Rerun: “Thank You for Your Service. And Welcome Home”

I return to words I wrote years ago about a subject close to my heart.

“Thank you for your service. And welcome home” Say these words today to every veteran you know.

When I came back to the world (the U.S.) after the fall of Saigon, I so yearned to hear those words. Returning from earlier trips I’d been called a baby killer and a butcher. People spat on me. It sickened my already ailing soul.

I came home in May 1975 after escaping under fire when Saigon fell. I was a sick man with amoebic dysentery, hearing damaged from shelling during the assault on Saigon, and pneumonia brought on by inadequate diet, sleep deprivation, and muscle fatigue from the time I was holed up in my office while the North Vietnamese attacked. The worst was Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. I had top secret codeword-plus clearances, so I couldn’t go for therapy—I would have lost my job. My wife and the children were in Massachusetts at her father’s house. She refused to return to Maryland until I got our house back. We’d leased it to another family until 1976, when our tour in Vietnam was due to end. She and the children finally came back the following July. So I was left to cope with my nightmares, panic attacks, irrational rages, flashbacks, and depression by myself. It was the lowest point in my life.

No one wanted to hear about Vietnam. It was a shameful war, and I was shamed for having participated in it for thirteen years. For decades, I never spoke of my years in Vietnam. I was ashamed for myself and for my country.

Then, about six years ago, I was invited to an event like none I’d ever heard of—a celebration of Vietnam veterans. Not anxious to be abused yet again, I decided not to go. At the last minute I changed my mind.

What I found was a gathering of mostly young people, who hadn’t even been born when Saigon fell. They were smiling and welcoming. They hugged me. They said to me, “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.”

I wept.

So talk to your veterans today. Tell them you’re grateful for their sacrifices. Let them know you’re glad they got back alive. Use those sacred words: “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.”

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