In 2015, David Franklin of Orangeburg told his story as part of the T&D series, “Vietnam: They Served With Honor.”
As a 20-year-old squad leader in Vietnam in 1969, he dealt with many adversities. He told the story of unsuccessfully trying to get another soldier not to kill himself. He acknowledged his primary objective was simply to get out of Vietnam alive, a goal that he said became more likely when in January 1970 he took an engineering job and quickly made rank as an E5 squad leader.
“I was supposed to be in the First Cav,” Franklin said. Fifty volunteers were being sought for training as engineers to build temporary bridges, bunkers and other structures. “I raised my hand.”
“I volunteered for the engineers … which I believe saved my life.”
Like so many others, he was glad to get home, reiterating what he told The Times and Democrat in a 1981 interview: “When I got off that plane in Oakland, California, I kissed the ground.”
Franklin wanted no part of the Army’s offer of re-enlistment and returned home to Orangeburg to embark on a civilian life. But Vietnam came home with him.
“Deep down inside, some things were bothering me,” Franklin said. "From 1970-2010, I went through three marriages. I did not know I had this trauma in my life.”
Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2010, Franklin also got more bad news in 2012 – cancer. After surgery, he is cancer-free but has made it his mission to help others in battling the Veterans Administration over the impact of Agent Orange as a cancer-causer.
“The government wants these Vietnam veterans to die off. That’s what they are waiting for,” Franklin said.
The war was senseless, Franklin said. A lot of Vietnam veterans are angry.
“They don’t give Vietnam veterans enough recognition. They just set us on the back burner. They are really hoping that we die off. I’m not.”
Fast forward to 2017 and Franklin may be no less outspoken about Vietnam, but he is equally appreciative of recognition such as that which occurred in Orangeburg on Saturday’s Veterans Day. For the first time in 17 years, Orangeburg held a Veterans Day parade.
The parade touched Franklin, who writes: As a veteran and a 1969 Vietnam veteran, I would like to thank Orangeburg County Veterans Affairs Officer Kenisha Grimes for putting together the first annual Veterans Parade for the veterans of Orangeburg. I was very proud of what I observed on this past Saturday. It made me proud to be a veteran and a Vietnam veteran.”
As reported in The T&D, people waved U.S. flags as floats decked out in red, white and blue passed by. The Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School marching band played a number of patriotic hymns during the parade, including "America the Beautiful." The sounds of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" came from some floats as the parade traveled down Russell Street to Orangeburg’s Veterans Memorial Park. Orangeburg County’s oldest veteran, 99-year-old World War II veteran Harvey Fullard, served as grand marshal.
After the parade, a short ceremony was held at Orangeburg’s Veterans Memorial Park. Grimes and Orangeburg County Veterans Council Commander Lee Jeffries Sr. were honored by the Orangeburg Veterans Council for their contributions.
The return of the parade as a tribute to veterans was a welcome addition to Orangeburg’s observance. Here’s hoping it indeed will become “annual,” as referenced by Franklin, who closed his letter to The Times and Democrat with, “Thank you Mrs. Grimes and the citizens of Orangeburg.”
And with a look forward: “Next year, if God's willing, I would like to ride in the parade.”