SAN ANTONIO – Almost 50 years ago today, the last American troops were pulled out of Vietnam, signaling the end of U.S. involvement in what’s turned out to be one of the longest wars in history.
It was April 26th, 1968 and Operation Delaware, a joint military operation, had just launched days before.
Almost 55 years later, Vietnam veteran Alfred Elsner still recalls the battles in the hills of A-Sau Valley in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War is described as one of the longest wars and also one of the most brutal. More than 50,000 American troops were killed.
On Friday, April 26th, 1968, Elsner’s best friend Dennis Purcell was among the many casualties.
Caught in the crossfire, Elsner was injured that same day and said his survival was unimaginable.
“I think of this almost every day because I was shot mostly in the hand, and I lost most of the use of my hand. The bullet went in right here and blew out most of the bones all the way across. I had 13 surgeries,” said Elsner.
The increasing number of American casualties in the Vietnam War sparked conflict, with many soldiers returning home without the honor, support and respect they deserved.
“It was an awful lot of rudeness and I remember people just turning away when we go through the airport. They didn’t even want to look at us,” said Elsner.
While attempting to find acceptance upon return from the war, many struggled to overcome physical injuries and other emotional wounds. These factors Elsner says are the reason most who served in Vietnam don’t talk about it.
“Traumatic event. Twenty years ago, I couldn’t even talk about this. You know, and it’s taken a long, long time and a lot of good therapy with friends,” said Elsner.
On March 29th, 1973, the last American combat troops left Vietnam. That was 50 years ago, but Elsner said in a way, he’s never left.
“I visit Vietnam every day. It’s, it was a big part of my life.”