Photo by Kelly White
Terry Vorderer, a Vietnam War veteran, met with Oak Lawn Community High School students on Jan. 22 at the high school at 9400 Southwest Highway, to share his first-hand account of what life in the military was like and what it felt like as a soldier returning home.
By Kelly White
Oak Lawn Community High School’s Junior level US History classes had the opportunity to hear from one of our nation’s heroes.
Vietnam War veteran Terry Vorderer met with students on Jan. 22 at the high school, 9400 Southwest Highway, to share his first-hand account of what life in the military was like and what it felt like as a soldier returning home.
“ Vietnam veterans did not return to America with parades or much gratitude,” said Vorderer, an Oak Lawn resident.
The Vietnam War was the second-longest war in United States history, after the war in Afghanistan. The war pitted communist North Vietnam and the Viet Cong against South Vietnam and the United States.
Vorderer had just graduated from high school, had a serious girlfriend, and was looking into job prospects when he received a draft notice from the American Armed Forces.
“ Coming from a father who served in World War II, I felt it was my duty to serve our country,” Vorderer said.
He entered the army in 1967 and was trained as an infantry soldier before being sent to Vietnam and assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, known as the Big Red One.
“I like to say I went to Vietnam as an 18-year-old and returned to America a year later as a 40-year-old man,” Vorderer said. “The military and the war taught me the value of sacrifice, loss of life and heroism. As a combat soldier, I saw much action.”
Vorderer said the most intense period of combat — known as the Tet Offensive — occurred during his last month in Vietnam.
The Tet Offensive was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War , launched on Jan. 30, 1968 by forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam against the forces of the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam , the United States Armed Forces and their allies. It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian command and control centers throughout South Vietnam.
“ Because it was difficult to get a helicopter into the jungle, my tour of duty was extended until it was safe to fly,” Vorderer said. “When it was safe, I was flown out of the jungle and taken to a major airfield where an airplane was waiting to fly soldiers out of Vietnam, and 18 hours later we landed in San Francisco.”
At the San Francisco Airport, Vorderer was discharged from the Army as his time of active service to the country was up.
“ I got on another airplane and flew to Chicago where only 25 hours earlier I was in the jungles of Vietnam, engaged in combat operations,” he said. “Back home in Oak Lawn, I found not many people wanted to hear about my experiences as the war in Vietnam was politically uncomfortable, so I just learned to compartmentalize my time in Vietnam and went on with picking up life where I left off.”
Vorderer went on to become a police officer for the village of Oak Lawn. That job became a career with 34 years of service under his belt, along with a wide array of titles, including patrol officer, captain, detective and chief of patrol. He retired from the department in 2003.
With strong devotion to his hometown, he also worked as commissioner of the Oak Lawn Park District for six years and is currently a trustee for the Village of Oak Lawn, a position he has held for the past seven years.
However, he will never forget his time and service to our country.
“My experience in the war has shaped who I am,” Vorderer said. “It took 30 years for me to stand at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. to face the many memories of that war. As I looked at the grand scale of the memorial of almost 60,000 names, I realized that those who gave it all, their lives, for America and earned a place on the wall, deserve the appreciation and gratitude of every American. That goes for every veteran who has served the country.”