Malibu vets remember war

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Malibu joined the nation Monday on Memorial Day in pausing to respect and honor those who died in America’s wars as its citizens drove down the coast to the 114-acre Los Angeles National Cemetery in West Los Angeles.

There they silently prayed among the 86,000 graves of veterans and their families from every war since the Civil War, including World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Here in Malibu, several veterans remembered their own military experiences for The Malibu Times.

Two served in Vietnam and one served several tours of active duty during his 37-year career in the Naval Reserve. While each man’s experience was unique, each indicated he had emerged stronger and more mature.

Veteran John T. Payne, CEO of Payne and Co. Insurance Brokers, began his military career while still in high school as a Seaman Recruit in the Naval Reserve.

He said he values his time both on active duty and in the Reserve, serving 37 years before retiring with the rank of captain in 1995. Today he continues to extol the Navy and naval careers as a leader of The Navy League in Malibu.

“I enjoyed my time in the military,” Payne said. “I still miss it–the camaraderie, the people you meet, places you go and things you do. I don’t know why more people aren’t interested. It’s a great experience.

“My first active duty, following Submarine School at New London, Connecticut, was with the USS Catfish out of San Diego.”

Payne’s had a variety of assignments since then, including the command of an aircraft carrier reserve unit supporting the first nuclear powered submarine, the USS Enterprise.

Payne expressed disappointment that he was not called up for Desert Storm in the early 1990s.

“It would have been an honor and a privilege for me to do something like that,” he said.

“The Navy gives people a lot of responsibility,” added Payne. “One of the benefits of my military service was to learn a management style that I could use in my personal insurance business.”

Another Malibu veteran, Jeff Jennings, an attorney with a specialty in estate planning, is a city councilmember and was mayor of Malibu from 1997-98.

Graduating from Yale in 1965 as an artillery lieutenant, his active duty was delayed for studies at Stanford Law School and for two years of teaching law.

Then he trained in artillery in Oklahoma and was shipped to Vietnam in March of 1971 with the rank of captain. Assigned to the 101st Airborne Division “way up north near the demilitarized zone,” he found the military needed his skills as an attorney.

“I spent most of my time on legal duties or connected to legal affairs,” said Jennings.

“Our camp was ringed by firebases, and we experienced rocket attacks from time to time,” said Jennings. “When shells fell, we went to sandbagged shelters. I experienced ‘moments of fear’ from the shelling, and in armed travel from place-to-place to investigate cases. But basically we were not supposed to be in combat.”

Jennings indicated that although the experience was unpleasant from many perspectives, he is glad he went.

“At the time I didn’t like it, but the edges blur over time,” he said. “I forget the unpleasant aspects and realize I learned something from the experience. It made me more skeptical of easy answers and positive solutions. It was a maturing process.”

Jennings added that he had been vocal in the anti-war movement before going to Vietnam.

“I was young; I was sure I had the answers,” he said. “I went over there with certain fixed ideas. Slowly they began to wear off. The picture was more complicated; I could see reasons why we were there.”

Remembering fallen comrades, Jennings said, “I had close buddies who died–people who I worked with, prosecution and defense counsels, people in different units. Sometimes scheduled trials didn’t take place, as those involved were killed in action.”

Jennings, who is married with 3 sons, left Vietnam Christmas of 1972.

Todd M. Sloan, now an attorney specializing in civil trial and business litigation law and member of the Code Enforcement Task Force, served two tours of duty with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. He was there during the early days of the conflict when Americans were advisors to the South Vietnamese Army, and later when conflict had burgeoned into full-blown insurgency warfare.

“I think often of friends who were casualties,” he said. “I was lucky. When I think about Memorial Day, I think of the wonderful, brave Marines who are dead now. They were the finest men I ever knew in my life.”

Sloan served all over the country as an infantry, intelligence and scuba officer during his two tours of duty. He saw great changes between 1963, when he was a first lieutenant in the extreme western part of Vietnam, and 1968.

“The country in 1963 suffered from relatively insignificant communist guerrilla activity and some 3-4,000 Americans served as advisors,” he said. “Our job was to observe the North Vietnamese coming south on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

“Initially, Americans were there to support the South Vietnamese Army,” he added. “But, by 1966 this had changed and we were fighting in the countryside and they were back in the bases. Although there were many fine South Vietnamese people in the field, I was struck by the number of draft dodgers and people who didn’t want to fight.”

By 1968, during Sloan’s second tour of duty, the American feeling was to “get the job done,” Sloan said.

“Basically, the South Vietnamese conned America into going out and doing the fighting for them,” he said.

“When I returned home,” he said, “I really had an understanding of how the war started. I read history. I knew the diplomatic overtones. I certainly learned to appreciate living in a country where you are free.”