MASON CITY — Jay Lee served 28 years in active and reserve duty in the Navy.
“I have always been super proud to be an American,” said Lee, a 73-year-old Mason City resident. “I am extremely proud to serve 28 years in the military. I would do it all over again, even Vietnam if my government asked me to do it.”
The Globe Gazette will publish 50 stories — starting on Veterans Day — about North Iowa’s Vietnam Veterans. The stories will appear on Sundays…
He spent 14 years in reserves and 14 in active duty.
Lee enlisted in 1961 and served with amphibious squadron COMPHIBRON 5 staff from 1962 to 1966. He served a total of four tours in Vietnam ending in 1969.
“They were all over the place, it was wherever they needed you at the time,” Lee said. “Most guys went to a camp, I did not. I was called in to an area, did my job there.
“I did the same thing on ships. I would show on the maps where the enemy was at, and where the good guys were at.”
Since he was moved around a lot he served all the way from Saigon to within 13 miles from the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
He worked out of Saigon when he first arrived in 1961, which he describes as “not too bad,” since the fighting didn’t pick up there until the mid- to late 1960s.
“I was four tours, so I came home four times and every time you come home we had problems,” Lee said.
He said he didn’t have many problems once he was back in Mason City, but he had many negative experiences near the military bases.
“So you come home, you think you’ve done a job that your country wants you to do and you return home to all the hate, and that’s actually what it was, hate toward the serviceman,” Lee said. “You put up with it.”
He said he was beaten up once in Long Beach.
“You know, you’re called all kinds of names, baby killer to murderer, you were spit on,” Lee said. “It’s kind of heartbreaking.”
“I personally lost some of the bitterness when I got home from Desert Storm,” Lee said. “I was recalled to Desert Storm and that lasted three months, then I came home and had a great welcome home.
He said it also helped working on the committee and taking part in Operation LZ in Forest City last summer, adding that it was the first welcome home he received for his service in Vietnam.
Talking to other veterans at Operation LZ and knowing he was not alone helped with healing, he said,
“Vietnam veterans are the ones out there that are making sure that anyone coming back from a conflict is welcomed home properly,” Lee said,
Lee later served as a police officer in San Diego and Decorah, and then spent 25 years with the Mason City Police Department, retiring in 1996.
“We can serve our community and country in several ways, however we choose to do it,” Lee said. “We all need to serve.”