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'Baby killer! That's all you are. Baby killer!': Veteran recalls his terrible welcome home | Voices of Bravery, Vietnam

Craig Dunning received multiple Purple Hearts and both Bronze Stars and Silver Stars. And yet, his welcome home was a disgrace.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — *Warning: Elements and video in this story may be disturbing to some.

Five Purple Hearts, four Bronze Star Medals and two Silver Star Medals.

And yet what happened when U.S. Army Major Craig Dunning got out of the hospital and walked into his life back in America?

"There was a fence," he says, and people were lined up.  Did they cheer for him?

Absolutely not.

"They were calling us baby killers, they were throwing eggs and tomatoes." he says.  

He wanted to yell back and "tell them to go to Hell." He says they weren't there. They don't know the struggles he faced every day.

"Everyone made me feel ashamed," he says. 

And for decades the shame ate him away. At one point, he says, he attempted suicide.

"All I can do is pray, please let me forget," Dunning says. 

But how did the terrible label of "baby killer" ever jump into the scene of Vietnam vets returning home?

Dr. Michael Butler, historian and professor at Flagler College, says one cause was the My Lai massacre in 1968.  More than 500 unarmed Vietnamese villagers slaughtered including girls, old men and pregnant women. 

"We're talking shooting, bayoneting, bashing skulls," Butler says. 

A platoon of soldiers from Charlie Company were sent in to an area considered a communist center for activity.  

Butler says the area was labeled part of 'Pinkville'.

Eventually, gruesome photos of the massacre hit the American press. "Once you see it, you can't unsee," Dr. Butler says. And then, he says, "The label 'baby killer' stuck....even though not all veterans were baby killers. Period." 

The terrible treatment scarred Dunning.  Even 50 years later, he was angry with the United States government, the politicians who ran the war from Washington.  

Credit: Memorial service for Craig Dunning, Vietnam veteran

He began writing his story. "I can see them sitting in Hell with the devil," he wrote. 

He says the blame is on them. In his words, "The prominent fat politicians in Washington DC sitting on their fat asses making all the wrong decisions, justifying getting more American fighting men killed." 

He says too many bright young people were lost.

"They would be alive with their families, where they should be, instead of dead, in a box, in a country they knew nothing about -- -fighting a war they didn't understand.  May God hold them in His loving arms forever. Amen."

Dunning passed away on on February 20, 2023. His friends say he had no family to attend a service. They say he died from causes related to Agent Orange.

His fellow Vietnam veterans held a memorial for him. 

Credit: Courtesy: Mike Ross, photographer at Craig Dunning's memorial

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