Sitting among the clutter on the low wall that separates my kitchen from my living room is a bumper sticker. It’s been there for years. It’s six inches long and four inches wide, oval shaped, blue in background with yellow writing. “Vietnam Veteran” is printed in inch-high letters in the middle.
I don’t remember where it came from or who gave it to me, but I’ve always known that I would never put it on my car. It would mark me as a man to be reviled.
When I came back to the states with the troops during my any trips to Vietnam between 1962 and 1975, we’d be greeted my mobs who’d spit on us and call us butchers and baby killers. After the war’s end, when I escaped under fire as Saigon fell, Americans everywhere made it clear to me that I had participated in a dishonorable war. For literally decades, I never spoke of Vietnam. It was a shameful war, and I was a disgrace to my country.
Then, five or six years ago, I was invited to an event the likes of which I had never heard of: a welcome home celebration for Vietnam veterans. I was suspicious but finally decided to attend. The place was filled with young people who hadn’t even been born when Vietnam fell. They approached me, smiling, hugged me, and said the words I had so yearned to hear for decades: “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.”
Now the world has changed. The time has come to take pride in my service to my country. People regularly thank me for my time in Vietnam. I’ve even started wearing a small pin that proclaims me as Vietnam veteran. I write regularly about my years in Vietnam in this blog. And today, I will put that sticker on the bumper of my car.
At last I can be proud, not shamed, by my service to my country.