As I celebrated Veterans Day I was struck by the genuine solidarity of the American public with those have served in our military, especially those who bear the lasting scars, both physical and emotional, of their service. Everywhere I looked I saw veterans being honored. It was a proud sight to see our men and women in uniform, and veterans wearing those parts of their old uniforms that still fit, being honored for their service. We now treat our military personal and our veterans as heroes, and that is how it should be.
However, I could not help but remember back to less happy times. I was a young Air Force officer who served during the last few years of the Vietnam War. By that time America had long before grown weary of that unpopular war. The American public, especially the younger generation, were not so enamored with those who wore the uniform of their country. Even though I was stationed in a military town whose residents were usually friendly to servicemen, I remember being careful to take off my uniform and put on my civies (civilian dress) when I ventured off base to avoid any possible harassment. Of course in those days my short hair usually gave me away.
I remember traveling home on leave in my uniform six or seven months after I was commissioned because service men received a discount from some of the airlines, but only if they traveled in uniform. After I was met at the airport by my parents and my girl friend I told them that I wanted to go home and change before my girlfriend and I went out to celebrate our reunion. My girlfriend wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted that I looked good in my uniform and she “wanted to show me off”. I reluctantly agreed and still in my uniform we went to a local beer joint which had been my hangout my entire college career. The place was bustling on a Friday night and it looked much the same as ever. A half hour later we escaped after I had been insulted numerous times and having barely avoiding a couple of fights.
I was fortunate to land a good job after the war ended and I resigned my commission, but others were not as fortunate. The country was in a deep recession and many businesses were leery about hiring former solders. The new veterans made up a goodly portion of the unemployed. I’m not sure that the term “post traumatic stress disorder” had been invented yet, but I certainly don’t remember it being applied to solders returning home from the battlefield. Yet some of my friends were definitely victims of that disorder and little help was available for them. Some appear normal on the surface but remain severely troubled until this day.
One of the major problems was the country was torn apart by the Vietnam War and many a young man who proudly enlisted to serve his country came back severely disillusioned. Most of the rest had no choice in the matter because they were drafted. Though they certainly didn’t volunteer, they came home to world that was often hostile to their service. It wasn’t a good time to be a veteran.
So as we honor the men and women who protect our freedom today, please say a prayer of thanks for the unheralded veterans of the Vietnam War.