Friday marked the 40th anniversary of the day the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam. Forty years later, as US combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, Vietnam veterans are reflecting on their service.
As one local Vietnam vet tells us, a lot has changed in the last four decades.
Edward Guadet of DeWitt, Iowa was an Army medic in the war.
"I went to Vietnam in 1965 with the First Infantry Division, and I returned home on my 23rd birthday - May 15th,1966," Gaudet recalled.
It was a few years before the American involvement in the war ended, on March 29th, 1973. As Gaudet says, he left "when we were still winning" the war.
But his experience in Vietnam has never left him:
"I still have some nightmares about it that are difficult at times," he said.
Today, we recognize Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a very real outcome of combat service for many people.
Back then, it was a different story. There was no recognition, and there was little to no help.
"It bothers me a lot," Gaudet exclaimed, "I mean I had a lot of issues that I've learned to resolve."
Gaudet's post-war experience is not unique. He says those issues are common among the veterans he knows - especially the ones he has met through his volunteer work as a Veterans Service Officer with the Bettendorf Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
He says medical issues are very common too.
"The chemicals that they used in Vietnam are killing a lot of us," he said, pointing out that until recently he had to use supplemental oxygen around the clock for years.
"And I've got so many pills, it takes two hands just to carry them all," he added.
Gaudet says the veterans administration helps with that. But they could do better for all veterans, saying backlogs with claims can take years to resolve for some.
He says his paperwork was processed very quickly forty years ago.
But, he says, that tradeoff is well worth the improvement in the way veterans are treated by the American public, four decades after he served.
"It's a night and day change in the public opinion. There's no question about it," he said.
"I mean most of us came home and put our stuff in the closet and left it and tried to hide the fact that we were Vietnam veterans. Today, they come home, and partially thanks to what we've done, they're welcomed home," he explained.
A lot has changed in Gaudet's personal feelings about his service too.
"I'm very proud of it now. And back then I tried to hide it, stick it back in the corner so I didn't have to think about it," he said.
Time has helped heal some of the psychological wounds he brought home from Vietnam.
He says what really makes him feel better though is helping others. That is where his work with the Vietnam Veterans of America comes in. Gaudet is one of eight accredited volunteer Veterans Service Officers with the Bettendorf Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. Their mission is to help veterans and their families, whether it's through providing guidance and assistance navigating the bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration to get the benefits they deserve, or supporting causes like the Valor Operation, which helps set homeless veterans up with housing.
Gaudet says these days there is a lot more support for all veterans.
One example is the new designations on drivers licenses in Iowa that entitle vets to discounts at a wide variety of businesses in the state. Also, the Iowa Legislature is currently considering a bill that would reduce property taxes for disabled veterans.