The pride and pain I share with veterans is accompanied by another emotion: shame.
Starting in 1968, as I returned home with the troops from my many trips to Vietnam, they and I were exposed to insults that left permanent psychological damage. When we disembarked from the transport planes in San Francisco, we were met by angry mobs that spat on us and called us “butchers” and “baby killers.” I and a lot of the troops returning were already showing the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), and the crowds decrying us exacerbated psychic wounds. We had prosecuted a criminal war. Our pride was turned to dishonor. We were shamed.
For decades, I didn’t speak of my time in Vietnam. My short stories and novels about the war were rejected. I struggled with my PTSI knowing that in the view of the American public, I had participated in a shameful war.
Then, something like five years ago, I was invited to an event called “Welcome Home” for Vietnam veterans. Young people, who hadn’t even been born when Saigon fell, came up to me and said, “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.” As I have reported several times in this blog, those words still make me cry.
I and the men who fought by my side can again be proud of our service. Now, 43 years after the fall of Saigon, the days of shame have passed. Our pride is intact.