Union County veteran’s long journey toward peace after serving in Vietnam

Dave Aitken, of Hillside in Union County, told News 12 that he is still trying to find peace more than 50 years after he served in the Vietnam War.

News 12 Staff

Nov 2, 2021, 8:38 PM

Updated 902 days ago

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News 12 is showcasing the lives of New Jersey's veterans during Veterans Appreciation Month.
Dave Aitken, of Hillside in Union County, told News 12 that he is still trying to find peace more than 50 years after he served in the Vietnam War.
Mementos from the Navy are in frames around his house, but as he goes through a scrapbook – the pain comes back.
"I didn't get recognition from my country. There was no band [or] parade. It was ducking in shadows so you weren't seen," he said. 
His role in that war has haunted him. He loaded bombs on planes. He saw the devastation he helped create.
"War is hell, and then you see what you are afterwards. I consider myself a byproduct of war," he said. "The hardest thing was my consumption of alcohol and drugs."
Now with a service dog named JJ at his side, he has made eight trips back to Vietnam to deal with that pain. He has helped build seven schools there and made it possible for children to get medical checkups and nutritious meals.
Today, as he looks around his garden, 25 years sober, he is a warrior finally close to finding peace. He is hoping to return to Vietnam for a ninth visit.
In the meantime, he is lobbying politicians in Hillside to put up a veterans memorial. Hillside is the only town in Union County without one.


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