Among frontline troops serving in Southeast Asia fifty years ago, peace was a distant thought. They were too busy fighting while diplomats assembled in Paris. U.S. forces were pushing hard against the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army in provinces along the A Shau Valley, into Cambodia and Laos. The number killed in action reached beyond 6,000 in 1970. War haunts this generation of aging veterans.
The fortunate who survived faced an altered landscape back home. Peace with honor was tough to find. Warriors struggled in an impatient civilian world repulsed by televised graphic images of combat’s grit, sweat and visceral cruelty. Photographs of stoic GIs patrolling villages and lifeless, muddy boots lifted onto helicopters, could not offset victories won in 1945.
America’s service members undeservedly bore our collective angst. The military became a convenient target. Whether volunteer or draftee, few received public waves. They endured rigors of battle and faced ostracism in return. The repercussions of their war was more antipathy and dissention, than gratitude for service and valor.
Decades later, there is need for continued understanding of men and women scarred by flashbacks and firefights never forgotten. You may have passed them numerous times and not noticed. Vietnam veterans can be opaque and keep to themselves.
As years drift by, newer conflicts take the spotlight and headlines. But our narrative and attitude appear to change. So has our conscience. We reconcile with those still reeling from time spent in rain, heat and humidity of highlands, jungle trails and deltas. By presidential proclamation since March 29, 2017, National Vietnam War Veterans Day is an official holiday in the United States. Welcome Home, long overdue, fits comfortably in our vocabulary.
As they close ranks in remembrance of fallen brothers and sisters, and others whose voices still echo, we reflect solemnly on the sacrifice those veterans and their families endured. May inner peace reflect quiet victory at last.