I wrote this to a young man that could not understand the degeneration he witnessed in his father. Nor could he understand his father's inability to talk about his experiences.
The Vietnam war was a first in many ways. Principally the first time we had faced an indigenous gorilla enemy that could blend in with the population and in a majority of the cases the south Vietnamese could not be counted on to turn in the Vietcong or the north Vietnamese regulars. The second was that this was the first war that developed a strong public antiwar movement. Since the North Vietnamese did not directly threaten the US, people could not understand our involvement. I tell you this to help you understand the stress that the people that served in this campaign suffered both "in country" and when they returned to the United States. The Military had not yet developed an effective rehabilitation program for those suffering from combat stress disorders and in a majority of cases those members of the Army that were decommissioned were just dumped back into the population and in many cases it was a hostile population. The other thing I would like for you to think about is try and think what the social morality was when you father was a young man and when he got to Vietnam the drug abuse, prostitution, slavery was a very "in your face" experience. It was almost impossible to relate to or respect the people you were fighting for. Graft and corruption among the south Vietnamese military and politicians was legendary. Last but not least was "the draft". In an effort to provide manpower for the conflict, in the later years, they instituted the draft but did not follow up with adequate training for the folks they sent to Vietnam. So you end up with an unprepared person that has been ripped out of his life fighting an unpopular war he does not understand and then he returns to a hostile country that sent him there in the first place. These people could literally not cope with the conditions that they found in Vietnam and many turned to drugs or self mutilation as a means of escape. This situation was compounded by the veterans who wanted nothing to do with them, the new folks made so many mistakes it was just a matter of time until they got their ticket punched and you didn't want them to take you with them. You didn't even want to know their names. Last but not least the actual fighting was very intense and raised brutality to a new level, in most cases quarter was neither asked for nor given. Torture of the dying and mutilation of the dead were common place and it was very easy to hate (not nearly a powerful enough word) an enemy that seemed monstrous and barbaric beyond concept at the time. We don't even want to start on the inept fearful officer corps that were present that used phrases like (acceptable casualties) but refused to accompany their troops in the field.
I guess the moral of this story is that there were many opportunities for a young man to become fubar in this environment. There is a prevailing theory that most of the physical symptoms found in veterans of this conflict are the result of mental stress disorders. Vietnam veterans have the highest incidence of suicide, drug/alcohol abuse, chronic depression and divorce of any nationally recognized group.
There were eight separate herbicides used in Vietnam, all were dioxins and generally recognized as toxic or fatal. The heaviest concentration of spraying occurred in the south in zone 4 which includes Saigon and in the north in zone 1 which includes Da Nang. To date all federal programs to determine the short and long term effects of these herbicides on humans have been terminated. Some even after federal funding was granted. Vietnam veterans are a forgotten people of an era when an enemy broke the resolve of our politicians and society.
I hope this helps you understand the situation you father may have found himself in and maybe why he didn't talk. Think how hard it would be to explain this to someone that didn't have the same experiences. Think how many situations he might not have want to discuss. Most likely he was just doing the best he could living with his demons and in the end we just get wore down.