Local Military News

Parris Island in the 70s: A heart-wrenching homecoming from Vietnam

Tony Solomon
Tony Solomon Submitted photo

In the twilight of the Vietnam War, wearing the Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem didn't earn U.S. Marines admiration.

Retired Gunnery Sgt. Tony Solomon found that out the hard way when he returned home to California in 1975.

He and the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines had spent that summer helping evacuate South Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and the taking of the SS Mayaguez container ship. It was an effort more about humanitarian work than engaging in violent conflict.

"It wasn't pleasant coming home," recalled Solomon, who now lives in Beaufort. "I remember coming into California, fixing to go on leave, and people would actually spit on us. Back then you had to travel in uniform."

"I remember coming off a flight and walking through LAX and they were calling us baby killers and spitting at us," he continued. "To get that coming back when we were doing a humanitarian mission was worse. We weren't over there to kill people."

The unwelcome reception wasn't enough to rattle him, though. Solomon stayed with the Corps and returned to Parris Island -- where he had entered as a recruit just a year earlier before he was even 18 -- to become a weapons training instructor for the next generation of Marines.

While in Beaufort he met his wife and started a family, and for two decades his jobs with the Corps whisked them around the world to Japan, Florida, California, Tennessee and Great Britain. He eventually worked on the team that decommissioned the final A4 Skyhawk fighter jets.

Upon retiring from the Corps in Memphis, Tenn., Solomon joined the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier.

He finally retired last year and now spends his Wednesdays and Thursdays back on Parris Island -- back at home, he says -- working in the Parris Island Museum and telling young recruits about his life-changing experience in Vietnam and his long Marine career.

"I consider Parris Island more of my home than anywhere else because Parris Island is where I actually grew up," Solomon said. "I came to Parris Island at 17 and left a Marine."