When the Charlie Company of the 9th Infantry Division returned to the States from Vietnam, the troops’ homecoming was far from jubilant.
The soldiers, who deployed from Fort Riley, arrived at an airport in San Francisco. They were spit on and called baby killers, recalled Herb Lind, a former commander of the unit.
“It isn’t that way anymore,” Lind said.
Now retired and living in Manhattan, Lind is one of several soldiers who were interviewed for a National Geographic documentary that will be broadcast on Wednesday night.
The documentary, “Brothers in War,” tells the story of Charlie Company, a unit of mostly draftees that stayed alongside each other from beginning to end, from training to the return home and beyond.
“These troops were brought to Fort Riley without any basic training,” Lind said.
The documentary is based on a book, “The Boys of ‘67,” by Andrew Weist, an instructor at the University of Southern Mississippi.
A member of the unit, John Young, helped Weist teach a class about the Vietnam War — and during one class had a flashback when a video of combat was shown to students.
Although he had to be taken away in an ambulance because of the incident, Young continued to help with the class, resulting in Weist’s relationship with other members of the company — and eventually, the book.
The story caught the attention of a National Geographic team, and interviews with the soldiers took place in February of 2013.
Lind said the process was fairly easy, but at times he does find it hard to talk about his war experience.
“Everyone who lost their life while I was in command, it’s personal,” Lind said. “It’s tough for me.”
Lind took command of the unit in June of 1967. The soldiers had arrived in Vietnam in January.
They had trained together and deployed together, creating a deep bond between the soldiers, Lind said.
“It makes it harder for those of us who came back to face the losses,” he said.
The unit had been cut to less than 50 percent of its original complement by September of that year, Lind said, but they still maintained the closeness.
That is the main message of the documentary —keeping a unit together creates a strong bond — and Lind said he thinks the idea is conveyed well.
“They pretty much make the point they were trying to make,” Lind said. “It makes a good fighting unit to deploy together.”
The tight-knit relationship remains, he said.
Charlie Company holds reunions every two years, allowing the soldiers to talk about their time in Vietnam — and also to remember their brothers who didn’t return.
“Those guys weren’t fighting for themselves, they were fighting for the guy next to them,” Lind said. “A lot of them wonder why their buddy got killed and not them.”