The end of my keynote speech of 11 May. Yesterday, I told of being met at the San Francisco airport by mobs who spat on us and called us “baby killers” and “butchers.”
That sickened me even more. I first noticed the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) in the late 1960s, but it became more obvious with each returning trip and encounters with the raging mobs. After the fall of Saigon, when I got back to the states in May 1975, it was severe. At the time, I had top-secret-codeword-plus security clearances from NSA, so I couldn’t go for psychotherapy—back in those days I would have lost my clearances and my job, and I had a wife and four children to support. I had to manage on my own. I knew somehow that to cope I had to bring all my unbearable memories into my conscious mind and face them head-on.
So I did. I forced myself to remember the unspeakable, gruesome deaths I’d witnessed on the battlefield—guys I slept next to, eaten with, joked with, killed in ways so brutal that I still can’t talk about it. I know now that those memories never go away or weaken. They won’t change, but I can. I learned how to cope with the memories by learning to control my emotions. These days, except for crying sometimes, I live a normal life.
But there was another obstacle: when I got back to the world—that is, the U.S.—after the fall of Saigon, I found that no one wanted to hear about Vietnam. It was a shameful war, best forgotten. I was shamed by all who knew I’d been there. For decades, I never mentioned Vietnam.
Then about five or six years ago, I was invited to something I’d never heard of before: a welcome-home celebration for Vietnam veterans. I was leery but finally decided to attend. When I got there, young people, not even born when Saigon fell, walked up to me, smiled, hugged me, and said the words I had so longed to hear for so many years, “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.”
So tonight, I want to do that for you, to thank you. You were willing to put your life on the line for the good of the nation and the welfare of all the rest of us. Accept the thanks of all of us. And representing everyone in this room, I reach out to you and say—
End of quote. The speech was well received. And I was grateful for the opportunity to express my admiration and thanks to veterans.