2011-10-26 / Editorials

A belated ‘thank you’ — it’s about time

Alex McRae

Alex McRae Alex McRae Anyone born and raised in America since 1980 can’t remember a time when the members of our nation’s military weren’t respected and honored for the service and sacrifice they and their families make for our country.

Those old enough to remember how veterans were treated during the Vietnam War are astonished at the about-face in the national mood toward those who wear the uniform of the United States of America.

Especially those who served in Vietnam. But over 50 years after America’s most unpopular war officially began, Vietnam veterans are finally being treated with the respect they so richly deserve.

It’s about time.

Until the Vietnam War, all America’s military personnel felt they were fighting for a noble cause, or at least an understandable one. That wasn’t the case in Vietnam. And the timing of that war could not have been worse.

After suffering massive losses in World War II and Korea, Americans were weary of war. The nation was focused on another battle, a bitter civil rights struggle dedicated to finally making good on the American promise that all men are created equal and all deserved the rights and privileges still denied to many simply because of the color of their skin.

The American presence in Vietnam escalated from an advisory role to full-fledged war at the same time the nation’s streets were filled with civil rights protesters. Those protesters gladly joined a growing group determined to stop a war in which the enemy hadn’t threatened our nation with guns or bombs but a political philosophy called Communism.

As soon as Americans started dying in huge numbers in a country few had heard of to slow the advance of a philosophy few at home worried about, the Vietnam War lost most of what little support it had.

Politicians more concerned about re-election than military victory and horrified at pictures streaming back to the U.S. nightly from American’s first televised war took charge of the fighting, creating rules of engagement that put American troops at greater risk for the sake of better public relations.

Opposition to the Vietnam War grew more bitter by the day. But instead of taking their frustrations out on the politicians who had ordered our military to fight and die with one hand tied behind their backs, protesters vented their anger on our troops.

Military personnel who had served with honor and courage came home to be cursed, spat upon and called baby killers.

The Vietnam War divided this nation in a way not previously thought possible, pitting our military against citizens more willing to ignore or despise our warriors than thank them for their sacrifice and suffering.

During the Gulf War of the early 1990s, American troops were welcomed home with thanks from their fellow citizens. Troops now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan routinely return to a hero’s welcome.

Vietnam War vets could only watch the warm receptions they deserved and never got.

That has slowly changed, and in recent years more and more Vietnam vets are stepping from the shadows to take part in special ceremonies on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Organizers of such events now take care to insure that Vietnam vets are not just included, but honored.

As we commemorate what the U.S. Congress has designated as the 50th anniversary of the war this nation tried so long and hard to forget, communities across the country are finally paying tribute to Vietnam vets.

If your community isn’t one, it’s not too late to honor those among you who served in Vietnam.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. is the nation’s most heavilyvisited memorial. Many believe its popularity is due to the monument’s intensely personal nature.

Instead of featuring soaring statues of heroic warriors performing heroic deeds, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is inscribed with the names of over 58,000 Americans who gave their lives for their country.

Many who returned from that faraway war still suffer from wounds inflicted not so much by a foreign enemy but an ungrateful nation.

Chances are good several live in your hometown. Now would be a good time to look them up and finally say “Thank You” and “Welcome Home.”

Our Vietnam vets deserve no less.

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