How often to do you see a senior citizen wearing a Vietnam veteran hat at the bank, the grocery store or at a community gathering? It is common today, but there was a time our Vietnam veterans chose not to announce or display their service to our country.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, our society became dominated by an anti-establishment subculture. This movement adopted an anti-war stance that became a predominant position.
The millions of Americans who served in the military at that time were proud of their service. They did their time and when they came home, they were met with jeers, spit upon, verbally and physically abused and, in some instances, were hospitalized because of that abuse.
They served their country well and did not receive a thank you or a welcome home. They were proud of the uniform, but military protocol was changed so that active duty military members did not wear the uniform in public venues for safety purposes.
“It was like I was invisible,” one Vietnam veteran said.
No one cared about him or his service.
Even World War II and Korean War veterans ignored the service of the Vietnam veterans. It was mused that the Vietnam veterans fought in a conflict that was merely a police action, not a real war.
After their service was complete, the majority of our Vietnam veterans chose not to speak of their service because of what they experienced. They knew they did the right thing, but they were not rewarded with a public that embraced their service.
Not only were they ignored by the public and other military veterans, our own government ignored them. Many Vietnam veterans developed unusual ailments and sickness. The government was slow to respond.
As a result, a group of Vietnam veterans founded the Vietnam Veterans of America in 1978. The motto of this organization is “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”
Over the years, this organization and others like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion challenged Congress and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to provide appropriate care and benefits for our Vietnam veterans.
Our Vietnam veterans suffered distinct discrimination. They endured a war like no other, a thankless society and a government reluctant to recognize them.
Things are different 50 years later. But the tenor of today’s salute to military service does not erase the history endured by our Vietnam veterans. In Salem, you can find a memorial for every war from Oregon’s statehood to the present with the exception of the Vietnam War.
A group of Oregonians is working to honor Oregon’s Vietnam veterans with a Vietnam War Memorial on the Oregon Capitol grounds. You can see the plans and learn how you can help at Vietnam War Memorial Fund’s website: www.vietnamwarmemorialfund.org.
Oregon’s late Secretary of State, Dennis Richardson, wrote on Jan. 30, 2019, “The sacrifices made by Oregon’s Vietnam veterans should be memorialized, and there is no more fitting place to build their memorial than on the grounds of the people’s capitol. It is one of the many ways we can and should honor them.”
Vietnam War Veterans Day is Sunday, March 29, a day set aside to remember the service of all Vietnam veterans.
The day is also a reminder to honor that senior citizen wearing a Vietnam veteran hat, by telling him or her “welcome home.”