Last Friday and Saturday, I attended welcome-home celebrations for Vietnam veterans. Both featured speakers who touched on the memories common to all of us who experienced the war in Vietnam.
First the weather: searing heat and pounding rain during the monsoons, chilling nights in the highlands—so different from what most of us were used to.
The scars from combat, physical and spiritual: No one who was on the battlefield came through unscathed. Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) is widespread among us.
The hostile crowds who met us when we came back: angry mobs calling us “baby killer” and “butcher” and spitting on us.
Our silence: Since we weren’t welcomed home but cursed, we said nothing about our war experiences for decades. It was a shameful war, we were told, and we were shamed for risking our lives to follow orders to fight for the good of the country. Those of us with wounded souls didn’t share our unspeakable memories. We kept them to ourselves.
For me the Vietnam experience was profoundly meaningful. I was there on and off for thirteen years. Before 1973, I was regularly on the battlefield with the troops, both army and Marines, in combat. The deaths I witnessed were so savage that I still can’t talk about them. Then I lived through the fall of Saigon and escaped under fire when the North Vietnamese took the city. I left behind men I had worked with for years, Vietnamese soldiers we failed to evacuate. They died hideous deaths.
Now, finally, after all these years, we’re being thanked for our service and welcomed home. When speakers at the two gatherings used those words addressed to us, all of us were moved.
“Thank you for your service. And welcome home.”