This article appeared in a small weekly newspaper where I worked from 1990 through 1999. It’s interesting how we can compare some of the subject matter to what’s going on today. Let me know what you think.
Vietnam Vets React To New Patriotism, by Velda Brotherton published in July, 1991
The long fourth of July weekend has been chosen as the ideal time to honor those who fought in the Persian Gulf War.
When it comes to parades and welcome home celebrations, our nation has never seen the like of what’s been going on since our men began returning from Saudi Arabia. Parades and welcome home parties have been constantly in the news since the end of that conflict. Why are we experiencing such an outpouring of patriotism?
It isn’t that this country hasn’t lacked wars since World War II ended to the biggest ticker tape parades ever staged.
There was that little conflict in Korea, now referred to as the forgotten war, and then there was Vietnam, the war we all wished we could forget. We tried to forget Vietnam in various ways — some of which forever scarred those young men who fought as valiantly for our country as those who went before. Those young men are now nearly twenty years older and some of them also went to Saudi. How do Vietnam vets feel about the extended fanfare?
Army reservist Max Hall of Springdale spent six years on active duty including two tours in Vietnam. He flew a Medivac helicopter. Then one morning nearly twenty years later, with that war behind him, he answered the telephone and in a few weeks found himself in the Persian Gulf. Hall entered this war as a member of the 374th reserve medical detachment. He was one of the oldest trainer pilots to serve in the desert.
Max told us that comparing the two wars, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia is not possible. Those who try, he said, are guilty of trying to compare apples and oranges.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t ask why there’s been such a change in the attitude of the people of this country toward its wars and its warriors. Rationales are plentiful. This war was shorter. Not so many died. Saddam’s a bully and he was pushing people around. Americans have a duty to help the helpless of the world.
Hall thinks the overall acceptance is because the people better understood the Persian conflict, while they never understood the one in Vietnam. Others don’t feel it’s quite that simple.
During those months our fighting men spent on that faraway desert, it wasn’t uncommon to hear, “How many lives is a barrel of oil worth?” The dissent was there but now in the minority, not so loud, not accepted. We all prayed there wouldn’t be another Vietnam.
And the overall and abiding feeling seemed to be, “We’ll never again do such a terrible thing to our fighting men. We can somehow make it up to them now.”
Hall agrees that the country was suffering from a lot of guilt. But he goes farther. “This country needed a victory somewhere and the Gulf was it.”
Hall says that he’s proud of what we did over there. “There will be another Saddam sometime in the future, and we have to remain strong because of our morale obligations and the agreements we’ve made which must be honored.”
General Norman Schwartzkopf recently said about the aftermath of Vietnam, “The wounds are healed but the scars will never go away.”
Lonnie Hussey is a disabled veteran of the Vietnam conflict. He is also the Chairman of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 323, in Fayetteville. Lonnie will take part in the parade in Little Rock July 6. He will ride proudly with other vets on a float depicting the various armed services who were involved in Vietnam.
“It’s taken me twenty years, but I’m finally getting my parade,” he told (me).
He says this and other parades like it will give a lot of veterans a chance to feel good. “The Desert Storm guys were just lucky. Vietnam was the biggest mess I’ve ever been in,” he goes on to say.
Like Hall, Hussey feels that nothing smells so sweet as victory.
Both certainly agree on one thing. Come Sunday morning, July 7, it’s time to get on with it. Put all the parades and talk of the war behind us.
Hussey calls it a lot of hoopla, but still an important event in American history that will have a lasting effect on (Vietnam) veterans.
Another Vietnam vet who asked to remain anonymous, said he couldn’t really explain fully how it makes him feel to see the guys coming back to open arms. “I don’t resent them, in fact they deserve every bit of it. I thought my wounds were healed, but seeing all the accolades, it feels like having a scab knocked off of a sore. It stings.”
War isn’t romantic and patriotism doesn’t cure the ills of our country. And if good, indeed, does come out of war, which is what Max Hall told us, let it be that we as a nation learned a lesson we’ll never forget.
If we ever again ask our men, young or old, to go to war, then we should honor them, win or lose.
Velda, thank you for your posts concerning military veterans. As a decorated, retired Vietnam Era veteran myself, I think the feelings our current vets are getting (and deserve) from the public are more like appreciation than patriotism. I say this because of my own experience with folks who thank me for my service, a large majority of whom have never served their country in any capacity and complain constantly about our government and having to pay taxes. I would remind those folks that military service is just one way to be patriotic and that civic duty, community service, and taxes to support our country for the common good are the marks of true patriotism and real patriots. Everything else is merely lip service.
Jack, thank you so much for your comment, and for your service to our country. I do agree that we mostly feel appreciation for what you and other veterans have given. In those days when I wrote those articles it was a different mindset, but people were beginning to thank veterans. I guess patriotism is something different altogether. You mention civic duty and community service as being patriotic, and I thank you for bringing that up. We all owe something to this great country and those are great ways to show our gratitude. Thanks again for writing.