A Debt Unpaid
November 11th is designated as Veterans Day, when Americans say thank you to those who served and fulfilled their patriotic duty, preserving their fellow citizen's freedoms. It is a holiday that celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans; yet, those that fought in Vietnam have never received enough appreciation or recognition. American Thinker wants to dedicate this Veterans Day to all those who served during the Vietnam War. Those interviewed include veterans as well as authors whose recent books have included a shout-out to the Vietnam veterans.
Those who fought in Vietnam dutifully served under horrendous conditions, many times watching as their buddies were blown to pieces with little identifiable remaining. Unfortunately, after having experienced the war zone, they were unable to come home to the safety net of America. Bestselling author and Vietnam veteran Nelson DeMille's current book, The Quest, is a reflection on the 1970s including the experience of someone serving in Vietnam. He told American Thinker, "The troops today have become icons as should be the case, while we, the Vietnam Vets, were considered pariahs. It was not a pleasant experience. The soldier fighting the war is not the cause of the war. As vets we did what we had to do. It never made any sense to me why we were blamed."
Michael G. Reagan (no relationship to the president), a Vietnam-era Marine who now does portraits of fallen warrior heroes (http://www.fallenheroesproject.org/) believes that it was displaced blame. "No one wanted to go there because they were afraid. The best way to not go was to stop it. The protestors did not have the nerve to do what my buddies and I did. They basically had two choices: accept us for what we did or to condemn us. They tried to demonize us because we represented something that they were against. A forgotten stat is that 18,000 Vietnam Vets killed themselves when they came home because the country turned on them. Do I hold the country responsible? You bet! What is remarkable is that for whatever reason we still love this country."
Everyone interviewed describes how Vietnam Vets were spat upon, ridiculed for their service, and called baby killers. Larry Williams, an Army Staff Sergeant, noted how he was advised never to wear his uniform within the U.S. "I was told to please leave my college campus because I was in uniform. Can you imagine that happening today?"
Yet, today there is still mistreatment of the Vietnam Vet. Look no further to the actions during the government shutdown when the Park Service in Washington D.C. closed the war memorials. World War II Vets received a lot of publicity -- and rightly so -- but not the Vietnam Vets. One vet described how he and others were unable to visit their memorial and instead could only walk around the barricades because they were unable to remove them. Why did they not get the publicity that was offered to other veterans? Perhaps those media people who hated them then still feel hatred today.
Bonnie Abney, who was engaged to Second Lieutenant Leonard Douglas Davis, a West Point graduate, noted that life for military families was also different. During the seven months he was in Vietnam, until his death by mortar fire, her only contact with Doug were letters. There were no cell phones, no skyping, and no emails. She wants Americans to understand that the families also had to endure terrible treatment by fellow citizens. "I was shaken by what happened here at home. I recall going to the post office in Florida to send some care packages and after overhearing my conversation I was asked how I could send anything to those baby killers? All these soldiers were just doing their job, which cost them emotionally and physically. It is no wonder that they keep a lot close to their chest, except to each other where a bond of brotherhood has formed. They have that common experience that no one else can understand. They helped each other survive."
In her latest book, Second Watch, another bestselling author, J.A. Jance, has the main character delve into his days in Vietnam. Jance decided to pay homage to a high school classmate, Doug, "I could not let go of the story, because I needed closure regarding Doug. The guys who served in Vietnam were not met with brass bands and balloons when they came home. The slings and arrows, sticks and stones did matter. The ugly comments are always the ones that stay with you. People forget that most of these soldiers were young men in their twenties. I regard Second Watch as a thank-you note to all of those who served in that war. There have been a lot of emails sent from Vietnam Vets because of this book and most of them comment that at long last there is an acknowledgement for them." A Vietnam Veteran, Michael Reagan, told American Thinker the book reflects accurately how the vets reacted when they came home. He called it "'real fiction,' because those intense experiences always come out at some point in a vet's life."
James McCarthy, a Vietnam Vet whose brother died while serving with him, resents the media. "I was angry at the way the war was portrayed, which was not what I experienced. It ain't like that, folks. Americans did not understand and the way they reacted undermined our morale. My brother was killed while the Paris Peace talks were going on. We could not initiate any contact, but the Vietnamese built up a tremendous arsenal of weapons. When the Peace Talks failed, the Vietnamese were able to wipe out a large amount of the Marines. It is remarkable that there has not been anything written that described the fallacy of those peace talks."
All the veterans interviewed describe their feelings, even today, as bitter, that Vietnam is still alive for them. They wonder if all the apologies are sincere and hope that Americans still feel embarrassed, especially since many have not uttered the words "thank you and welcome home."
Yet, the veterans harnessed those feelings into something positive by making sure that those serving in the military today always know the Vietnam Vet is sensitive to their situation, and is there for them, even just to give a huge hug.
In retrospect, Americans should view their actions towards Vietnam Vets as a dark time in this country's history. There is no excuse for this shameful behavior. It is high time that this country said a sincere thank you to those who fought in Vietnam. They should have been honored for their service instead of vilified for it. This Veterans Day anyone that comes across a Vietnam Vet should offer to buy them a drink, shake their hand, and say welcome home.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.