My views regarding Vietnam have changed considerably since I came home from the war 50 years ago. Before I left for Vietnam I felt the U.S. was doing the right thing in helping our South Vietnamese allies. I didn’t volunteer for Vietnam and like most soldiers, I wasn’t real excited about going to war and getting shot at. It basically boiled down to following a sworn oath. We received our orders for Vietnam and whether we liked it or not, we reported for duty. I went there with the determination to do the best job I could do.
When I got home and separated from the Army I quickly became very discouraged at the turmoil and unrest over the war. The tragic shootings at Kent State occurred just one month after I returned home. It was a very confusing time for me. At times, the war protests seemed to be directed not only at our country’s leaders, but also at our soldiers. How could this be? Don’t these people understand that citizen soldiers don’t make policy? Don’t they understand that soldiers are the last people who want to go to war?
As I slowly blended back into civilian life, I learned to limit my comments or thoughts about the war in Vietnam to only those I trusted. And even then, I didn’t elaborate much. Outside that realm I said very, very little. The topic had become so unpopular in the United States that some folks looked at returning veterans with disdain. I didn’t receive any direct abuse, but other than immediate family, there was no welcome home ceremony either. Sadly, it has taken many, many years for our country to recognize the sacrifices made by our soldiers in Vietnam and treat them with honor. There are still a few in our generation who look upon Vietnam vets as dupes, something I’ve never fully understood. Happily, they seem to be a dwindling minority. Perhaps they have remembered that most of us were in our late teens or early 20’s at the time and not very politically astute.
Historians and analysts will debate for decades on whether U.S. leaders miscalculated getting us into the war or mismanaged it once we were there. Either way, I believe it was a colossal mistake. In my opinion, Lyndon B. Johnson defiled the Office of the President.
Despite the blunders made by our nations political and military leaders and the growing unpopularity of the war, it should always be remembered that the vast majority of the 2.59 million soldiers who served in Vietnam, did so with honor. The war took a heavy toll on our country in general and our generation in particular. Never forget the 58,169 soldiers who lost their lives in service to our country nor the 304,000 who were injured, some permanently.
In closing, I would like to say that I hold our servicemen and women of all branches of the military service in the highest regard, particularly those who fell in the line of duty. I dedicate these pages to four high school classmates (San Luis Obispo High School Class of 1965) who died in Vietnam:
Joseph Thomas Martin, panel 22E/15, KIA June 19, 1967
Michael Robert Miner, panel 25E/105, KIA September 4, 1967
Edward August Schultz, panel 42E/72, KIA March 4, 1968
Jon Michael Young, panel 48E/14, KIA April 4, 1968