1965. President Johnson called for more ground troops to be sent to Vietnam. I was a child in elementary school. When the Vietnam War ended, I was 16 years old. 1975.
Rewind to the 1960s and ’70s. I have vague recall of warfare events on the evening news: the drafting of Elvis, the Kent State University shootings, the burning of the Washington Monument by war protesters, the outrage over Jane Fonda in a Vietcong military tank, the fall of Saigon. My parents didn’t talk abut the war. My teachers didn’t talk about the war. My friends and I did not talk about the war. Maybe the war was thought to be too discordant to discuss. But I think silence is the enemy of controversy.
When President Nixon promised to end the war, a reawakening of hope vigilantly danced over the heartland. But, my adolescent mind and heart could not comprehend the shunning of America’s wounded sons when they returned to the red, white and blue soil of freedom.
“Deer Hunter,” “The Killing Fields,” “Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July” — horrors of war cannot be fully captured on movie screens. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Boonie Rat song, GI Joes and rock-n-roll — music cannot fully capture the turbulence of war. Mangled minds, mangled bodies, mangled souls — existing in VA hospitals.
The History Channel revealed what the history books concealed. Decades traveled by until truth seeped then gushed out. History, you teach us lessons, but we listen with closed ears. History books, we turn your pages, and close you tightly. History, we cannot forget and we dare not forget, lest the past be repeated and the suffering resurrected.
As a therapist, I have listened to horrific and gut-wrenching stories of Vietnam combat veterans and provided treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), survivor guilt; anxiety and mood disorders; addictions; failed marriages; disowned beliefs in God, country and humanity. And I held firmly to my faith as the hatred of war permeated my soul.
And finally, a piece of healing and reverence arrived for a broken generation. The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall. An offering to our soldiers, both dead and alive; those in heaven and on earth. It is more than chiseled black stone — it is a gift to America’s unsung heroes. A place where thousands of voices speak through engraved names. A cemetery of sacrifice unveiled on Nov. 13, 1982.
“When the soldiers came home from Vietnam, there were no parades, no celebrations. So they built the Vietnam Memorial for themselves.” –William Westmoreland
Several years ago, I observed something at a parade that I had not witnessed before or since. Four raggedy men walked in a parade with a sign, “Vietnam Vets.” My eyes misted at the sight. Vietnam veterans in a parade — a rare moment in time I shall not forget.
For the Vietnam veterans, can a part of healing be found when your country embraces you and bestows appreciation? Will you forgive America? Will you please participate in our Fourth of July parades so we may salute you?
And to the Vietnam veterans of Scioto County, I say, “Thank you for your service.”
Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.