Thanks to my years in Vietnam, I know the silent pain of Vietnam veterans. Because we were blamed for participating in a shameful war, we said nothing about our time in Vietnam for decades. Then, as a younger generation of Americans matured—those who were born after the fall of Saigon—the attitude of Americans toward the war in Vietnam has changed. The younger Americans want to know what happened in Vietnam. Why is the generation that preceded them so unwilling to talk about the war? These kids—they are young enough to be my grandchildren—ask questions and want answers.
Four or five years ago, I was for the first time invited to a “welcome home” gathering for Vietnam veterans. I attended, unsure of what to expect, my guard up. Younger folks there showed no signs of the hostility I had learned to expect from the American public. They went out of their way to assure that I was comfortable and treated me with honor.
Early in the evening, three or four of these kids (by my standard) approached me smiling and shook my hand. “Thank you for your service,” they said. “And welcome home.”
Those were words I had yearned to hear for so many years. When I heard them, directed to me, I cried.