I was a pre-teen when the Vietnam conflict was beginning to escalate in the 1960s. In those days, Vietnam was a faraway place that occasionally showed up in the evening news. It didn’t become mainstream news until the late 1960s amid protests, greater public concern, increasing body counts, and advanced video technology that enabled us to see the war almost immediately.
As the 1960s wound to a close and broadcasting technology became more high-tech, Vietnam became more visible, more real, and in the news as protests continued to mount and Americans became more concerned over the numbers of young people headed off to what most considered an unnecessary conflict a world away.
Young people were being maimed and killed in alarming numbers.
On a more personal level, Vietnam got closer—especially when my stepbrother joined the U.S. Army and headed off to war in 1969. His stint was to have been a short one—two years in the Infantry. Vietnam remained a faraway place even after he left for Southeast Asia. Being young and completely oblivious to anything beyond the end of my nose, I gave Ken very little thought, figuring he’d be returning home in two years to get on with his life.
It just didn’t work out that way.
It was a chilly rainy fall afternoon when my parents received a Telegram indicating Ken had been badly hurt in Vietnam and would be coming home as soon as he could be airlifted out. It would be a while before he could. He’d become the victim of an exploding Claymore mine and lost his right leg below the knee. The Vietnam War became real. Weeks later, we drove over to the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. to see him and the war became closer.
Ken was on a large ward with other battle injured who were badly wounded—some expected to die. I will never forget the wounded and their shocked and bewildered faces. Men, primarily, with futures cut short and changed forever due to their wounds—both mentally and physically. In my young mind, it just didn’t seem fair.
Indeed, it wasn’t…
Regardless of your political beliefs, Vietnam was an unnecessary political war where a lot of fighting men and women not to mention innocent civilians were lost. In the end, former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara admitted the war was a huge mistake where we got involved in someone else’s conflict and at our own expense.
Our nation has a long history of interfering in other people’s business and at great cost. For me personally, it was what I witnessed firsthand at Walter Reed in 1970, young lives and dreams cut short via a political war we had no business engaging in.
I think of the bewildered faces and lost souls I saw in an Army hospital long ago and think of the senselessness of wars fought for anything outside of security, freedom, and democracy. It will never make sense to me. As my mother said a lifetime ago—”old politicians sending young people off to die.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned and called this the “military industrial complex…”
No one was listening…
We’re still there—more than a half-century later. We’re still sending young lives off to conflicts only to come home badly maimed with changed lives and to what end? What are we gaining with this same destructive pattern generations later? What doesn’t anyone stand to gain today from serving their country? So they can be forgotten like Vietnam Veterans who are living in the streets and in unspeakable conditions when they’ve long deserved better for serving their country? A pat on the back and “Thank You for your service…” alone doesn’t cut it. We must do more.
No Veteran should ever have to wonder where a warm meal and a comfortable bed are coming from in the wake of serving their country. We’re doing the same thing to Gulf War, Iraq and Afghan war Vets. They get promised and forgotten… It is appalling how badly they are taken advantage of and treated. Government needs to make sure all of their needs are taken care of and that they have a place to live and a meal to eat without having to sit at a freeway exit with a sign begging for help.
We are supposed to be better than this.