FORT POLK — Army veteran Tom Brown served in Vietnam with Alpha Company, 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade from 1969-1970. A native of Revere Beach, near Boston, Massachusetts, Brown was drafted into service.

“That was an eventful day when the mailman showed up,” said Brown. “He said ‘congratulations!’ and I said, ‘For what, sir?’ and he said ‘This is your draft notice,’ and I knew life was about to change.”

He went to basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina; advanced infantry training/Airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia; and noncommissioned officers education system, or NCOES, which was a program that made E-2s into E-5s in 12 weeks. “It was like a mini-officers course,” said Brown.

Brown’s military occupational specialty was 11B (infantry) and 11C (indirect fire infantry). He was sent to the central highlands in Vietnam, along the I Corps and II Corps border (the upper sections of North Vietnam), near the ocean. He was assigned to STAG (security training and assistance group) Team 7.

“We had an 11-man team that would live with the villagers to protect the village chiefs and mayors. They would come into our perimeter at night (for protection), because if the enemy knew they were friendly to the Americans, they would kill them. We ran patrols around the area too, and tried to stop any infiltration.”

What stands out most about his year in Vietnam, “besides the heat and the heavy rain,” he said, is the brotherhood he shared with his fellow Soldiers.

“I knew families — brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers — having never met them,” he said. “We had so much time on our hands when we weren’t out on patrol, we would just sit around and talk (about families).”

Brown said one of the most difficult aspects of the mission was waiting around.

“They (the enemy) picked the time when they hit you. They waited and waited for us to become lax and form bad habits — we’d sometimes go for a month and half with nothing (no enemy contact) — and then they’d hit. You just had to be very careful, maintain your perimeter, your weapons, and stay alert. But it could be very boring.”

Other companies in the brigade would see more action, said Brown. “There were units in Vietnam that had a lot more enemy contact than I had, and I admire the heck out of them, especially the ones from my brigade, the 173rd. They (suffered) 1,806 killed and 8,200 wounded, which is hard for a brigade. But they were good guys, solid people.”

Brown’s homecoming was cold — and warm.

“I came home on Dec. 23. I remember it was a Sunday, so the subways and buses ran about every hour, and I froze my butt off. I was (just coming from) Vietnam where it was about 112 degrees, and here I am four or five days later, at Logan Airport in Boston, and it’s 17 degrees! All I had on was my summer greens, and it was snowing. I remember walking down the street, and because it was storming, nobody was outside and it was just dead quiet with the snow coming down. I went to my aunt’s house — she brought me up — she was about 70 years old at the time and had five sons that served in World War II and Korea, and all of them came back. So, I was the last one. I knocked on the door and when she opened up, she said, ‘Tommy! He’s home! He made it!’ And that was a high point for me right there.”

But not every aspect of coming home was cheerful for Brown. The first time he encountered a protest, Brown said he couldn’t believe what he saw.

“We (Soldiers in Vietnam) didn’t realize what was going on back here in the states. We got all our news from the Stars and Stripes (newspaper) and canned radio, and Boston was one of those hotbeds for protests, like New York and San Francisco,” said Brown. “I went over to a protest just to see what was going on, and they were up there talking all this baloney — I couldn’t understand, knowing all these guys that I just (served) with, real Americans that stood up for their country, right or wrong, and here were these people who have done nothing for their country, all these protesters — I just couldn’t understand.”

As for the rest of the men Brown served with, he managed to find one of them after more than 30 years — Dwight Weims. “I flew up to see him in Minnesota, and when I came out of the airport, I had a 173rd sweatshirt on. He had a 173rd hat on, and we looked at each other and hugged, and I said, ‘You know Dwight, the only difference between now and all those years back is — about 150 pounds apiece!”

Brown re-enlisted a few years later when the unemployment rate spiked in the 1970s, returning to the infantry. He retired in 1995 with 25 years of service. Fort Polk was his last duty station, and Brown spent an additional 18 years as a civilian at the Joint Readiness Training Center, helping train new generations of Soldiers. Given his years of experience, Brown had this to say in regards to today’s Army and the Soldiers in its ranks:

“In those days, when we were getting drafted, we never moved as a unit through all the training — you always trained separately, you went to Vietnam as an individual, and you came home as an individual,” he said. “Now the units train as a whole and they move to combat as a whole, and I think that’s a great thing. These young guys coming through training (today), they have a great attitude, and I’m so proud of them. They are carrying on a great American tradition.”