Tom Butt
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  March 29 — National Vietnam War Veterans Day
March 29 2024

Vietnam Veterans Day commemorates the sacrifices of Vietnam veterans and their families and is part of a national effort to recognize the men and women who were denied a proper welcome upon returning home more than 50 years ago. On this day in 1973, the last combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and the last prisoners of war held in North Vietnam arrived on American soil. It is also the date President Nixon chose for the first Vietnam Veterans Day in 1974. California recognizes March 30 as Welcome Home Veterans Day (2010 AB 1775).


On this day, I would like to recognize the men and women who served with me in Vietnam. Our shared experience was, however, like the blind men feeling the elephant. Most of us had certain things in common – the heat, the stinking latrines, Agent Orange, long hours with low pay, the same uniform (jungle fatigues and jungle boots), a weapon (rifle and/or pistol), R&R in some exotic city and a 12 or 13-month deployment. One time or another, most of us were targeted by rockets and/or mortars – fortunately their aim was mostly bad. From there, our experiences were widely different. Combat infantrymen humping the boonies experienced the toughest conditions, and they and aircraft crews faced the highest risks. The rest of us supported them with transportation, logistics, maintenance, communications, intelligence, construction and even administration. We all had an MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) and a job to do. My MOS was 1331 – Combat Engineer Unit Commander. My job was in the S-3 (Operations) Section of an Engineer Group headquarters in charge of some 3,000 to 4,000 engineer troops.

By the time I arrived in 1969, the decision had been made to ultimately turn the war over to the South Vietnamese. As engineers, we still provided a lot of combat support, but our resources were mainly focused on infrastructure – roads and bridges – to support a future healthy economy and enable the South Vietnamese to defend themselves. The former ultimately prevailed (for the victors) but we know how the latter turned out. 

What was it like being an Army engineer in Vietnam? Here are some examples:

Tom Butt at the Phu Cuong float bridge

Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) 159th Engineer Group, Long Binh, Vietnam, 1969. Tom Butt is 5th from left, top row.

Somewhere over Vietnam in a Huey

QL-20 March 1969
Improvement of QL-20, 169th Engineer Battalion, March 1969

Dinh Quan quarry operated by Company D, 169th Engineer Battalion, March 1969

Construction of QL-2A, 34th Engineer Battalion, November 1969

Crusher at Xom Tam quarry operated by 92nd Engineer Battalion, February 1970.

Land clearing at Providence Village, January 13, 1970, 169th Engineer Battalion

Rach Hoa bridge, between Saigon and Vung Tau, was blown by the VC on August 3, 1969. The 100th Bridge Company provided bridge components, and the temporary float bridge was constructed by the 17th Construction Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers