Tag Archive | "remembering Vietnam"

Remembering Vietnam and Its Veterans

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Recently, I received an email from a dear friend and brother in arms, Ed Honn who served our country in the Vietnam War.  It was a request to pledge to a cause that would establish a national holiday to honor Vietnam veterans for their sacrifices and service annually on March 29th.   At first, the idea of a holiday to honor Vietnam War veterans seemed a little odd to me, given the fact that we already have Veterans Day, a national holiday that honors all Americans who have served in our Armed Forces.

 

Yet, the Vietnam War was unique in the annals of American warfare.  Like the Korean War and, for that matter, every military conflict in which the United States has engaged since World War II, it was undeclared.  And, like the American Civil War, it deeply divided this nation.  But, unlike virtually every other war in American history, the Vietnam War and the soldiers who served in it did not have the support of the majority of the American people.

 

American involvement in Vietnam can be traced to the major global upheavals created in the wake of World War II.  Post-war Europe and Asia witnessed a veritable explosion in the growth of Communism.  In Europe, much of Eastern and Central Europe came under the control of the Soviet Union – forming what Winston Churchill termed the “Iron Curtain.”  In China, the People’s Liberation Army defeated the Republican Government of China in the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War – creating a Communist government on the mainland with the Nationalists fleeing to Taiwan.  In Korea, the victorious Allied Forces including the Soviet Union divided the country at the 38th parallel with the Communists assuming rule of the North.  The 1950 invasion of South Korea by the North resulted in America’s involvement in the United Nations police action to restore South Korea.

 

In the meantime, Vietnam, a part of what was known as French Indochina, had experienced its own political and military unrest.  Suffering under French colonial rule for nearly six decades, Vietnam was occupied by yet another country when the Japanese invaded it in 1940.  It was during this period of dual occupation that Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh established the Viet Minh, whose goal was to rid Vietnam of the French and Japanese occupiers.  Having gained support for its cause in northern Vietnam, the Viet Minh announced the establishment of an independent Vietnam with a new government dubbed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in September, 1945. This led to open warfare with the French for nearly a decade.  In May 1954, the Viet Minh defeated French troops in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and took control of what became North Vietnam, causing the French to fully withdraw from the region under the auspices of the Geneva Accords of 1954 and creating the independent countries of Laos, Cambodia, North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

 

When general elections, stipulated by these Accords and intended to reunite the country failed, South Vietnam held its own elections.  The ascendance of Ngo Dinh Diem to leadership of South Vietnam only exacerbated the tensions and disillusioned many South Vietnamese.  In 1960, communist sympathizers in South Vietnam formed the National Liberation Front (NLF), also known as the Viet Cong, to fight a guerilla war against the South Vietnamese.

 

Into this mess of international affairs and nation-building gone awry stepped the American soldier.  Beginning as military aid and training to the South Vietnamese, American involvement escalated as our government scrambled to keep yet another domino from falling into the hands of the Communist monolith.  And, the burden fell upon the American GI to save the world from Communism.

 

If American efforts to sustain the South Vietnamese regime were to succeed, young men were needed in increasing numbers to support the war effort.  At that time, conscription was still the law in the United States.  However, many young men – perceiving the futility of the American effort and fearful of subjection to the same fate as peers and acquaintances who suffered death or debilitating injury as a result of their service in Vietnam – sought deferments from the draft.  With education as a valid reason to avoid being drafted, male enrollments in colleges and universities exploded overnight.  When that loophole ultimately was closed, some young men sought conscientious objector status or fled the country to avoid service.

 

Yet, many – aware of the heroic service of their fathers or grandfathers in wars past – chose to put country first and proudly served in Vietnam.  They served, despite declining support at home, despite the insults of those who disparaged their service.  Some of them did not return alive, others were missing in action and never accounted for, still others came home with scars – physical and emotional – that shaped the remainder of their lives.

 

Four decades later, in a post-911 world, Americans have regained the respect and esteem in which they hold the members of our military, many of them true heroes.  Nonetheless, the heroes who served in Vietnam still retain their scars.  No parades were held in their honor.  Upon their arrivals home, they received little recognition and even less gratitude.

 

Even after the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with its wall listing the names of those who did not survive the conflict, many Vietnam vets felt little solace.  Like pieces of valuable China that were broken and repaired, their cracks were still evident.

 

For many veterans of that war like my friend Ed Honn, the healing process cannot be completed until they get the final recognition for their sacrifices and service with the establishment of March 29th as Vietnam Veterans Day on the calendar.

 

To all who read this,  please support their cause by adding your name when requested.

 

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