Mar 28, 2020
Our thoughts today are focused, understandably so, on the severe public health challenge we face and how it may affect our lives and families. Even so, for just a moment or two, please join me in turning your thoughts instead to another time, nearly half a century ago, and the brave men and women who served our country in Vietnam.
Tomorrow, March 29, is National Vietnam War Veterans Day, first recognized in a proclamation by President Obama in 2012, and now as provided by an act of Congress, signed into law by President Trump in 2017.
President Obama’s proclamation called “upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the Vietnam War.”
Because of the corona virus, none of those will be happening today.
The law signed by President Trump, however, includes March 29 among those days on which it is particularly appropriate to display the American flag. Even as we face the most serious public health and economic challenge of our lifetimes, many of us, certainly, can at least do that.
And the heroic Vietnam veterans among us just as certainly deserve that tribute, at least, and more.
Army and Marine infantrymen on the ground, Air Force and Navy pilots in the air, surgeons and nurses in trauma tents, the youngest of them just teenagers fresh from high school, are only 63 today. Which means there are countless still among us, some we may not even know served in that war because they’ve “self-quarantined” their thoughts and never mention the haunting memories of things they saw or did.
All veterans of all eras, and their families, deserve our deepest and most heartfelt appreciation. Even so, perhaps at least today, we can reach out to express an extra measure of our appreciation to those who fought in Vietnam, to make up not just for the lack of appreciation but the vilification they encountered from some when they returned.
In some ways, for sure, they’re no different from veterans of any other of America’s wars. Most of them were young and were drafted, many of them volunteered out of a sense of patriotism or duty to serve their country, and all of them had the courage to put on their nation’s uniform and fight a war, they were told, to stop the spread of Communism and keep other people free from genocide and enslavement.
If only they’d been allowed by politicians to do their jobs, over a million souls in South Vietnam and the killing fields of Cambodia wouldn’t have been slaughtered by their Communist oppressors after the last American troops withdrew from the Republic of South Vietnam on this date, 46 years ago today.
But the brave men and women who left their homes and families, followed orders, and fought there, were just as courageous, just as valiant, just as deserving of our respect and admiration as any soldiers who’ve put on the American uniform before or since. And they still are today.
That’s reason enough, at least one day a year, to say thank you.
But as a mother who shared my daughter’s pain of separation and concern when her U.S. Army infantryman husband was deployed to an undisclosed location in 2018 at the height of tensions with North Korea, I offer a final and sobering reminder of why we should thank the veterans of every war who come home.
Because some of them don’t come home. And some who did come home from Vietnam brought back wounds, physical or otherwise, they still carry today, half a century later.
But as veterans always say, the real heroes are the over 2,600 sons and daughters of Michigan – 18 from Midland County, twenty-nine from Bay — whose families’ days were interrupted by a dreaded knock on the door or a devastating frozen-in-time telegram that let them know their soldier would never be coming home.
For half a century, it’s been too late to say thank you to those who never returned. Corona virus or not, today if no other day, let’s heap their share of our appreciation, love, and respect on the Vietnam veterans who did.
Rep. Annette Glenn, R-Midland, chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military & Veterans Affairs. She is the daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law of veteran.