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(photo credit: AP)
As Americans worldwide celebrated Independence Day Tuesday, new immigrant John Voracek - one of a small number of Vietnam War veterans living in Israel - said that for him, July 4th brought less than pleasant memories of his native land and reinforced his reasons for moving to Israel a year and a half ago.
"One of the main reasons I left Portland, Oregon, was that the whole city is full of leftists, racists and anti-Israel people," said Voracek in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. He expressed anger that in the US, Vietnam War vets are treated with contempt rather than being appreciated as war heroes.
For Voracek, who said he still loves and respects his former home, July 4th was just a normal day in Israel.
"Perhaps the American flag in my apartment shone a little brighter when I walked past it today, but really July 4th just reminds me of the friends I lost during the war," said the 65-year-old Jerusalemite.
"For me, [US] Memorial Day is far more significant," he said, adding, "When I experience days such as Yom Hazikaron [Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers] here, I get angry. Here there is so much respect for war dead, but in the US, except for the vets and their families, for three-quarters of the country, Memorial Day is a holiday, a time for shopping and sales."
Voracek voiced frustration at the way most Americans treat Vietnam War veterans.
"In the US, Vietnam veterans do not get respect from about 95 percent of the country. We are called war mongers, baby killers or rapists. I've even heard people say we should be tried as killers," said Voracek.
He served in the US Marine Corps in Vietnam from May 7, 1965, to March, 7 1966, and was left disabled. "I get more respect for being a Vietnam veteran from people in Israel."
A photographer by profession, Voracek said that since he made aliya, he takes his camera everywhere he goes. While he spends his time snapping shots of Israel's scenery and people, he said he especially loves photographing IDF soldiers.
"The soldiers are the same age now that I was when I went to Vietnam," he said. "I love taking their photos and talking to them. If I know it's a good shot I'll take their address and send them the photographs free of charge."
Voracek said he always identifies himself as a Vietnam War veteran, and in many cases the soldiers here receive him warmly.
"They always want to hear about my experiences," he said. "I always tell them that they are fighting for a hell of a lot more than we fought for. Obviously I don't regret having been in Vietnam; I have a memorial in my apartment and a tattoo on my back of the names of four friends I lost over there.
"But here, the bad guys are on their doorstep. I tell [IDF soldiers] that they are fighting for their country. I wish that we had been fighting for something as honorable as that."