By the end of the war in May 1975, more than 2.5 million American military personnel had served in Vietnam1. Most came home carrying a heavy impact from the war. More than 700,000 veterans suffered mental problems2. Some 250,000 veterans were unable to find a job after finishing their service3. Some even committed crimes. However, there were still many Vietnam Veterans who went on to become successful in various fields such as politics, entertainment, business and science.
John McCain – United States Senator
Following his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals, McCain joined the United States Navy and became a naval aviator. On 23 October 1967, during his 23rd bombing mission over Hanoi, McCain was shot down, seriously injured and captured by the North Vietnamese4. He then spent five and a half years in captivity and experienced episodes of physical torture. Following the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, he was released along with 590 other American POWs in Operation Homecoming5.
In 1981, he retired from the Navy as a captain and entered politics. A year later, he won a seat in the House of Representatives from Arizona and moved on to the U.S. Senate in 1986. In 2008, he became the Republican nominee for president, but eventually lost to Democratic candidate Barack Obama in the general election.
Colin Powell – Secretary of State
Captain Powell first came to Vietnam as an advisor for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) from 1962 to 1963. In this first tour, Powell was wounded by a punji stake booby trap while patrolling in a Viet Cong-held area. His tour was shortened by this wound. In 1968, Powell came back to Vietnam serving in the 23rd Infantry Division. During his second tour of duty, he survived in a helicopter crash landing, and even managed to rescue three fellow soldiers including the division commander Maj. General Charles Gettys. His actions earned him the Soldier’s Medal, awarded for bravery in non-combat situation6. In July 1969, he was off his duty in Vietnam and come back home with his family.
Later in his military career, Powell became the first African American served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H.W. Bush7. In the 2000 presidential election, Powell campaigned for the Republican nominee, Texas Governor George W. Bush. Bush eventually won the election, and Powell was appointed Secretary of State, the first African American office-holder of that position.