Interview, V. Thomas Hetherington, USN
V. Thomas Hetherington (b. 1947) was born and raised in Niagara Falls, New York. He enlisted in the United States Navy in 1966, believing that it would be a good career move. In the Navy, Hetherington worked as an Electronics Technician on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. He served two tours and was honorably discharged in June 1970. After his service, Hetherington returned home to Niagara Falls and enrolled in Niagara County Community College, earning an Associate in Applied Science degree. He got a job with Eastman Kodak, in Rochester, New York, and later went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Resource Management and a Master of Arts degree in Strategic Management from Roberts Wesleyan College. After 24 years, Hetherington was laid off from Kodak. He drove school buses part-time in his semi-retirement. A longstanding member of the Vietnam Veterans of American Chapter 20, Hetherington served on the chapter’s Board of Directors and marched with its Honor Guard. He agreed to be interviewed because he thought it was important to capture and preserve the many different stories of Vietnam Veterans.
In his interview, Hetherington discusses joining the Navy at age 19 and going through boot camp at the Great Lakes naval station, north of Chicago, Illinois. He explains how he initially enlisted for six years, but was allowed to get out of the service early because the war was winding down. During the war, Hetherington was stationed on the USS Hornet, where he served as an Electronics Technician in charge of all ship-to-ship and ship-to-aircraft communications. He talks about the rigor of combat operations and what it was like to be in a hostile combat zone. Hetherington discusses military-civilian relations and the effect the anti-war movement had on the servicemen, elaborating on Jane Fonda’s 1972 trip to North Vietnam and the controversial photograph of her sitting on an anti-aircraft gun that earned her the derisive nickname, “Hanoi Jane.” Hetherington recalls the excitement of recovering the Apollo astronauts, who landed at sea upon returning from the moon. He discusses medals and commendations he received and his efforts to work with Louise Slaughter to recover honors never properly bestowed on himself and some of his fellow veterans. Hetherington reflects on how his military skills have transferred over to his civilian life and how he has kept in touch with fellow Electronics Technicians and other veterans. He compares Vietnam to the war in Iraq and laments that human beings have not yet learned how to peacefully coexist.