Vietnam veterans deserve a day of recognition because they never were given a homecoming. March 29 marked National Vietnam Veterans Day.
Yes, America already has far too many “national” days to count, but this one actually means something.
It isn’t about the rightness or wrongness of Vietnam; we can debate that in perpetuity. It’s about recognizing the people who served, and just as importantly, those who didn’t return.
It’s about the price they all paid for our naivete and the illusion of American invincibility. They were a generation raised by people who fought and won a war where the reasons and lines were clear:
1. Japan and Germany declared war on the U.S.
2. The very fate of the world was at stake.
Vietnam, and the reasons given for fighting it, didn’t remotely meet this threshold, but thousands went, not to defend America as it was sold by some, but in response to their nation’s call.
Vietnam War veterans, and other veterans of the era deserve recognition because not everyone served, thanks to college deferments enjoyed by the wealthy and connected, and conscientious objectors such as Muhammad Ali, who famously observed “No Viet Cong ever called me a (n-word).”
It fell largely to ordinary everyday Americans, young people who fought and even died for no reason, other than their country asked them.
Too many of those who survived brought home scars, addiction, and trauma from things seen and done, the full measure of which isn’t known to this day.
No ticker tape
Vietnam also galvanized those who opposed the war for myriad reasons, among them, a government that couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth; the rise of the industrial complex as prophesied by President Dwight D. Eisenhower; the disproportionate numbers of poor whites and minorities in combat, and the images of death and destruction that barged their way into America’s living rooms for the first time ever.
Vietnam veterans deserve a day of recognition because they never were given a homecoming. They were made to feel like failures because of someone else’s blunders. Today, even when our sports teams lose, they’re given a hero’s welcome.
But for the teenagers and 20-somethings we shipped half a world away, there were no ticker-tape parades; no grand, formal signing ceremony on a warship, recorded for posterity.
The enduring image of the Vietnam War’s end is of refugees frantically clawing their way onto hovering helicopters in a bid to escape the communist holocaust to come.
Our current situation is such that we have become a nation of paper tigers, perpetually outraged and stomping-mad because it’s easy. No real commitment is required.
Everyone should be required to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The black granite structure disturbs some because it doesn’t romanticize war, or attempt to camouflage the sheer loss. There’s nothing to distract from the understanding that behind every name, a family still grieves.
For every name, there’s a living veteran who thinks about that person every day and wrestles with the serendipity of surviving.
It doesn’t seem possible so many people were lost for a cause we’re still unsure was worth it. But we can be certain of this much: Those who served deserve our remembrance and our thanks.
Reach Charita M. Goshay at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.