The movie “Thank you for your Service” is a raw, no punches pulled story about three young Army vets returning from combat in Afghanistan to a changed and difficult civilian life. The sad state of treatment for our returning military by the Veterans Administration gets a scathing indictment. It is a movie that should be seen by all, as the devastating effects of war are now borne by a very small percentage of our citizens, the hidden price of freedom thus remaining a constant challenge to only the few. I saw it last weekend in a largely empty theater. In contrast, the Tyler Perry Halloween movie was packed, thus reflecting state of American values.
Saturday, November 11 is Veterans Day. The federal holiday is Friday the 10th, but the observations are on the 11th. This year, for a change rather than rest on the 3 day weekend, attend a service at the VFW, visit a monument, or perhaps just thank a vet. Veteran’s Day differs from Memorial Day. We honor not those who paid the ultimate price, but stop and show gratitude to ALL those who served, living and dead. We acknowledge the truth that “Freedom is not Free,” and pause with gratitude, with respect. While all are worthy of our efforts, this year I propose a long overdue expression for one special group - the Vietnam Veteran.
It is shameful, yet undeniable the way those who served in Vietnam have been treated by their Nation. Unfairly made scapegoat for failed political decisions, stereotyped with images of drug abuse and homelessness, they today still suffer from images too painful to forget. Seventy years later, assignment of blame is a wasted effort. It is only good to know that as guilty as we collectively were, we have learned the error of our ways with subsequent actions. Without exception, every Vietnam vet I have talked to reflects with sadness, with disappointment bordering on disbelief, when as to recall that disgraceful time. Yet, again without exception, they are not bitter, but philosophical – taking solace in the new reality that the returning vets are now treated with the recognition, or as so many said, “at least the new guys are treated better than we were.” A nation divided over an unwinnable a war unfairly took its wrath on those assigned to fight it - a sin for which we can now only beg pardon. Thankfully, time has taught a lesson, that while you can hate a war, must you must still love the warrior.
Ken Burns’ PBS documentary on the Vietnam War brought home many of the old ghosts of a time long ago. It also brought out the heroism, the valor and courage sometimes overshadowed by the mistaken “Fogs of War.” While the piece had many aspects, the most dominant was the crystal clear image of the immense bond between the men who served. They fought not for Flag, not for country, not for glory, but for each other. Not many songs about Vietnam, but one of the best is Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon.”
If you have never heard it, get it. Play it on You Tube. The refrain is haunting, reciting the pledge of young grunts who slept back-to-back in the rain, waiting for Charlie. “… and we would all go down together. We said that that we would all go down together. Yes, we would all gone down together. “ Recognition that your world was your Brothers around you. Medal of Honor winner – medic Gary Rose, awarded for heroism under fire in 1970 – was only recently given his overdue honor by President Trump. He summed up the attitude of so many Vietnam combatants. “This is our medal, not mine.“ Humble, but no amnesia about the truth.
In addition to apologies, it is time to say WELCOME HOME to the Vietnam Vet. On this upcoming Veterans Day, with almost 70 years of history behind us, it is time to say we are proud of their answer to the call of duty, voluntary or not. Prompted by the Ken Burns feature, I once again read Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” The title story plays on the dichotomy of baggage both internal and external.
We now recognize that war leaves scars on both the body and the mind, taking long, long times to heal. Let us say a special word of thanks to our friends, neighbors who – as Bruce Springstein sings “went away to a foreign land, to fight the yellow man.” From me, to Russ Meyer, to Mike Montgomery, to Dick Alford, to my brother in law Doyle Snow, and perhaps the most unlikely warrior of all, mild mannered Senator Bill Haine – recipient of a Bronze Star – my deep and profound thanks. You are appreciated. You are respected. You are honored.Take a special and long overdue walk of Pride. Be not afraid.