Because of the Vietnam Veteran...
With recent developments in Iraq and Syria and our somewhat limited engagement, I have been considering this for a while. I am convinced we are going to see soldiers on the ground again in this ISIS crisis, although the administration denies it now. The argument whether getting in Iraq again is a good idea or not is another issue. When these soldiers enter this confrontation, it will be much more unpopular than any conflict in recent history. I can easily see events here at home spiraling out of control, to near what was happening here at home during the Vietnam era; essentially blaming the war on the warrior.
We have all seen the many different advertisements for the Wounded Warrior Project. One of many different private veteran’s organizations who help vets coming home with their various difficulties. Most of us have seen the local communities and how they have welcomed home their own. I remember when my son Thad came home from Iraq; families and friends waiting for the plane and neighbors at home lining the streets with flags. Nothing has become so important than bringing these young Americans home to a welcoming and loving community; as it should be. Their problems are obvious; both visible and non-visible. The visible disabilities are easy to see with amputations and the scars, but the others are more difficult to see. There is a high rate of PTSD among these returning soldiers as a result of their experiences. There is also high suicide rate with these young people. These are real and overwhelming issues for these soldiers; just as it was with soldiers returning from all wars. With these young veterans, we see their challenges and the offers for help with these problems every day on our televisions; as it well should be and should always be. This was not always the case….
The rate of PTSD was every bit as high in Vietnam returnees; and probably higher for various reasons; the main reason being their homecoming experiences By 1980, there had been more veterans die by their own hand and other non-natural causes than were names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. When Vietnam veterans came home during the first years of the war, of course they were welcomed by their families and friends, but most of the rest of America were apathetic to these vets…simply ignored them. As the war drug on, the homecomings became more eventful and not in a good way. The apathy was still there, but there was feeling of everyone around them were “walking on eggshells”; this one can be laid at the feet of the media. If a cop show on television needed an antagonist, the go to bad guy became the returning Vietnam veteran driven crazy because of the war; this contributed to many companies refusing to hire veterans. One heard, “Don’t talk to them”; they might go off. Or the favorite of mine: “Did you kill anyone?” Later in the war, they were very often met with hostility and threats…to the point of spitting and throwing things at these vets. If a vet was in uniform on the plane, the first item on his or hers itinerary would be to get to a restroom as soon as possible and get into civilian clothes. My personal experience was one of hostility, hate and violence toward returning soldiers; I had a very bad experience at LAX in 1971. Some in the anti-war movement, particularly those with a public forum, perpetrated and strengthened the hatred of vets with their rhetoric of “collecting ears,” “murdering civilians,” “cutting off heads,” or “raping little girls” and that these things were happening on a daily basis. Of course, very little of this happened and most of their rhetoric were lies to further their agenda. But it contributed to the damage to the young veterans coming home.
This brings me to the point of this piece. The Vietnam War was unpopular; we all know that and as a result, many focused their anger on the veterans themselves. This is exactly what we can use as Vietnam veterans to make sure what happened to us never happens again in this country. Never again will America throw away a generation of young veterans. In some areas, there has been small moves toward this. Just Google “hate the troops” or “f–k the troops.” You will find places where they still use the rhetoric of 40+ years ago against this new generation of soldiers. Fortunately it is small and rather unpopular, but if it ever comes anywhere near what it was when we came home, they will awaken a sleeping giant consisting of white haired old veterans and grandpas who are tough and fearless and who will happily give their lives over to this group of young soldiers coming home from overseas. Because of the Vietnam veteran and what we experienced, we can say never again will this country throw away a generation of veterans.