Commemoration of the Vietnam War (4)

Continuing from yesterday: the final entry on President Obama’s 2012 proclamation entitled “COMMEMORATION OF THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE VIETNAM WAR”:

Here’s the end of the proclamation:

“Throughout this Commemoration, let us strive to live up to their example by showing our Vietnam veterans, their families, and all who have served the fullest respect and support of a grateful Nation. NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 28, 2012, through November 11, 2025, as the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to honor our Vietnam veterans, our fallen, our wounded, those unaccounted for, our former prisoners of war, their families, and all who served with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

“IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fifth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.”

The parallel between the time span of the proclamation and the number of years I spent trundling between Vietnam and the U.S. is ironic—both thirteen years. I’m the only person I know of who was there, on and off, for the entire war, from 1962 to 1975, when I escaped under fire as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. During those years, I was in Vietnam at least four months every year. I had one complete three-year tour and another three-year tour interrupted by the conquest of South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese. In between I had so many shorter trips I lost count.

But I was not military. I was a civilian under cover as military, sometimes army, sometimes Marine. After the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam in 1973, I was under double cover. If the enemy penetrated my disguise as a diplomat, they’d learn I was really a CIA operative. As far as I know, no one unauthorized ever discovered that I was really an employee of the National Security Agency.

And again, I’m so struck by the worlds of difference between the tone of the president’s words and the reaction we received when we returned to the world from Vietnam. We were insulted and shamed for our time in combat. For decades many of us never spoke of Vietnam. I sensed a change in the attitude of the American public around 2012, when the president signed his proclamation. It must have been in 2012 when I first heard the words, “Thank you. And welcome home.” Those words still bring tears to my eyes.

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