Alex McRae

Anyone born and raised in Americasince 1980 can’t remember a time when the members of our nation’smilitary weren’t respected and honored for the service and sacrifice theyand their families make for our country.

Those old enough to remember how veterans were treated during the VietnamWar are astonished at the about-face in the national mood toward those who wearthe uniform of the United States of America.

Especially those who served in Vietnam. But over50 years after America’smost unpopular war officially began, Vietnam veterans are finally beingtreated with the respect they so richly deserve.

It’s about time.

Until the Vietnam War, all America’smilitary personnel felt they were fighting for a noble cause, or at least anunderstandable one. That wasn’t the case in Vietnam. And the timing of that warcould not have been worse.

After suffering massive losses in World War II and Korea,Americans were weary of war. The nation was focused on another battle, a bittercivil rights struggle dedicated to finally making good on the American promisethat all men are created equal and all deserved the rights and privileges stilldenied to many simply because of the color of their skin.

The American presence in Vietnamescalated from an advisory role to full-fledged war at the same time thenation’s streets were filled with civil rights protesters. Thoseprotesters gladly joined a growing group determined to stop a war in which theenemy hadn’t threatened our nation with guns or bombs but a politicalphilosophy called Communism.

As soon as Americans started dying in huge numbers in a country few hadheard of to slow the advance of a philosophy few at home worried about, theVietnam War lost most of what little support it had.

Politicians more concerned about re-election than military victory andhorrified at pictures streaming back to the U.S. nightly from American’sfirst televised war took charge of the fighting, creating rules of engagementthat put American troops at greater risk for the sake of better publicrelations.

Opposition to the Vietnam War grew more bitter bythe day. But instead of taking their frustrations out on the politicians whohad ordered our military to fight and die with one hand tied behind theirbacks, protesters vented their anger on our troops.

Military personnel who had served with honor and courage came home to becursed, spat upon and called baby killers.

The Vietnam War divided this nation in a way not previously thoughtpossible, pitting our military against citizens more willing to ignore ordespise our warriors than thank them for their sacrifice and suffering.

During the Gulf War of the early 1990s, American troops were welcomed homewith thanks from their fellow citizens. Troops now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan routinely return to ahero’s welcome.

Vietnam War vets could only watch the warm receptions they deserved andnever got.

That has slowly changed, and in recent years more and more Vietnam vetsare stepping from the shadows to take part in special ceremonies on VeteransDay and Memorial Day. Organizers of such events now take care to insure that Vietnam vetsare not just included, but honored.

As we commemorate what the U.S. Congress has designated as the 50thanniversary of the war this nation tried so long and hard to forget,communities across the country are finally paying tribute to Vietnam vets.

If your community isn’t one, it’s not too late to honor thoseamong you who served in Vietnam.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. is the nation’s mostheavilyvisited memorial. Many believe its popularity is due to themonument’s intensely personal nature.

Instead of featuring soaring statues of heroic warriors performing heroicdeeds, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is inscribed with the names of over 58,000Americans who gave their lives for their country.

Many who returned from that faraway war still suffer from wounds inflictednot so much by a foreign enemy but an ungrateful nation.

Chances are good several live in your hometown. Now would be a good time tolook them up and finally say “Thank You” and “WelcomeHome.”

Our Vietnamvets deserve no less.


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