By Chuck N. Baker
Vietnam War Veterans Day is on March 29th honoring the men and women who served and scarified during one of the longest United States conflicts in U.S. history. On March 29, 1973, combat and combat support units withdrew from South Vietnam. Below are some interesting opinions, thoughts and questions to remember the war as well as honor those who served:
When exactly did the war begin? Writer Kirk Villard penned an article in Vietnam Magazine and explained there are no less than four potential choices. The first goes back as far as May 16, 1945 when the Office of Strategic Services sent an Army special operations group to assist the Viet Minh fighting foreign occupiers. Should that start date be etched in stone? There are many opinions on this.
Did the United States lose the Vietnam War or not? In another article, Villard reported most U.S. troops had left Vietnam by 1973, more than two years before North Vietnam conquered the South. So, while we suffered a political failure, he maintains our military was never defeated. “So, in his view the better question may be, did we win the war?”
What was the role of the Pentagon Papers? In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg released the classified Pentagon Papers detailing some of our government’s negative views of the war. The story was reported by New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan. Although Ellsberg was accused of stealing the papers, the charges were later dismissed. Sheehan told Ellsberg the Papers were never stolen in the first place. He claimed they were the property of the people of the United States who paid for them with their national treasure and their sons — so they had a legal right to them. Is that correct?
In all of the above instances, who was right? There are many different sides to consider. But when it comes to one statement in particular about the Vietnam War, most Americans tend to all agree. And that is to say America’s soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, doctors and nurses did an incredible job. They came through with a toughness and a determination that reflected their patriotism and their love for their country. Many enlisted voluntarily in order to help America when it was engaged in a complex situation.
Long-time Southeast Asia correspondent Robert Shaplen once wrote, “Vietnam, Vietnam … there are no sure answers.”
But once in the thick of things, there are those like myself who say, America’s fighting men knew the answers. They didn’t back down.
In-between combat missions fighting an often-hidden enemy, they took time to lighten up and relax. They polished their humor and laughed at their own expense. They good naturedly sang oldies but goodies off-key. Sometimes they wrote letters home. They told their families that they were doing just fine, even if they weren’t. Many did not consider themselves heroes, yet they carried out heroic deeds. They did America proud whether commissioned officers or regular fighting grunts on the ground, in the air or on the water. Monsoon rains? Heck, the water felt good. Eating C-Rations days at a time? It made commercial food taste that much better. Ants, spiders, scorpions? Swatting them away was all in a day’s work.
History tells the story of the Vietnam veteran in three acts. Initially after a tour of duty he/she came home and was not always welcomed. But then the mood of the nation slowly changed, and he/she was at last honored verbally for his/her sacrifices. Now the third rung on the ladder has been reached.
The nation officially honors him/her each year with Vietnam War Veterans Day on March 29. Our Vietnam veterans are worthy of thanks all year long, but on their special day of acknowledgement, perhaps, they deserve a warmer smile, a more hardy greeting and a stronger elbow or foot bump! (or at least a tougher fist bump).
It’s been said but not enough: Welcome Home, veteran. Thank you for your service.