Veteran’s day has come and gone and I attended the excellent observation here in Baytown once again. Veteran’s day is a happy occasion, unlike Memorial Day; at least not to me. Today, I won’t go into the history of the holiday or any of that well-beaten path.
As a history buff of the Vietnam War and having served 2 tours in Southeast Asia during the long war, I feel as qualified as the next to talk about what a Veteran is. Of course, when it comes to the Vietnam War, there are a couple of distinctions. The first is the military that served “in country” which comprised 4 countries in SEA.
Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand were all at war against the communists and all 4 countries lost military personnel and many, many civilians. Every Veteran is issued on discharge a form called a DD-214 and if they can’t produce one, I have my doubts about their military service. Sorry, but there are charlatans among us.
The second group is known as Vietnam Era veterans. This means they served during the conflict, but never made it to Indochina. If they served honorably, I see no distinction in their status from my own.
I served during a time of the Draft and I’ll be honest and say that motivation by some was nil. Others were downright criminals, who ran off into the service to avoid the law or jail time. What I did see in SEA was everyone doing their job regardless if they wanted to be there or not and this is one reason, I often shake my head over claims that Vietnam Vets were abused when they returned.
I never expected one benefit for my time served there, which was right at 651 days of sweating in the jungle environment with bugs crawling on me some nights. I did my job and I did what I signed up for; nothing more, nothing less. I didn’t have a pity party when I never received a single care package from well-wishers, or felt lonely because the USO with Bob Hope skipped by our Base. I passed 2 Christmas’ without a package from home, but never doubted that they loved me. It was a different time.
I saw it as the adventure of a lifetime; an experience I couldn’t get in Texas and still do. I made lifetime friends from Valdosta to Seattle and still communicate with them. My friends retired from the military, but tell me their time at Takhli RTAFB was the highlight of their long careers.
Was it like that when I landed there? Heck no! I had a feeling of deep depression, especially when the heat and humidity exceeded what I was used to here in the Houston area. The war was going full blast and all those days later when I left, we were still “bombing them back to the Stone Age”.
I do not see myself as a hero or a victim and frankly, any Vietnam Veteran who is still standing around milking sympathy for the “abuse they wrongfully suffered” when they came home is immediately suspect to me. I want to see their DD-214 form. Get over it! Move on! Geeze. Are they going to spend the rest of their lives walking around playing poor pitiful Pearl?
I’ve said it before; I’ve never met a real Vietnam Veteran who wants sympathy and mine Gott, how many times do we need to be welcomed home? A simple “Thank you for your service” suffices and is always welcomed. The reoccurring claim of being called a baby killer or being spit upon makes me angry. Are we seriously being led to believe that someone returning from service in a war zone is going to take that flat-footed? I don’t think so.
Did it happen? Possibly, but only in a few cases and the chances of you bumping into one of these unfortunate disabled airmen, sailors, soldiers or Marines is remote. I say disabled, because they simply must have been physically unable to knock someone’s teeth down their throat to take a slight that large.
As a Vietnam Vet, I refuse to appear at any military service looking like Forrest Gump’s Lt. Dan in tattered pieces of uniform. To me it makes Vietnam Vets look like dysfunctional derelicts and that war ended 45 years ago!
My hat is off to the many proactive Veterans like Jerry Johnson, Ren Fitts, Conrad Garcia, and the local VFW who represent Veterans for what they truly are - a person who was willing to risk their lives and future so we can remain the great free country our fore-fathers envisioned.