A national day of remembrance came and went and it got by me until it was all gone.
Still, I find it necessary to offer a word of thanks for it.
Yep, it was a long time coming, but I’m glad it’s here.
I’m talking about the National Vietnam War Veterans Day, which is celebrated on March 29 annually. It’s not a longstanding tradition. It was enacted initially in 2017 after a group of Vietnam War vets presented Donald Trump, the president-elect, with a request to set aside the day to remember those of us who answered the call to duty during a terribly conflicted time in our national history.
Our combat exposure during the Vietnam War ended in January 1973. We turned the fight over to the South Vietnamese. However, on April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, crashed through the gates of the presidential palace and accepted the surrender of the South Vietnamese government. They renamed the city after Ho Chi Minh.
However, the American involvement was hardly a source of pride for those back in the United States of America. Oh, no. Those of us who went to war weren’t treated the way we treat today’s veterans. We got blamed (and I use the term “we” in a sort of inclusive way, as I did not suffer this particular indignity) for following lawful orders. Americans blamed the warriors for the policies they were ordered to follow by their military high command, who received them from presidential administrations dating back to the early 1960s.
I landed in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam 50 years ago this past month. I spent a bit of time in-country, assigned initially as a mechanic with an OV-1 Mohawk surveillance aircraft company at Marble Mountain, Da Nang; I then was sent on “temporary duty” to the I Corps Tactical Ops Center in the city to scramble aircraft missions and to manage a helipad.
I didn’t fire my weapon in anger at the enemy, although I — like all of us — had to scurry into bunkers when the mortar shells went “boom” outside.
I was well aware of the hostility being heaped on my brethren when they got home. That went on for some time.
The Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 changed all of that. We actually won that brief battle in Kuwait. The nation was relieved and it showered the returning warriors with the affection and respect they deserved. Vietnam veterans generally didn’t receive it when they returned home.
But that was then. The United States of America has grown up since that time. We’ve learned, I hope, to deal better with adversity on the battlefield.
National Vietnam War Veterans Day appears to be an attempt to reconcile some past mistreatment of individuals who did what they were ordered to do and who did not deserve the scorn they received when they came home.
Hey, I harbor no hard feelings. I am just glad to receive a bit of recognition — along with many others who contributed far more to that effort than I ever did.
To the rest of my Vietnam War colleagues, I simply want to offer them a greeting a lot of us never got in the moment.