ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Families across the country are taking time to honor all of our nation’s fallen heroes this Memorial Day. In many places, Vietnam veterans are also getting special recognition; it’s been 50 years since the US Congress authorized military action in the country. A pair of local Vietnam vets is marking the anniversary by giving back to their fellow veterans.
Mike Parker and Bob Theroux are the best of friends now, but were complete strangers nearly 50 years ago when they met at base camp in Bearcat, Vietnam.
"He’s one of my closest friends, Mike and I became like brothers,” says Bob Theroux.
“I was not trained to be a parts clerk and he was. I was doing an ok job of it but he was trained and came in,” Mike Parker recalls when he and Theroux first met. “Bob and I convinced the powers that be that we both needed to do that job.”
Parker was drafted days after his 21st birthday. Starting in 1966, he spent a year and a day serving overseas. His first night there was a harrowing one.
"We got mortared. About half way to the shower, mortars started coming in and we dove into the bunkers and trenches on the side of the road. It was my initiation,” says Parker.
When he returned home, there were no parades or cheering crowds, on one occasion there were actually rotten eggs and vegetable hurled by anti-war protesters.
"I gave the people the right to do this and it was a slap in the face," says Parker.
Those were insults not easy to overcome; that struggle empowered both men to join VietNow, a national group made up of veterans who help fellow vets with find healthcare, housing, and sometimes just someone to talk to. The group was started in Rockford in 1982.
“They're wonderful people they have great stories to tell and that history is going to the wayside," says Bob Theroux. He’s a chaplain for the Rockford chapter of Vietnow.
Parker also recently volunteered with VetsRoll, a non-profit that takes WWII and Korean War Veterans and Rosie the Riveters on bus trips to Washington, DC.