“You’re Not Crying For Them; You’re Crying With Them”: A Vietnam Veteran Helping Others

Jim Barker


In Part Two of Jim Barker’s interview, he picks up where he ended in the first interview with his life following his return from Vietnam. Flying home, he first saw the Golden Gate Bridge, which personified America for him. He came home with no debriefing and no decompression, feeling that his “larger self did not belong.” He found work as a counselor at a high school youth camp, and reunited with his twin brother, who had spent his time in service in Japan. His brother convinced him to go on a hunting trip, and Jim felt Vietnam come flooding back when he shot a rabbit. Although he enjoyed camping, he felt hyper-vigilant and restless. Entering college, he was aware of other Veterans, but no one talked to each other, and they reintegrated into American society alone. Following college, he began working as a Spanish-speaking clinical social worker in California. He immersed himself in his work, carrying an incredible amount of internalized energy. When the Republic of Vietnam fell in April 1975, he experienced frustration and helplessness – he had wanted to return to Vietnam as an English instructor at Da Lat, their military academy. He felt a sense of betrayal by American politicians, concluding that the work and sacrifice of those who served there had been washed away. During the refugee crisis, he went to Camp Pendleton, California, to see if he could find anyone he knew. He continued to assist with refugees, and began working with Child Protective Services, as well as doing readjustment counseling at the Veterans Administration. He began making trips back to Vietnam, fighting for human rights, providing medical aid, and running marathons. In 1989, he advocated for the release of Amerasian children and their mothers under the Orderly Departure Program. In 1992, he ran the first Marathon in Hanoi, wearing a singlet with the American flag printed on it. The next year, he ran another marathon in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), but this time he wore a POW / MIA shirt. In this interview, he discusses how he has coped with the memories of his experience in Vietnam and the work he does to help others. He describes his trips back to Vietnam and his love for the people there. He talks about building bridges and bringing peace to others. Finally, he reflects, with pride, on his service, what it means to him, and the work he does.


conflicts Vietnam War
topics Life After Military Courage Leadership Ethics Faith and Religion Morale
interviewer David Siry
date 04 April 2019


name Jim Barker
institution Graceland University
service Linguist
unit MACV; ARVN 23rd Division
specialty 05B2LVN
service dates 1969 1972