Over the years, Greg Christianson, commander of Baxter’s Post 493 of the American Legion, has begun to define himself more and more as a “Vietnam-era veteran” rather than a “Vietnam veteran.”
When he was in the Navy serving from 1973 to 1977, the distinction wasn’t so clear to Christianson.
Christianson enlisted in the United States Navy in the spring of 1973, just after he graduated from high school. The Navy quickly sent Christianson to boot camp in San Diego, after which he attended a specialized training school in San Francisco to hone his skillset as a welder and firefighter.
Following his training, the rest of his enlistment was spent aboard the USS Longbeach, a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser equipped with an unprecedented amount of anti-aircraft ordinance.
During his tenure on the ship, the Longbeach was deployed on Western Pacific cruises, where it helped to safeguard the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the United States’ fleet.
Christianson was serving as a firefighter on the USS Longbeach during the Mayaguez incident, a famous three-day conflict between Cambodian communists and the United States that marked the end of the Vietnam War.
The Cambodians had seized a U.S. container ship and its crew on May 12, 1975. The crew was subsequently released unknown to the United States Marines and their command, which laid siege to a Cambodian base. U.S. forces suffered heavy losses with 15 dead, 41 wounded and three missing in action.
Despite being a part of the Mayaguez Incident and other action during his western Pacific cruises, Christianson has a hard time placing his service on the same level as those of those who fought on the ground in the Vietnam War.
“My real passion working with the Legion is for the Vietnam veterans,” Christianson said. “I get chills just thinking about them and what they did.”
He described the conflict as incomparable to the ones that preceded it, saying that the veterans of Vietnam endured more on the ground and even upon their return to the United States than any of their predecessors.
So now, the veteran who has held his position as post commander for 10 years tries to help and engage the Vietnam veterans in whatever way he can, thankful for their service in a fashion that grew out of hearing their personal accounts of the war over the years.