Letter to the Editor: Veterans Memorial Brings Up Memories
This is a reprint of a letter to the editor of the Noblesville Daily Ledger on April 26, 2000. The Ledger had encouraged readers to share their feelings and opinions about Vietnam’s legacy. This was this readers.
On April 30, 1975, South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam, signaling the end of a war that began in 1957. As one of the “middle of the road” baby boomers, I recall so vividly the surrender of South Vietnam to North Vietnam, and all that came before. My reaction as a 25-year old at that time was this: What was it all for?
Many Americans and the world were asking the same question.
The entire Vietnam War era permeated my passage from youth to adulthood. I saw classmates, and let’s face it – those who were not college bound – caught up in either the draft or illusions of the United States “obligation” in Vietnam.
While traveling on vacation with my parents from Indianapolis to Washington D. C. in 1965 on a passenger train – boarded at Union Station in Indianapolis – we were joined at the station by hundreds of young, soon-to be soldiers headed for…something I am sure they could not even imagine. I recall how they were joking, laughing, preparing for the “adventure” of war. We were all crammed into that space on the train, and some had to even sit on their suitcases, but as a 15-year old myself, I was smitten by so many “cute guys” in such a small space!
I also recall the constant headlines in The Ledger, with details of the latest battles and, of course, the fatalities, thousands and thousands of fatalities. I am loathe to admit that, after a time, those statistics came to mean less and less to most people. The news footage carried by the networks and the reporting of the deaths was so endless that we mostly became numb, I believe. The footage of the many bodies of our soldiers and the wounded being treated was something unforgettable. I remember reading about several Noblesville boys, former classmates whom I never really knew well, among the fatalities. The Ledger dutifully reported the sad news each time, but after all it was war, right?
In the meantime, the college campus demonstrations continued. It is difficult to believe in 2000 how much was tolerated in the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s – violence against students and protesters, I mean. The country seemed to erupt in violence, an underscore of youth being annihilated in Vietnam. But after all, it was war, right?
And then, of course, there was the government, the Pentagon Papers and the withholding of information from the American public. How odd it seems now, in 2000, now that we are better informed and much less naïve that we were so taken in by our purported obligation in Vietnam. Disgustingly, the return of our fighting force of young men was not heralded, but scorned. The American public wanted someone to blame for the fiasco, why not blamed the soldiers?
Thrown into the jungles of Vietnam to wreak havoc and satisfy the demands of decision makers whose primary concern was to save face back home in the USA – yes, they were truly to blame for the destruction of body and soul which ensued. Those soldiers who survived came home to be shunned, forgotten, and left on their own to fight their inner battles with mental anguish that we can only imagine. These veterans continue to fight the physical battles as well from the wounds and chemicals they endured while serving.
For me the poignant experience was visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1993. At first I was mesmerized by the beauty and simplicity of the structure. There are many thousands of names there, and one must go to the “big book” kept chained to a post to locate the name of a loved one or someone you knew. Directions are then specified to locate the person’s name on the memorial. It’s there you find it – just a name, very simply engraved.
I looked up the few names of those I remembered from many years ago in my youthful teens; young men who had perished there. I was then preparing to leave and I noticed an older man standing very still, in front of one of the many sections of the wall, extending his hand and gently touching a name. He stood there a long time, oblivious to anyone or anything else going on. I saw his shoulders begin to shake, his head dropped and the silent tears flowed. I had to turn away, as it touched me so deeply that I, too, began to cry. Not just for his son, but for all the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and other loved ones taken so needlessly and so horribly. Over 58,000 American lives…the legacy of the Vietnam War, for me and many others of my generation, is WHY? Many times war is inevitable and unavoidable, this was not one of those times. My ancestor, Samuel Howard, served as Patriot soldier during the Revolutionary War, a war that was necessary for the independence and the formation of a democratic republic. The jungles of Vietnam were not the appropriate venues for the sacrifice of the best of us – those who wear the uniform of the United States of America.
On March 29, 1973, the last United States combat troops left Vietnam. On March 29, 2012, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day. The 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.
The United States Department of Defense partners each year on this date with many veterans’ organizations, service clubs, and the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution to recognize and celebrate these brave men and women who served during the Vietnam War.