as published in the Blytheville Courier on Wednesday, July 15, 2015
By TOM HENRY
There are numerous events being planned this year, in conjunction with the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. More accurately, these events do not celebrate the war, but rather the veterans that answered their nation’s call to fight in it. One such event is planned for 2 p.m. this Sunday at the Blytheville Courthouse.
These events are being held in order to thank and honor those valiant men and women that answered their nation’s call to sacrifice and serve. Most of these men and women were involuntarily drafted, yet answered their nation’s call during the era between November 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975. The size of this effort was monumental, as was their sacrifice. There were 58,220 members of our military killed as a result of the Vietnam War (592 from Arkansas alone). Approximately 8,744,000 United States troops served worldwide during the war, with around 3,403,000 serving in Southeast Asia and about 2,594,000 serving in South Vietnam.
Other statistics are more difficult to pin down, but it appears that the total number of Americans classified as POW/MIA at the end of the war was 2,646. As of today, 1,627 still remain unaccounted for. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 576 of those are now listed with the “no further pursuit” classification. That means that after investigation, the Department of Defense (DOD) believes them to have been killed.
What is more embarrassing, is the way that far too many of those surviving service men and women were treated when they returned. Instead of receiving the ‘ticker tape parades’ and celebrations that veterans of past wars received, many of them received ridicule, scorn and spittle. Many were called ugly names such as “baby killer” and “butchers”. Many were blamed for the war, as though they were policy setters. Many were refused employment, healthcare and healing acceptance.
Another issue that some confronted was the fact that the Vietnam War was entirely different than any war Americans had fought before. It was waged differently both tactically and politically. It was waged against an enemy unlike any we’d ever faced before. Just as trench warfare during World War I was a radically different experience than simply lining up massed formations and marching them across a battlefield had been in all previous wars; so to, was jungle fighting by smaller units in a Vietnamese Civil War against a guerilla insurgency.
Admittedly, we have all met one or two “Vietnam vets” that seem to be stuck mentally in the late 1960s with a sense of inflated importance and exaggerated machismo. Some that try to milk all the attention they can get, but are usually just examples of “stolen valor” by those that didn’t even serve “in country”. But those people are very far and few in between. Unfortunately, there are far more real Vietnam Veterans that are really stuck mentally in the late 1960s with PTSD and other disorders. In greater numbers, each of us have also, probably unbeknownst to us, met numerous glorious, highly-decorated, heroes that simply don’t talk about the honorable service they fulfilled. There are many purple heart, silver star, distinguished service and commendation medal winners walking amongst us.
Why is it important to honor these people today, 50 years afterwards? If you participate in these events, does that mean that you support the political decisions to go to war back then? Or how the war was prosecuted? Absolutely not! The time for protesting the policy makers and politicians of the Vietnam Era is long over. Most all of them are already dead. Events such as these serve at least two functions: to honor the men and women that gave so much because their nation called and to remind people of how NOT to fight a war! Additionally, it is my prayer that some battered, bruised and perhaps bitter Vietnam Veterans will receive the love, honor, thanks and appreciation they have needed; even enough for them to experience some emotional healing. As some of them begin to move into the twilight of their life, maybe they can finally escape the war themselves.
It is up to each of us to make sure that “no man is left behind”. How do we do that? First, by thanking every veteran that we know for their incredible service and sacrifice. Secondly, by supporting local events such as the one being held Sunday at the Blytheville Courthouse. Thirdly, by dropping any remaining hippie-protester label and becoming proper historians that pass on the story of these men and women to future generations. Fourthly, by learning from the mistakes this nation’s politicians and bureaucrats made and NEVER doing the same things again. Lastly, demand that the search for unaccounted for POW/MIA not stop until every one is brought back home.
I personally want to say thank you to my dad and to each and every other Vietnam Veteran for their sacrifice and service. Thank you for answering your nation’s call. Thank you, thank you, thank you!