Vietnam and The Greatest Generation (VIDEO)
While we can never take away from those who fought and died defending our freedom during that four-year conflict, I would contend that the men & women who served during the decade-long Vietnam War are TRULY the greatest generation of Americans.
As we heard at the recent ‘Honor & Gratitude’ event on October 24, 2015, veterans who returned from fighting in Southeast Asia didn’t come home to hearty welcomes and tickertape parades. They came back to scowling glances, being spit on and called ‘baby killers’. They found that their home country didn’t respect their service. They were ostracized from their friends and families, and suffered silently from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome… and in many cases, from exposure to Agent Orange. Statistics report that currently, 22 veterans commit suicide each day, and 70% of them are from the Vietnam era. Even decades later, the Vietnam War casts a cold hard shadow across America.
Thirty years ago, I took a college course called simply “The Vietnam War”. We only had two assignments to complete the course. First, we were each tasked with researching a different element of how the war was illustrated through editorial cartoons (which we would later learn was the theme of a book the professor was working on, and we were his researchers in those pre-internet days). The second was the final exam: a two-hour Blue Book in which we were to explore the question “Could the Vietnam War have been won?”. My thesis was that it could not: to achieve victory, it would have taken an escalation of the bombing and ground campaigns by the United States that would have ramped up casualties on the American side, and the American public would have turned dramatically against the conflict and brought it to an end. Maybe I was wrong… who knows.
The Vietnam War remains the most controversial armed conflict in American history, but it also affected the most positive change. How we fight our wars, how we support our troops and veterans, even the very way we look at war and the military have been tremendously impacted. As was stated several times at our event, we now separate the war from the warrior. Our troops are doing their duty, no matter how unpopular the conflict may be at home.
Yet the Vietnam Veteran is often forgotten, or at best has an uneasy place in the American psyche… like a memory that’s always there but you’d prefer to not think about. It’s not easy for a person or a country to confront how we’ve so poorly treated these veterans. Is it too late to make amends?
Well, on October 24th we in Montgomery County tried in small way to reach out and say ‘Thank You’. I hope it’s not the last time we do so.
If you know of a veteran who could not attend the event, share with them the following link to the program video. Hearing the veterans who spoke might help heal some wounds, and give them a sense of a how THEY are the greatest generation of Americans… and we will not forget their sacrifices.