The Puyallup High School class of 1962 graduated during the Vietnam War and by the end of the year, over 11,000 U.S. soldiers was in South East Vietnam.
“Most of us were not aware of the trouble in South East Asia until after we were out of high school. However, in my civics class my junior year, Mr. Simmons did mention that we had some troops in South East Asia but most Americans did not know about it yet,” 1962 alumnus Martin Letourneau said.
The war was so new and foreign to the country that many students did not know anything about it because they were caught up in their high school life.
“During the four years I spent at PHS I have no memory of being conscious of the Vietnam War. I have no memory of it being discussed in school, a household conversation or memory of any family member being in any branch of the service,” 1962 alumnus Robert Loidhamer said. “My high school days were filled with sports-related activities, socializing and hanging out with friends and the guys working on our cars.”
Not everyone participated in the war but those who did sacrificed their lives for the good of the ones they loved.
“I graduated in 1960 and joined the U.S. Navy that same month. I am a Vietnam veteran and was involved in off-shore shipboard bombardment to soften up and support on-shore troop placements very early on in the war,” Jack Maddux, husband of 1962 alumna Edith Maddux, said.
After the war began the draft took many boys right out of high school or boys ready to drop their lives in college to serve this country.
“In the fall of 1962 at college the Cuban Missile Crisis came up and my friends and I were listening to the radio all ready to sign if war was declared,” Letourneau said.
If a person was not drafted but still wanted to take part in the war volunteering was an option as well.
“It was only after graduating in 1962 and going on to college that I became aware of the world’s issues and in 1966 joined the U.S. Army to do my part in the fight against communism,” Loidhamer said.
Here at home there were many views about the Vietnam War. Some people protested others supported it.
“Most of us were not in favor of the war in Asia. I think many of us felt it was more of a political war and we should not have been so heavily involved. The French had already failed [politically] there [in Asia] after many years,” Letourneau said. “The drafts were heavy 200,000 men a month. Friends were going over and many were being killed or coming home severely injured for life. At home there was a lot of protest and discontent with our faith in our political leaders. It taught me to be aware and involved and appreciate the freedoms and blessings in our country.”
Veterans of the Vietnam War are treated different ways and have survived one of the most unsupported conflicts in the United States.
“I was doing what I had been trained to do, follow orders. I do believe it is a shame that veterans from this war are looked down upon simply for doing what they were trained to do. They were brave men and women following orders (right or wrong) trying to free this country from communism,” Maddux said.
The Vietnam War is a piece of history and it is a part of millions of lives including the alumni of 1962.