When I and many others returned from Vietnam there were no parades or cheerleaders waving pompoms. I did not expect such nor did most Vietnam veterans returning home. After being discharged I flew standby in my Army dress uniform with its Vietnam service ribbons and unit insignia as required. After the airplane landed and I entered the concourse waiting to greet me were my mother and my cousin who drove the car. That was enough just being home without injury, just a soldier back to being a civilian. Vietnam was not the big war or even a good war if there is such a thing. By the time I served and returned this was not a popular war or a war supported by the majority of the population. The large service organizations did not have the open arms given to earlier veterans because we and our war were not viewed like others. We succumbed to drugs and protest at a time of outright rage against the Vietnam War. Regardless of our motivation and personal attitudes we were so many of us sons and daughters, friends, neighbors, husbands and wives, just regular people, enlistees and draftees.
We served our country perhaps without knowing or understanding the cause or significance of Vietnam. Others even within our own families protested the war and refused to serve. As time passed many of us came to realize or perhaps we were told by people much smarter than me that Vietnam was a mistake. I guess as wars go this was a bad venture or at least a misadventure.
With protest marches throughout the streets the Nixon administration decided that it was time to end the draft, no more conscription. I would like to believe that the motivation for this decision was good but believe in my heart that it was cynical. This was a way to get the youth and the protests out of the streets and maybe gain some votes in the process. Many of us have friends and relatives who are now listed on the Wall in Washington, D.C. None of these died in vain to me. They died demonstrating to the world that our country and the people in it are willing to fight for our freedom and the freedom of others. That may sound naive and perhaps it is but 58,000 people didn’t die to help Richard Nixon get re-elected.
If one googles “veteran organizations” there is a list of about 45 such groups. Since the conclusion of the Vietnam War the US has been involved in a number of other conflicts. Some minor such as in Panama and Grenada and other more protracted namely Afganistan and Iraq. The merits of these engagements is not the issue here. Who fought in these wars is the issue.
Since the end of the draft we have an all volunteer military. The politicians favor the use of that terminology. My understanding of the term volunteer is somewhat different. Vietnam was oftentimes referred to as a poor man’s war. If you did not have a student deferment which meant college, then you were almost guaranteed that a draft notice was in the mail. Some of my friends had minor skirmishes with the law and were given the option of joining the military rather than jail. Today’s volunteers are different in that there are no draft notices or deferments. My understanding is that many of the volunteers see the military as a means to economic advancement, a college education, a way out of a difficult lifestyle. I am sure some truly join out of love of country particularly after 9/11 and Afganistan.
I have seen different numbers but something like 2% of the elegible population actual serves in the military. The other 98% probably could and I hope would serve if this requirement existed. Now I am being naive.
Earlier it was noted that there are about 45 veteran organizations listed on google and probably more exist. In addition there are advertisements on television for such groups which solicit money. This is wonderful and should be encouraged. These groups provide needed services and benefits to veterans who truly need our help and recognition. I encourage all of us to give and help everyway possible from veterans with injuries to those needing jobs. I just have one question. Have we as a people, a nation, decided that the job of the “Haves” is to give money because it seems like many of our volunteers come from the ranks of the “Have Nots”? I recently read that if the draft was reinstituted there would be a horrific public outcry. Any politicians advocating for it might as well resign because re-election is not in their future. Is this who we are? Our money sends others out to fight for what we say we believe in but are not willing to fight for ourselves. Maybe our money has become our symbol of service and patriotism by helping those who do serve. Meanwhile our elected leaders rant and rave about the care veterans receive or fail to receive through the Veterans Administration but then do little to help or fund improvements. I know the VA has had some problems but it does help thousands of veterans. Some help from our politicians for the VA rather than lip service would be good. It would also be good if some of these same elected leaders were less inclined to resort to military involvement and defer to diplomacy, particularly since so few of them and their children actually served in the military. It is easier to send other’s sons and daughters when you know your own will not have to go. Do we see ourselves as a people bound together by certain values and beliefs?
I do not have the answer and I may not know the question. I fear that we are going in the wrong direction. I don’t advocate war but do advocate public service of some type for all. We all need to look in a mirror and decide if we like what we see.
Thank you to the Veterans who served and to those now serving.
Happy Veterans Day.