Don’t Forget Vietnam Vets

It’s been many years since he served in the miserable jungles of Vietnam. He’s tried to forget the terrors of that war, but they still come back — in dreams, nightmares. He doesn’t talk about it.

Yet after all those years, when he was attending a memorial service for another veteran, that military training kicked right back in. When the colors were presented and taps played, he snapped to attention, hand raised in a formal military salute. He remains respectful to the country and the flag under which he fought. It brought tears to my eyes.

There is something special, something rather extraordinary about the military men and women who served during that hated war. Whether drafted or enlisted, Vietnam veterans are among those who saw some of the worst of war, and paid the highest price for it, over there and then again when their feet hit U.S. soil.

Many don’t talk about it but they should. They carry their grief inside, their pain buried, or so they thought. It comes rushing back in waves as another friend succumbs.

I realize we have days dedicated to honoring veterans but I think the Fourth of July is another opportunity to thank these men and women for what they did — serving without question, honoring the flag. West Virginia lost 732 soldiers to the Vietnam War during wartime. It would be difficult to determine how many more died after they came home — suffering the affects of their time in that fight. Some let the demons get to them. Others battled disease and illness.

The World War II veterans are nearly gone from this earth with the number of Korean War veterans dwindling, too. The veterans of the Middle East conflicts are still considered “the younger ones.” The Vietnam vets are inching closer to being called “the old guys” of war.

As a teenager, I hated waking up every day only to hear the latest number of casualties of the Vietnam War. In Washington, war protesters gathered on Dupont Circle where they threw rocks and bottles to show their “peaceful” side. As Vietnam veterans returned home in their uniforms, many were taunted, spat upon as they made their way through airports. All they wanted was to get home, alive.

Each day, the hometown newspaper ran the list of local war casualties. Clean-cut, fresh young faces stared back from the pages as their funeral arrangements were announced. Their names — Anderson to O’Brien, Schubert to Zelaski and the hundreds in between, are not forgotten. West Virginia gave so many of our young people to that war.

There were no heroes’ parades, no welcome home banners or yellow ribbons tied around big oak trees. It had to be a lonely time for them and their families.

Next week is the Fourth of July holiday. Have a picnic. Watch the fireworks. Celebrate the founding of our country. And don’t lose sight of those who have helped keep it locked safe and tight in the arms of freedom.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.

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