The Long Silence of Vietnam Veterans

When I returned to the world (the U.S.) after the fall of Saigon, I didn’t talk about my years in Vietnam. It had been a shameful war, and no one wanted to hear about it. I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury with all the symptoms—panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, and irrational rages, but I couldn’t seek therapy because I held top secret codeword-plus security clearances. Talking to a therapist would have led to the withdrawal of my access to classified information, and I would have been fired. So I talked to no one about my hideous memories. It was the lowest point in my life.

Eventually, I realized that other Vietnam vets were as silent as I was. They’d been jeered as butchers and baby-killers and spat upon when they returned to the world. Now it was best for them to say nothing. These were men who’d risked their lives for their country. And now they were shamed.

The attitude of the American public toward war began to change a few years ago. My stories and novels drawn from my thirteen years in and out of Vietnam began to sell. I now have seventeen short stories and four novels in print. People want to know what happened in Nam.

About four years ago, I was invited to a welcome home celebration for Vietnam vets, something I’d never heard of before. When I attended, young people greeted me and shook my hand. I heard the words that I had always so yearned to hear: “Thank you. And welcome home.” I cried.

More tomorrow.

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