In 1961, when many avoided the Draft, Ray Sarbacker decided to enlist in the military. A fresh-faced kid of 18, Sarbacker wanted to be a patriot like his dad. Sarbacker’s father was one of the WWII heroes who’d parachuted onto Normandy Beach on D-Day. Sarbacker knew his father was traumatized by what he’d witnessed that day — so much so that he’d never discussed it. But young Sarbacker, determined to follow in his dad’s footsteps, joined the Navy.
Within months, Sarbacker found himself on an aircraft
carrier. When he’d enlisted, U.S. action in Vietnam was limited to “advisors”
on the ground, but the nation’s engagement escalated rapidly. Soon, Sarbacker’s
carrier was in the Gulf of Vietnam, and Sarbacker’s responsibilities included
washing Agent Orange off of helicopters and planes that returned from missions.
Then, overworked and exhausted, Sarbacker and his shipmates would sleep on the
carrier’s deck, using their Agent Orange-soaked towels as pillows until the
next wave of helos returned.