I have and wear with pride the Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin. It’s a small round pin less than an inch in diameter featuring an eagle’s head in the middle against a background of stars and stripes. Around the perimeter are the words, “Vietnam War Veteran.” On the back is embossed, “A Grateful Nation Thanks and Honors You.”
I take fierce pride in my many years of service under cover in Vietnam between 1962 and the fall of Saigon in April 1975. But that’s a recent development. For decades, I never mentioned Vietnam or my service there. During the war and for many years afterwards, Americans considered Vietnam a shameful war. Those of us who engaged in it were denounced and shunned. When I came back to the U.S. with the troops, mobs met us. They called us “butchers” and “baby killers.” They spat on us. I was shamed to the depths of my soul.
That all started to change six or seven years ago when new generations of Americans born after the war ended wanted to know more about it—what happened and why? And in 2016, my work in Vietnam was declassified. I could speak openly about what I did there.
These days, in addition to writing about Vietnam, I do presentations about my experiences in-country. Most recently I have offered a talk with slides about Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). I very much want people to know how and why I and others who went through combat suffer from that malady. It is not a symptom of shame and weakness. If anything, it’s the opposite: only those brave enough to put their lives on the line for their country are subject to PTSI.
I also do a presentation on the 1967 battle of Dak To in the Vietnam highlands, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. But my most popular talk is on the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets.
The men who fought by my side and I deserve the honor the lapel pin conveys. I will continue to wear it with justified pride.