Manchester, N.H. – Armand Thibault of Goffstown, an Army veteran who had a distinguished career in crack combat units while stationed in Germany, South Korea and the Republic of Vietnam, was presented with medals and badges he earned during the Vietnam War era at the Manchester office of Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter.
The 20-year-old Thibault enlisted in the Army in 1964 and was assigned to a rapid-response armor unit. At the congresswoman’s office, he spoke of maneuvers his unit participated in while stationed in Germany. His unit and other armored units would position themselves on the West German side of the Fulda Gap, a natural gateway in the mountains to the northwest of Frankfurt, where Soviet forced were expected to penetrate the West with an armored spearhead should World War Three come to pass. Their positioning was immediately countered by Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces on the East German side, and the two sides would engage in a stare-down.
The forecasted life-span of members of his unit in the event of a shooting war were calculated in fractions of an hour. His unit was once outfitted with the “Davy Crockett” recoilless gun that fired a battlefield nuclear device. The range of the Davy Crockett was three miles, and his unit was told that it would destroy all of the opposing enemy’s armor arrayed on the battlefield. Thibault said that he realized that the nuclear warhead had blast range of more than three miles and his unit would have been sacrificed in the event of war.
Belonging to a top-echelon, rapid response unit, Thibault was airlifted to hotspots all over the world on short notice. Thibault underwent similar maneuvers with his armor unit in South Korea, at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), where the Americans also faced off against an aggressive foe, with opposing tanks lining up on both sides of the DMZ. He said that the threat of war in Germany and Korea was omnipresent during those engagements, but it was in South Vietnam where he heard the crack of gunfire as the enemy ‘s bullets whizzed by his head.
In Vietnam, his unit went to save a downed aircrew, the members of which would have perished if their mission had failed. One of the medals he was presented by Shea-Porter was the Air Medal with a “V” device for valor, with the Numeral “3” indicating the number of awards. The Air Medal is awarded for an act of heroism, and the former Sergeant Thibault was very much a hero.
At the medal ceremony, Thibault was presented with the Army Good Conduct Medal with Bronze Clasp and two Loops, the Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, the Korea Defense Service Medal, and a Meritorious Unit Commendation with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster. In addition, Thibault was presented by Carol Shea-Porter with a Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle and Pistol Bars and a Marksman Badge with Tank Weapons Bar.
For his gallant service in Vietnam, Thibault also won the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm Device, a foreign award not distributed by the U.S. Department of Defense. SInce the Republic of Vietnam ceased to exist in 1975, Thibault planned to buy a facsimile of the medal.
The ceremony was fitting as Shea-Porter, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, had intimate knowledge of the Vietnam-era military.
Shea-Porter’s husband Gene is an Army veteran. While he did not see duty in Vietnam, he was subject to the opprobrium that many in society displayed towards Vietnam-era veterans. As a military wife, Shea-Porter shared in the pain experienced by active duty personnel, veterans, and their spouses and loved ones.
The censure and negativity of segments of society toward those who served honorably in what became an unpopular war alienated many veterans. Many Vietnam-era veterans failed to get the medals, badges and unit citations they earned, most probably through the oversight of a military that was taxed with running a war and that later was hampered by a fire that destroyed a vast number of military records.
Many of those veterans did not pursue the honors they deserved out of bitterness over their treatment.
Shea-Porter and Thibault discussed this sad state of affairs. The daughter of a World War Two veteran, the Congresswoman pointed out that many veterans of her father’s era came home with shell-shock, now recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and did not receive treatment. Instead, the veterans, who were treated as heroes upon their return, would band together at American Legion posts and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, where they would intermingle, share the experiences they could not with non-combat veterans, and support one another.
Vietnam-era veterans suffering from PTSD who returned to The States did not receive treatment either, but they were not treated as heroes and found support structures lacking. It was the poor treatment of Vietnam era vets, including the lack of care for those suffering from PTSD, that sparked a backlash that led to reforms.
Shea-Porter pointed out that if it were not for the sacrifices of the Vietnam-era veterans, today’s veterans would not be receiving the care they did, including treatment for PTSD. The Vietnam-era veterans were trailblazers in that they made just demands on a society that tried to ignore them, and changed the way veterans were treated.
At the end of the ceremony, Armand Thibault thanked Congresswoman Shea-Porter for all her help.
“I asked others for help, and they did nothing,” he said. “You did.”
i Mr. Thibault served in the Army from 1964 to 1970. The medals he was presented with are the Air Medal with “V” Device and Numeral “3,” Army Good Conduct Medal with Bronze Clasp and two Loops, Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, Korea Defense Service Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle and Pistol Bars and Marksman Badge with Tank Weapons Bar. Mr. Thibault also earned the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm Device. This award is a foreign award and is not distributed by the United States Army.
“Mr. Armand Thibault served our country during wartime and then came home, never receiving the recognition nor the medals he deserved. It was my honor to present his medals and thank him on behalf of a grateful nation,” said Shea-Porter.