Vietnam veteran commemorates 50th anniversary of return home


By Hector Hernandez Jr.

Santa Monica Vietnam War veteran John Richard Medlin IV celebrated the anniversary of his homecoming at the end of his overseas service by visiting the San Bernardino International Airport (SBD) at 4 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1, 50 years to the hour of his landing at the airport, then Norton Air Force Base, when returning from Vietnam.

To help commemorate Medlin’s anniversary, SBD Marketing Manager Amber Cesarez gave him a tour of the airport and Norton Air Force Base Museum President Robert Edwards gave a tour of the Norton Air Force Base Museum.

Medlin shared that part of what made the return to Norton so special was that it was the same hour, day and date as the day he returned in 1970.

Edwards shared that he was serving at Norton during that time.

When Medlin began his overseas service he left from Travis Air Force Base at 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 12, 1969, and served in the 29th Civil Affairs Company in I Corps when in Vietnam. He worked with refugee camps, helping them to improve their farming, first aid clinics and civic projects. He also assisted local governments reestablish governing officials, teachers and nurses after many were executed by the North Vietnamese.

These people, who put their lives at risk to vote and participate in local government, were heavy on Medlin’s mind as his visit was just two days prior to Election Day.

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“In two days we’re going to vote for our president of the United States of America. As we were looking through my photos, I showed people who literally put their lives on the line to vote and run for office,” Medlin said, referring to a scrapbook he brought with him.

Medlin left Vietnam early on an emergency leave to visit his mother who was in the hospital and not expected to live. (She did survive.)

He departed Da Nang on a C-141 Starlifter at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30, making stops at Okinawa, Guam and Honolulu before landing at Norton at about 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1.

The journey took 46.5 hours, and Medlin said he was a zombie when he landed.

As it was an emergency leave, he did not have family there to greet him. He took a bus to Los Angeles where he met and had breakfast with his brother, who lived in Englewood. After staying the night with his brother, he flew to Atlanta so see his mother in the hospital.

Medlin shared that he had hoped to get “a real American hamburger” in Hawaii but it was 2 a.m. when he arrived and everything was closed.

Due to his exhaustion from the long trip, Medlin says he doesn’t remember much about his first days back in the United States, but he does remember feeling frustration for people’s indifference for the war and what was happening in Vietnam.

“Forty-eight hours before I was in-country. Then I was back here, a place were people were concerned with pollution of the water and the air. I remember these were the concerns, and I said, ‘What about the pollution of the body bags? What about that pollution?’ They weren’t involved; no one was trying to kill them. So, they didn’t care,” Medlin said.

Medlin spoke in great admiration of those who established the Norton Air Force Base Museum in 2013 and their efforts to protect and teach the history of Norton and the stories of those whose military service was connected to the base, including Vietnam veterans like himself.

“These people made a choice. They chose to do something that, right now is not a concern because of this corona thing, but as their generation, my generation, got off we got to decided what we really care about, our values. We’ve decided this is what we value,” Medlin said. “To start from nothing and in seven years bring all this together is incredible.”

“Over 250,000 Vietnamese military died by Ho Chi Minh and his followers after they were quote ‘liberated’ by the North Vietnamese army May of 1975, another 200,000 died in reeducation camps, then another 250,000 Vietnamese ‘boat people’ died on the South China Sea escaping from their liberators,” Medlin said. “Most people don’t care; I happen to care. These types of things are important. It’s part of who were are and the expression of what our values are.”

Medlin added that revisiting Norton was “was very important, very powerful and very moving.”

Editor's note: Norton Air Force Base Museum, 1601 E. Third St., San Bernardino is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, December 10th, 2020, the teams of the Norton AFB Museum and 63rd / 445th Norton Veterans Group have once again been able to make donations to the San Bernardino County Fire Department’s Spark of Love Toy Drive and to the San Bernardino Mary’s Mercy Center.  This is the fifth year the volunteer docents of the Museum and Vets Group have been able to donate to Mary’s Mercy Center and the eighth year to the SBC F/D toy drive.

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Pictured for Mary’s Mercy Center: (L-R) Mr. Mike Hein V/P & Administer, Bob Edwards NAFBM Board Pres. and Mr. Dan Flores who has replaced Mike having retired from MMC on Friday.

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Pictured for Spark of Love Toy Drive: (L-R), Tim Schons, SBC F/D Fireman, Kenny White, SBC F/D Engineer, Bob Edwards, NAFBM Board Pres, Gail Edwards, NAFBM Docent, Jane Sneddon, NAFBM Board Treasure, Jo Ann Webb, NAFBM Board Docent, and Scott Leinder, SBC F/D Captain.