Like most Veterans of any war, Vietnam Veterans had their share of traumatic memories they could not leave behind, but these men and women that served and fought in South Vietnam also had to fight a war with their country’s conscience when they returned home to the United States.
The baby boomers who were of military age and eligible to serve in Vietnam, but chose to protest and disrespect Vietnam Veterans, never wanted to be associated with the patriotic and brave men and women who chose to serve. Vietnam Veterans, estimates are anywhere from 2.7 million to 3.3 million men, including 10,000 women; and the protesters, at that time, set the standard on how many others viewed those that served in South Vietnam, mostly negative.
Depending on what year is considered the beginning of the Vietnam War, 1959, 1961, 1965, history tells us the escalation of the war began in 1965 with a major building up of American forces that lasted until 1968. When Richard M. Nixon was sworn in as the 37th President Of The United States on January 20th, 1969 troop withdrawal from the Vietnam War would start in August of that same year. One major drawback for the returning Vietnam Veteran, most of them came home alone, not with their units, and were easy targets of hostility, disdain, and disrespect for the groups of war protesters gathering at our Nation’s airports and other areas returning Veterans dis-embarked.
By April 30th, 1975 when Saigon finally fell to the communists, the Vietnam War was over for America but not the men and women that returned home. Many Americans blamed Vietnam Veterans for the loss of the war even though all the main American combat forces had been brought home as of March 1973. Reviled by the draft dodgers and war protesters even up until the mid-1980’s, Vietnam Veterans endured the disrespect but still stood tall, but life was not easy being a Vietnam Veteran. Many Vietnam Veterans, including this writer, tried college but the anti-Vietnam Veteran attitude that prevailed at that time on college campus’ made many of us turn on backs on higher education. We wanted to be left alone and thought we could forget our war experiences, but we learned that was an impossible task.
The image of America’s Vietnam Veteran improved drastically starting in 1980 with the debut of a new television show, MAGNUM, P.I. Starring Tom Selleck. This show, for the first time, featured a Vietnam Veteran in a positive manner, and not as the typical drug-crazed lunatic, or the psychotic killer the left wing liberals of Hollywood seemed to relish portraying up until this time. Magnum, P.I. is officially recognized by the Smithsonian Institute being the first television show to reflect this positive image and Vietnam Veterans, and their families are grateful. Another event portraying Vietnam Veterans in a positive manner happened on Veterans Day, November 11th, 1982 when the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial took place in Washington, DC. There were controversies about the memorial, but the disagreed upon concerns were addressed then settled, and the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial is one of the most visited sites in our Nation’s Capitol today.
The Gulf war starting with the build-up of troops, weapons and supplies in August of 1990 with Operation Desert Shield, and then combat operations called, Operation Desert Storm, from January 17, 1991, until February 28, 1991, had two high ranking generals planning and carrying out the tactics that were Vietnam Veterans. General Colin Powell and General Norman Schwartzkopf did not want a repeat of the debacle that was caused by the politicians in Congress when all of South Vietnam fell to the communists. With a brilliant left flank maneuver around Iraqi military forces, General Schwartzkopf and the highly motivated and courageous Americans and Coalition Forces encircled the Iraqis and liberated Kuwait. This war, led by many Vietnam Veteran Commanders and NCO’s (Non-Commissioned Officers), further brought respect and admiration to all Vietnam Veterans. The Gulf War American Forces marched in New York City to a very well deserved ticker tape parade and were so magnanimous to allow the Veterans of the Vietnam War to march with them.
As time went by, other conflicts and wars involving America took place, and young men and women from those battles and hostilities began returning home. Only this time, the young people of the same age as the returning Veterans were not protesting their generation of warriors but were showing them respect and thanking these brave patriots. This younger generation that was welcoming home their generation of returning Veterans began to ask why the Vietnam Veterans were treated and greeted in the way they were when they returned home and thought this was wrong. This younger generation started to say, “thank you” to the Vietnam Veterans in their community, and that helped to enhance the image of the Vietnam Veteran that was maligned and lied about by those from their generation that did not want to serve their country.
Islamic terrorists attacked on 9/11/2001, and then President George Bush ordered the American Military, the best in the world, to respond and air strikes were carried out against the cowards that had trained in Afghanistan and killed innocent civilians with four hijacked airliners in New York City and Washington, DC. As the war in Afghanistan was fought and those Americans that were fighting started returning home, Vietnam Veterans were clearly visible in the groups of individuals wanting to thank our dedicated and loyal troops at the airports. The Vietnam Veterans wanted to make sure no Americans returning home from fighting for their country ever received the negative treatment as they did during the Vietnam War. These Vietnam Veterans continued to do the same when the Iraq War started, and as our fellow countrymen and countrywomen began to return to American shores. A human reaction to the crowds and returning Afghanistan and Iraq War Veterans by Vietnam Veterans could have been bitter and resentful, but those that fought in Vietnam wanted to make sure our returning warriors were respected and thanked for their service and for doing so rose above their own emotional and mental pain. Also, even though several decades had passed since the war in Vietnam and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there were still some Vietnam Veterans fighting in those wars and serving their country. Those Vietnam Veterans fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq enhanced their individual respect and admiration as Vietnam Veterans, and the rest of us at home that had served in Vietnam benefited from their service all these years later.
Most citizens now respect Vietnam Veterans in America. Often when in public, they are thanked by individuals for their service. Even when the Veterans of the Vietnam War thank those men and women that followed them in subsequent wars and conflicts, the younger Veteran will often return that thanks to the Vietnam Veteran. It is not uncommon for Vietnam Veterans to hear from the younger generations that wore the American military uniform after our service, “Thank you, you and other Vietnam Veterans paved the way for us.” Those are powerful words and make one very humble coming from this younger generation of patriotic, strong and ALL-VOLUNTEER FORCE of Americans. Vietnam Veterans always felt we did the right thing when we answered the call to stop communism in South Vietnam, the biggest threat to global democracy in the latter half of the 20th century.
It seems many in our country now want to be Vietnam Veterans even though they never stepped foot in that country. Many probably never served a day in a military uniform, and who knows, some of them might have been the anti-war protesters, draft dodgers and others that met returning Vietnam Veterans with garbage, dog feces and urine and other foreign objects, not to mention words of hate. The accepted number of Vietnam Veterans that served are between 2.7 million and 3.3 million men who also includes about 10,000 women. The number of personnel that are considered to be Vietnam era Veterans, those that served during the Vietnam War but NOT in-country are 9,087,000. Official census figures for August 1995 showed 1,713,823 Vietnam Veterans were still living. According to the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, individuals falsely claiming to have served in the Vietnam War for those same statistics totaled 9,492,958 people! Again, according to the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, the figures of people claiming to be Vietnam Veterans, serving in-country, for the 2000 census count was 13,853,027. That sounds, “unbelievable,” but it is very believable to me having come upon many of these WANNABE’S since the attitude in this country has done a complete turn around about Vietnam Veterans by many citizens. These WANNABE’S did not want to be Vietnam Veterans when we went off to war and turned our homecoming into a life’s event that will never leave us. Throughout it all, though, Vietnam Veterans maintained our dignity, patriotism and formed a bond of brotherhood and sisterhood that is SECOND TO NONE to any other group of Veterans from any era! Even though the WANNABE now wants to steal our valor, they cannot, because we will expose them for what they are, WANNABE’s, hypocrites and liars! We have an incentive to do just that, exposing these liars, for 58,261 of our brothers and sisters that made the SUPREME SACRIFICE for our country on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, THE WALL! These brothers/sisters did not live to see the attitudes in this country about Vietnam Veterans change, and personally, a WANNABE is showing disrespect, dishonor and trying to steal the valor of these brave men and women when the WANNABE claims to be a Vietnam Veteran!
Joe is a Vietnam Combat Veteran, having served 26 months in the Republic Of South Vietnam, 10 months with Company A, 27th Combat Engineers, 28 August 1968 to June 1969, and 16 months as a crewchief/doorgunner with the 240th Assault Helicopter company on UH-1C Hueys, the Mad Dog Gunship Platoon from July 1969 to 22 October 1970.
Joe graduated from Cuyahoga Community College in 1982 with a Associate Of Arts Degree and from Cleveland State University in 1986 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology; he also accumulated 12 hours of graduate work at Cleveland State. He lives with his best friend, his wife, and they have 34 rescued cats, 7 rescued dogs.
Joe has spoken at high schools and colleges for 25 years about PTSD, war and how not to treat returning veterans when they come home to America after fighting for their country.