The guy at the San Francisco airport must have been crazy.
He had the audacity to pick a fight with a Marine who had just returned from the Vietnam War. The Marine’s tour was shortened by the death of his father.
Wathan Fielding, the Marine, tried to sidestep the guy. But the guy stepped in front of him again. And then the guy spat in his face.
And that’s when Fielding did what he was trained to do. When the police pulled him off, the guy needed serious medical treatment.
Fielding was arrested for attempted murder but the charges were later dropped. The authorities sent him on his way back home to Decatur which is where he was trying to go in the first place.
These days Fielding devotes his time to trying to help his fellow Vietnam veterans. He is a key member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 1067 in Huntsville.
“He is a board adviser who assists the membership chairman (Richard Knight) in carrying his duties of increasing membership as well as caring for the member base,” Charlie Miller, the chapter president, said. “Fielding also is the leader in our members telling their story which brings comradeship to the chapter.”
“He’s a hard-charging Marine,” Knight, himself a Marine who served in Da Nang from May 1969 to March 1970, said. “Anything he can do with the veterans he’s Johnny-on-the-spot with it.”
Fielding’s story is worth telling, too. The Decatur native signed up for the Marine Corps while attending Decatur High School. He and a buddy went in after graduating in 1962.
“Didn’t know what I wanted to do so I went into the Marine Corps,” he said.
Next came the bus ride to Nashville for induction and then basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Fielding subsequently went to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, while the Marines sent his buddy to Camp Pendleton, California. “So our buddy plan didn’t last so long,” he said laughing.
At Camp Lejeune he was attached to a service unit which was responsible for getting supplies to troops. He and a fellow Marine from Atlanta saw a notice where paratroopers would make an extra $55 per month. Fielding was making $68 a month. So he and his fellow Marine signed up to become paratroopers so they could nearly double their pay.
“They put us in another outfit – air delivery. And it was a support unit that would deliver anything you needed. We could air drop or, if there was a landing zone, we could go in and land,” Fielding said. “In Vietnam anybody who wanted or needed anything, we could take it to them.”
He went to Vietnam in the summer of 1965. By then he had already experienced deployments. He had been placed on alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and he had gone to the Dominican Republic during a civil war in 1965.
“The commanding general of Camp Lejeune told me ‘You’re on your way to Vietnam,’” he said.
Fielding, then a corporal, was stationed in Da Nang with Marine air freight or air delivery. “Anything you needed, from eggs to blood, we could air drop it to you,” he said. On three occasions, his C-130 was so shot up he had to jump out as soon as it landed back in Da Nang. He recalled delivering to a Special Forces camp “178,000 pounds of supplies – ammunition, food, medical supplies.”
He spent a year in Vietnam when he was notified in 1966 of his father’s death and sent home. His mother didn’t want him to return to Vietnam because he was her only son; so he decided to leave the Marines. After his physical confrontation with a protester in San Francisco, he had another scrap at a high school football game in Decatur when he thought the teams weren’t giving proper respect to the flag. He was again arrested but the charge was dropped.
Fielding went to work for Amoco Chemicals Corporation in Decatur in December 1966 and he retired in 1990.
He and his wife of 42 years, Sonja, have a son, a daughter and three grandchildren. At 76 the Hillsboro resident likes to fish and he enjoys working with veterans as a life member of Chapter 1067.
“At first I didn’t think we were in too good shape because of all that was going on when I got home,” he said. “Now I think we’re doing a whole lot better but we’ve still got problems.”
Editor’s note: This is the 246th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.