It’s the time of year when the days tend to run together for Tony Messa.
As Veterans Day approached, Messa told the Rock Island Today that he often spends the time leading to the holiday reflecting on fighting for his country in Vietnam.
The 70-year-old Messa said he is always grateful that he survived. This month, he celebrated his 45th wedding anniversary with his wife, Mary.
He also thinks about those who didn’t make it back home, and how he and others were at first made to feel like strangers in their own homeland.
“I don’t think we got the credit we deserved when we first got back,” he said. “Now, things have changed. We get more respect and appreciation. People stand and wave to us on July 4th and at park ceremonies, and a lot of kids bring things they’ve made for us. It’s the respect we deserved 50 years ago.”
Messa said 63 men were either killed or injured during a fight after which his unit's medic earned a medal for all those whose lives he saved.
On Sundays, Messa and his platoon would pick themselves up enough to have chicken fry outings and help children at an orphanage.
“We found ways to try to have a good time, remain human,” he said.
These days, Messa hasn’t had a lot of time to dwell on the war, as he has two children and three grandchildren.
“I count my blessings every day,” he said.
Messa spent his 11 months in Vietnam as part of the Second Armor Division from Fort Hood, Texas. Afterward, he made telephone systems as a tool and die maker and machinist.
He retired in 2016 and said he felt special when he could freely attend VFW events because he had the day off.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “I was never able to do that before.”
Another local veteran, Bernard Bucholz was in a different branch of the military, but his story is much the same.
Bucholz served in the Air Force from 1965 through 1969 and fought in the Vietnam War in 1967.
He remembers the 12-hour days working as a communications specialist as part of Command Post 1876 and said this time of year makes him a bit sentimental.
“This year is even more emotional because it marks 50 years since I’ve been back home,” he said. “Then, the new Ken Burns film brought back a lot of memories.”
Bucholz said part of what he reflects on is always the same.
“I could never understand the hatred toward Vietnam troops,” he said. “American soldiers did a terrific job there. If the war was lost, it was lost in Washington, but I always felt back then like we were the targets.”
Bucholz said the climate is different now and he and other vets feel a kind of appreciation they’ve never felt before.
“People thank you for your service and just take the time to salute you," he said.
Married to his wife, Margaret, for 43 years, with three kids and eight grandchildren, Bucholz has spent the last 30 years serving his community as an Oak Park police officer.
“I would recommend finding a way to serve their community to anyone who asked me,” he said. “Especially in the armed services, because we need troops.”