Sometimes a place can define a turning point in someone’s life. Tiger Land is such a place for thousands of Vietnam War veterans. The 162nd Infantry Brigade honored those who came before them by sponsoring Return to Tiger Land May 4.
Sometimes a place can define a turning point in someone’s life. Tiger Land is such a place for thousands of Vietnam War veterans. The 162nd Infantry Brigade honored those who came before them by sponsoring Return to Tiger Land May 4. The event welcomed veterans with static displays, medical evacuation demonstrations and a classic car show.
War-hardened men turned grandfathers walked about the grounds, introducing themselves by their last rank obtained on active duty. “I’m Colonel Ponton,” said retired Col. Hector R. Ponton, who served as a battalion commander from 1974-1976 when Fort Polk was the largest training installation in the Army. He was eager to share his story with the new generation of soldiers, especially when it came to comparing Fort Polk then to now.
“Everything is so modern,” he said. “We had the World War II barracks when I was stationed here.”
Other veterans observed everything in quiet reflection. Clarence Thibodeaux of Lake Charles said he is still self-conscious about his English. He spoke French until he was 8 years old and in his mind, his English “isn’t good.” He carried two 40-year old post cards in his pocket from basic training that he planned on showing to other veterans at the event. Thibodeaux volunteered to join the Army during the Vietnam War because he was looking for adventure since his hometown of Rayne, Louisiana, didn’t offer any.
He also wanted to do his time and get on with life instead of waiting to see if he would get drafted.
His return to Tiger Land was a delicate mix of pain and pride.
“I don’t recognize anything, but the (landscape) is still the same," he said. "I walked every last one of those hills up and down … mostly up.”
Thibodeaux concentrates on how he pronounces each word and takes additional time to consider what he will say next.
“I couldn’t stay in the tent with the Vietnam War memorabilia,” he said as tears began to stream down his cheeks. “It brought back too many memories."
Thibodeaux wasn’t the only veteran who choked up a bit that day.
“I, unfortunately, haven’t seen anyone I served with here today,” Ponton said as his eyes began to moisten. “If I get too emotional it is because many of them aren’t around today.”
Army pride radiated through his tears as he gave the only advice he would give that day for soldiers.
“Give it your very best … take care of your soldiers … and apply yourself diligently,” Ponton said.