Prior to last Thursday, Tom Hudson had visited Bartlem Park before, but there was something special about this trip. To mark the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall being brought to Cheshire from June 1-6, an opening ceremony was held to recognize the service of those who made the ultimate sacrifice abroad.
“It (the event) was moving and emotional. Everyone I saw was very into it,” said Hudson, who served in Vietnam from 1969-70. “It brought tears to my eyes.”
As a veteran, Hudson said that he was appreciative of Cheshire’s Hayley, Jeff, and Don Falk for helping to bring the wall to town.
“They have done a fantastic job. My wife is a history buff and helped with putting up posters,” stated Hudson. “It is very touching that there is some closure now after the war. It is very important to me.”
Hudson was thankful to return home safely, but he still mourns the loss of life in Vietnam. As a 1965 Cheshire High School graduate, Hudson shared the same class with John Gravil, who passed away during the war.
“It is hard when you look at all of those names on the wall,” said Hudson. “Most of the guys were just kids who died in the first few months of combat.”
Hudson recalls, 52 years ago being drafted into the U.S. Army while he was working at the telephone company in New Haven. He was trained at Fort Jackson (South Carolina) and Fort Gordon (Georgia) before being sent to Long Binh in January of 1969.
As the U.S. Army’s largest base in South Vietnam, Long Binh was situated near the capital city of Saigon (since renamed Ho Chi Minh City).
Hudson recalls a scary introduction to his service. While flying into Vietnam, his plane had to maneuver around a nearby firefight.
“The pilot had to get the plane down real quick,” said Hudson. “It (the battle) was just outside Saigon.”
Hudson worked in a supply unit that kept track of inventory of items like grease and gasoline, as well as aviation and diesel fuel. For one of his main duties, he wrote a report to major command.
“This outfit had an air conditioning unit and I picked it (the work) up quickly because I wanted to stay in the office,” explained Hudson. “I wanted to avoid the 94 degrees and 100% humidity as much as I could.”
Hudson additionally went on perimeter sweeps and served on convoy patrols.
“The sweeps were safe around the compound, but on the convoys, you never knew what could happen because you were in jungle,” recalled Hudson.
He estimated that the convoys could take four or five days going back and forth. In moving through hostile territory, Hudson felt uneasy for himself and others.
“You never knew if someone was going to catch a bullet,” said Hudson.
He remembers dealing with tough conditions in Vietnam, including red dust.
“It gets in your clothes and your eyes. All the red dust turns to mud,” explained Hudson. “It could be very hot and cold. Fortunately, I wasn’t in the heat as much as the other guys.”
During hard times, he appreciated the support of his family back home.
“My mother was great,” recalled Hudson. “She was sending me shrimp and brownies every day. I was sending back post cards that said that I was OK.”
Hudson enjoyed that his command allowed him to take a Christmas vacation, based on his time in Vietnam. He chose to take his first trip to Australia in 1969.
“It was very relaxing,” recalled Hudson. “I wasn’t hearing explosions and the traffic was on the right side on the road. I was the consummate tourist.”
After returning to his unit, Hudson served for 43 more days and then qualified to go home under the Early Out program at the time.
“There was a deal if you hit 150 days or less of service, you could be discharged on the spot,” explained Hudson. “I spent 149 days (abroad) before I got home.”
In returning to Connecticut, he went back to his same office at the telephone company in New Haven. The Vietnam War was still a controversial topic upon his return, but over the years, Hudson has enjoyed seeing more recognition given to those who served in the conflict.
In the lead-up to the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall coming to Cheshire, Hudson was invited by the CHS baseball program to throw out the first pitch for a rivalry game against Notre Dame-West Haven on May 11.
“That was a wonderful experience. I thank Don Falk and the Cheshire baseball team,” said Hudson, who received a signed baseball. “It is astounding to me that Cheshire goes so much out of their way to thank veterans. I’ve gotten so much more recognition in the last 10 years than I had gotten in the last 32 years.”