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At Memorial Day parade, Vietnam veterans share what they lived through

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) -- Memorial Day is a federal holiday designated for the country to mourn and honor military members who have died in the line of duty.

The theme for Fort Wayne's Memorial Day parade was "Honoring our Fallen Vietnam Veterans."

"They were young kids at heart going into it. And some came home and the ones that did come home were men," parade attended Morgan Hannon said.

"You still think about it. I can't go to fireworks because of the loud noise, it bothers me. You get flashbacks every once in a while," Navy Vietnam veteran John Kaperka said.

"I was an infantryman. So you really saw everything. Yes, I have several Purple Hearts to prove it," Army Vietnam veteran Mike Rick said.

Those who did come back say they will never forget their brothers who did not.

You can never really know what people have gone through.

And to this day, many of the men who came home from Vietnam don't speak about it.

We found two who did.

Kaperka served in the Gulf of Tonkin when he was 23.

He says he was called the "old man" because most of his colleagues were 17 and 18 years old as they retrieved downed pilots' bodies from the water.

As difficult as that was, something else tormets him to this day.

"We were down on the gun line of a Marine fire base and they were being overrun by VC. It turned into a friendly fire mission. They called it in, we delivered. It was a friendly fire mission. That's what haunts the most," Kaperka said.

Rick was an 18-year-old infantryman in Vietnam.

"I was taken POW and I escaped. And I spent 22 days wandering through Cambodia to make it back to the Vietnam side. And I was picked up by the 25th Infantry Division people, so I am forever in their debt," he said.

It's stories like theirs that helped motivate some people to attend the parade, wanting to ensure the younger generations appreciate what so many military personnel sacrificed.

"We think it's important to kind of show the kids the meaning of the day and all the people that have served and are continuing to make America better every day. Sometimes we tend to forget how lucky we are to be 31 years old, 34 years old and have a family and raise kids and create a future, when some gave all before they were our age," Hannon said.

Those who did come back say they will not forget their brothers who did not.

Corinne Rose

Corinne Rose is a reporter for WPTA.

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