Respecting Vietnam veterans

In far too many ways it just doesn’t seem possible that it has been 40 years since the United States pulled out of Vietnam on March 29, 1973, leaving Saigon to fall to the North Vietnamese communists two years later.

The images of South Vietnamese people rushing, pushing, crowding and attempting to climb the gates to get into the U.S. Embassy for frantic military helicopter flights shuttling evacuees to waiting ships at sea and that often replayed image of the last helicopter lifting off the embassy roof, leaving the South Vietnamese in the hands of North Vietnamese soldiers, are burned into the memories of everyone who lived through the Vietnam War era.

For most Americans, March 29, 1973, was the end of a war that reportedly saw 2.7 million Americans serve in Vietnam, 58,148 troops killed, 75,000 troops severely disabled and another 23,214 troops totally disabled. An estimated 3 million North Vietnamese troops, Viet Cong and civilians were killed in the war that was played out on the international stage.

Vietnam, which is “officially” listed as beginning for the U.S. in 1964, truly was America’s first TV war, when the nightly newscasts brought the war home to everyday Americans, flooding images of combat deaths and woundings to the dinner table and dividing families, friends and the nation along generational, social, economic, philosophical and political lines.

The war turned many protesters to not only hate the war, but also hate those, for the most part, young Americans who fought in the war … a trend that fortunately is not the case today.

While many Vietnam veterans came home to scorn and ridicule, to our nation’s credit today’s veterans come home to respect, praise, appreciation and honor for serving their country and putting themselves in harm’s way.

Vietnam can also be remembered as being directly responsible for the end to the military draft, which was the subject of so much criticism because of its alleged unfairness due to it being perceived as being disproportionately subjected to socioeconomic and racial factions.

Contrary to many who served in the military during the Vietnam War, today’s military is an all-volunteer force, even though there still are those who believe universal military service would benefit the nation as a whole.

Unlike when Vietnam veterans returned home, today Americans know what PTSD stands for, and they demand the government honor its commitment to care for military personnel returning from the fluid battlelines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vietnam was 40 years ago, but for many it always will be a vivid memory, one which undoubtedly still is in the mind of the new Secretary of Defense, the first in that post to have served and been wounded in Vietnam.

Vietnam was 40 years ago, but the aging veterans of that war remember and still carry its scars. Only now are they beginning to get the respect and honor they should have received decades ago.

Contact Jim Smith at jsmith@newsandsentinel.com