Last night I attended the “Welcome Home—Vietnam Veterans Celebration: Warriors Remembered” in Greenbelt. I wasn’t prepared.
For years, when I returned from Vietnam with the troops through San Francisco, we were met by crowds who yelled “butcher” and “baby killer” at us. They spat on us. I was shamed to the depths of my soul, not for the troops who had fought bravely and followed commands even at the risk of theirs lives, but for America. Our people, the people we fought for, were blaming us for what they saw as an unjust war. I was sickened.
For years, I never mentioned my Vietnam experience. My Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) was worsened by my silence. No one wanted to talk about Vietnam. The war was shameful, and I was one of the perpetrators.
But Vietnam was bursting my seams. It dominated my writing. No one would publish my stories and novels. Vietnam was anathema.
Then, three years ago, I attended the first Welcome Home celebration for Vietnam vets. For the first time I heard the words, “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.” I cried.
Last night, when I walked into the ballroom where the celebration was underway, a young man in uniform smiled, shook my hand, and said “Thank you. And welcome home.” The tears came.
Toward the end of the gathering, the young soldiers, airmen, Naval Academy cadets, and ROTC members lined up and saluted us Vietnam veterans to thank us for our service. My tears embarrassed me again.
The last speaker, U.S. Army Sergeant Major Rodwell L. Forbes, told of his reluctance to admit his PTSI until a Vietnam vet called him a fool for not facing it. Forbes’ wife reiterated the insult. He submitted to therapy and found a well of torment aching to be freed. He expressed his gratitude to a Vietnam vet. Then he, too, thanked us and welcomed us home.
My Vietnam writings are being published now. These days many people thank me for my service. But I still choke up when I hear “Welcome home.” Those were words I yearned for. I grieve that so many of my comrades in arms did not live long enough to hear them.