September, 1967 I somewhat apprehensively boarded a plane which would deliver me and many others to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. My service with the US Army had just begun. Myself and so many others had and still make similar trips. The Vietnam War was raging, street protests were a daily occurrence and the military draft was at a high point. I recall a very popular song from 1966 going through my mind as the airplane lifted off the runway. The name of the song was Coming Home Soldier which was definitely not something that I was doing. The words talked of a returning soldier, “just a soldier no purple heart upon my chest.”
In June of 1970 as the jet lifted off the runway at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam the song came into my mind again. This time it was real for me and so many fortunate others. The words were appropriate for many of us as well. We had no purple heart or hero ‘s medals we just knew “we had done our best.”
The world we returned to had changed for us as well. There were no marching bands lining the streets of our hometowns, not that we expected or wanted that. Ours was not viewed as a “good” war as if there is such a thing. As soldiers many of us were not viewed the same as the World War II and Korean War Veterans. Perhaps the drug scene in this country which had some spill over effect into Vietnam made us appear less committed. Protests were still raging in the streets and many of us returning veterans joined in the protests. Oftentimes a vet wearing a field jacket or other left over military piece of clothing drew outrage from people and other veterans. Perhaps the times were such that joining the American Legion or the VFW was not something we all gravitated to as prior veterans had. We did have a GI Bill to help with education and training but it wasn’t viewed as being as generous as earlier versions. The limited time in Vietnam, one year required, created an anxiety that carried back to civilian life. Not that prior veterans didn’t suffer the same post war stress and I can’t imagine being drafted and not knowing when it would end. Landing in Vietnam I recall being scared the first three months, accepting where I was for the next six months and then being so cautious the last three months. The current soldiers must have similar feelings as they are sent into harms way to return home and be sent again.
As draftees most of us brought our civilian mentality into the military. Why did I have to have that ridiculous hair cut, always polishing shoes and belt buckles? Perhaps that was healthy for the military knowing that we would be soldiers and I believe serve our country well but not like the spit and polish. I was most fortunate and never really engaged in actual combat but saw people who had. People who looked like me, could have grown up in my neighborhood covered with dirt and having been without a real shower for weeks. There were conditions we didn’t like but accepted and helped each other. People that served together became great friends almost overnight but when we returned home, it became a quickly forgotten world for most of us, the lucky ones. Others carried various scars of war both physical and mental.
In recent elections the question is asked what did you do in the war? Some served in the military in various positions, both regular Army and Reserves, and that’s OK. Others did not serve due to legitimate deferments, physical limitations, or perhaps objected to the war and sought various ways to avoid service. The question is proper and to me should be asked. More importantly the answer should matter. If your answer is you were too busy or too rich then that should be unacceptable.
It is extremely hard to leave your family and go into a combat zone. Perhaps some of us, myself included, should have known better than to accept conscription but we didn’t. Maybe we believed that our country was right and it was our duty to serve. That doesn’t make what we did wrong, we still believed that we were putting our country first and helping another country.
I believe that Senator McCain believed he was serving his country. A chance meeting I had with a stranger who happened to have been awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor, he did not think his actions were without merit. I recall him saying that he was not a hero, those who did not make it back were the real heroes. Mr. Trump recently referred to some soldiers as not strong enough resulting in various mental problems. I do not believe that Mr. Trump was attempting to be mean but rather that is who he is. His world view is an either/or, for or against, wrong or his way. In the service I met people of all different backgrounds, national origin, religions and race. We were all there together, scared together.
When I hear any candidate for public office downplaying the sacrifices that so many different Americans have made, I have to ask what did you do during the war? If you did not serve then at least show some regard for those who did. I also expect our various veteran organizations to hold candidates to the same scrutiny.
A candidate who did not serve is not disqualified but certainly needs to show the support for veteran services and needs that result from miliary service. It must be hard to fully appreciate the feeling of stepping off a plane onto American soil upon returning home.
As the plane landed in this country that song reappeared in my mind. That song was me and so many others, we had done our best.
In this election only one candidate really understands veteran needs and how hard it should be to send American soldiers into harms way. Perhaps if each member of Congress had to personally deliver the message that a person’s son or daughter was killed in combat, they would be less likely to send troops into combat. I believe that Hillary Clinton understands us better and I will vote for her on November 8th.