Although the below video narrated by actor Sam Elliot, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, is a bit dated, I thought you might enjoy it for several reasons. For those of you who served, it is a fitting tribute to your courage and willingness to do so. For those of you who were unable or unwilling to serve, it provides information which you probably were unaware of. It presents statistics that will shock you about the number of Americans—and foreign military personnel—who served in Vietnam, and details about those who served. It reminds us that the U.S. military never lost a major engagement in the war, despite the fact that most Americans think the military lost in Vietnam. There are many other facts that come out in this video, but you can find them by viewing it at the link below.
I mean no disrespect when I say that I have always found it unfair to characterize the WWII generation as “The Greatest Generation.” What that generation accomplished—both military and civilian elements of that population—was extraordinary. But the military members of that generation had an advantage over those who served during the Vietnam War: they had the unmitigated support of the civilian population. Not only did a vast number of Americans not support our involvement in the Vietnam War, they often treated those who served with disrespect, distain, and outright hostility. To go to war and to return home to be treated as many were was demoralizing. Young men and women who should have been honored were often treated as pariahs.
This hideous treatment of returning veterans also extended, in many instances, to their families who suffered through long separations from their loved ones, all the while racked with fear as to whether their Soldier, or Sailor, or Airman, or Marine, or Coast Guardsman would return to them. I remember the conversation I had with my wife the day before I left for Vietnam. I warned her to tell no one that her husband served in Vietnam out of fear that she might become the target of anti-war activists.
It has never made sense to me how individual Americans could be targeted by their fellow Americans for doing their duty. Many of the men and women who served in Vietnam neither wanted to be there, nor supported the war, but they went because that was their duty. How could American citizens who opposed their government’s actions dishonor other Americans who stepped up when their government called on them? And how could Americans mistreat the families of those who served? Weren’t those families suffering enough?
I was in a retail store last week and saw an exchange between a wizened man who wore a Vietnam Veteran baseball cap and an equally elderly man who said to that veteran, “Welcome home. Thanks for your service.”
After the two men separated, I approached the second man and asked him if he had served in the military. He answered, “No, but I wish I had. You see,” he said, “I avoided the draft and demonstrated against the war.” He pointed at the gentleman with the ball cap, who had walked down an aisle. “Now I feel like I made a terrible mistake, and I envy that man his service.”
It’s been fifty-two years since the Vietnam War began, and forty-one years since the Vietnam Era ended. Perhaps it’s time for the wounds of that era to finally heal. You can do your part, whether you served or not, by telling a Vietnam Vet “Welcome home. Thanks for your service.” I guarantee that you will make their day.
For more facts about the Vietnam War:
Joseph Badal is the award-winning, best-selling author of nine suspense novels. His most recent thriller, Death Ship, was released on November 17, 2015, in print and eBook formats. His next novel, The Motive, will be released this coming May.
You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org