This is the 4th anniversary of this national memorial day to honor those who served in Vietnam and in other locations during the Vietnam War period.
National Vietnam Veterans Day was established four years ago, almost 50 years after the end of the Vietnam War, a fact that does not go unnoticed by Vietnam veterans who came home from an unpopular war to an indifferent and sometimes very cold, even hateful reception by the society.
The Vietnam War went on for some 10 years. It ended for combat troops on March 29, 1973, the day that the last of the combat troops left Vietnam and turned the fighting of the war over to their South Vietnamese allies. In those 10 years over 58,000 men and eight women, all nurses, were killed in action.
No matter the judgments of history, or of political correctness, those men and women who gave their last full measure, and those who came home, fought with courage, commitment, and dedication to duty. They honored their oath to “protect and defend the Constitution” and did it with courage and determined skill. Then they came home to a nation that, in many cases, vilified them.
As a result, most of us just kept quiet about our service. The anger against the war and the inability of many to separate the war from the warrior made it difficult for many of us to settle back into the realities of “normal” life. Many of us struggled with the realities of PTSD, exacerbated by the rejection that we experienced, but most of us found ways to cope, and we went on with our lives. And our generation of warriors has made great contributions to society and our nation in countless ways.
It is said that there are about 6 million Vietnam combat and Vietnam era veterans alive in the country today, and some 9 million families, many of them Gold Star families. It is estimated that some 500 Vietnam veterans are dying every day. Those of us who have kept in touch with our “battle buddies,” those of us who have participated in reunions, are very aware of these facts.
We are in our 70s and 80s now. When we go to our reunions each year, our numbers get smaller, but our friendships grow deeper and it is always good to be together again. We reminisce a little about our experiences, but we are really there for the camaraderie that began over 50 years ago. We really are Fratres Aeterni (brothers forever).
If you see a Vietnam veteran today or know one, say to them the two words that have taken on a meaning for this generation of warriors like no other, “Welcome Home.” Most of us have long ago put the war behind us and lived long and productive lives full of joys and heartaches, like everybody else, but there is a part of us, deep down inside that has yearned for those two words to be spoken to us.
To my brother and sister Vietnam Veterans, honor, respect, and thanks for what you did then and for what you continue to do for this country today. Welcome home! God bless!