Law students uncover files and restore honorable discharge from Vietnamese veterinarian ::

For half a century, a North Carolina veteran has lived without his honor.

John Spencer was wounded in Vietnam, only to be separated from the military by virtue of a “discharge other than honorable”.

Decades later, law students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Military and Veterans Law Clinic uncovered the real story, turning Spencer’s end of story from shame to dignity.

Spencer’s release came after a sergeant called him lazy and worse.

“The world was different,” Spencer said. “People were different. There was a lot of discrimination, a lot of racist things going on.”

The “other than honorable discharge” prevented him from accessing military health care or other benefits.

“It was almost like I was defeated,” he said.

Spencer was ashamed. He kept his family details for decades.

“I was looking for help. I tried over and over again,” he said.

In 2018, her story caught the attention of John Brooker, Director of the Military and Veterans Legal Clinic.

Brooker’s students have reviewed health and military records, appealing Spencer’s release on grounds of discrimination.

“[They found] there was no serious fault. There didn’t seem to be a valid reason for the type of discharge received, ”said Brooker.

“We thought there should be a change.”

Thursday, finally, this change arrived.

Spencer saw his leave go “honorable,” making him eligible for the benefits and health care he had earned.

Spencer was also awarded the Purple Heart, his Combat Infantry Insignia and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.

“I am very grateful that I was able to see this in my lifetime,” he said.

Spencer was moved to tears, as was Isabelle Stevens, a 2021 UNC law graduate who worked on her case.

“Mr. Spencer,” she said, “Your story, your challenges, your grace, your persistence… You’ve left a lasting mark on my life, and I know I’m not the only one.”

The UNC Military and Veterans Clinic offers pro bono legal support for ex-servicemen trying to improve their discharge status.

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