John Sardis doesn’t have any good memories from his time in the Vietnam War, he said.
“I lost one of my best friends,” said Sardis, 68, a 40-year New Hyde Park resident. “… The only memorable thing is when I came home.”
Sardis was drafted to the U.S. Army in early 1967, less than a year after he graduated high school. He spent 11 months and 22 days in Pleiku, Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.
Sardis probably would not have enlisted had he not been drafted, he said, but he’s proud to have fought for his country, and proud to be a veteran.
And on Friday, he served as the grand marshal of the VIllage of New Hyde Park’s annual Veterans Day ceremony.
“I had no regrets in respects to serving my country, none,” he said. “And if I needed to go back, I’d go back again. I’d rather I go than one of my grandkids or my son.”
Sardis, an Astoria, Queens native, was dropped into Pleiku, a city in central Vietnam, on a helicopter in the middle of a firefight, he said.
It was 1968, just before the start of the Tet Offensive, one of the Vietnamese fighters’ largest military campaigns of the war.
“We were learning about Vietnam in high school. The next thing I knew I was there,” Sardis said.
Sardis was a radio/telephone operator, or RTO, in charge of reading maps and calling for armed support, air strikes or medics when and where they were needed, he said.
Part of the job was carrying a 25-pound antenna on his back in addition to his regular gear and weapons.
That antenna could easily draw attention from enemies, putting Sardis in more danger than other soldiers, he said.
Being a Vietnam veteran was not easy in the years after Sardis got out of the Army in 1969, he said.
No one ever harassed him personally, but he felt people’s judgment and anger toward him and other soldiers who fought in the war, he said.
“People turned away from you,” Sardis said. “And if you told somebody you were a veteran, they looked at you like, ‘So what? You’re baby killers.’”
The stigma subsided just before the start of the Iraq War, and understanding of veterans’ issues has improved in recent years, Sardis said.
He joined the New Hyde Park American Legion, and continues to work as a respiratory therapist in nursing homes since retiring from his job as a New York City bus driver.
But the effects of Vietnam linger — Sardis still can’t watch movies about the war, he said, and he was exposed to Agent Orange, which he said gave him diabetes.
Sardis said he’s optimistic that things will get better for veterans, given President-Elect Donald Trump’s promises to help them.
“You find that there are a lot of people that are very proud of our veterans and are out there trying to do what they can for veterans,” Sardis said.
During the village’s ceremony on Friday, New Hyde Park Mayor Robert Lofaro said it’s important to remember veterans’ sacrifices “not just today, but every day.”
“Today, we know who our heroes are,” Lofaro said. “They are our veterans, and we’re thankful for what they’ve done for us.”