taken by the North Koreans. We lost one man off that ship during the year of captivity,” he said. “The night it was taken, I was called into operations at my command. I had clearance and we had President Johnson right on (screen) to our room at that time watching everything on the corner, called the war room, watching what's going on. So that was quite something to have witnessed.”
Those recognized during Wednesday morning’s event were split among service in the Army and Navy.
“Nobody really said much of anything,” VanNatta said about his return home. “I think (my wife’s) dad, he was a World War II veteran, and he's the only one who shook my hand. When I came home.”
Johnson said his office has been recognizing Vietnam veterans for their service the two years he’s been in office.
Johnson has already recognized veterans in Mobridge, Platte and Gettysburg with stops planned for Aberdeen and Rapid City while on recess before Congress reconvenes Monday.
Those who are honored at the pinning ceremony are generally nominated to be recognized. While Johnson does keep extra pins and coins on hand in case a veteran happens to stop by without having been nominated prior.
“Some of them don't want to write, they're not public speakers or they are humble about their service to this country,” Johnson. “But I love it because it reminds you about how young people were when they were drafted or when they enlisted. ... All of them came back to a country or came out of military service at a time when we didn't do a very good job of honoring those in uniform. And so just having them tell their stories for me, it’s always very meaningful.”
Driscoll and Van Naaten each said getting to meet and talk with others who served during Vietnam too and share stories is special to them.
“They're all heroes. You know, they served and they came back,” Driscoll said. “They all have stories to tell that they’re probably not talking about.”