A belated welcome

Published 1:00 am Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On March 29, 1973, I was a young mother, age 21, with one child who was 17-months old and a second one one-month old. I doubt I read the newspaper that morning, and I probably was so busy with bottles and diapers that I missed the nightly new as well.

The stories on that day announced the “official” end of a war that was a reality during my teenage years. In bold letters, headlines in The New York Times and other papers across the country screamed about the last combat troops departing from Vietnam.

The Vietnam War was so much a part of life when I was in high school. It was the first time we got a real up-close look at war broadcast every night on the national news. People I knew went to Vietnam, and some of them did not come home alive. My friends and I waited anxiously to hear draft lottery numbers called, praying those closest to us would get a “good” number and be able to stay home.

We feared the draft, not because we were not patriotic, but because we did not want to lose friends or see them get hurt. Most of the kids I knew just wanted the war to be over, and so it was a relief when they declared its end.

Still, the ending did not bring many welcome home celebrations like those I heard happened at the end of World War II. Soldiers came back to family and friends who welcomed them. However, most of the country was too busy with other things to give much attention to veterans who fought in a war that was at best unpopular and had as the media said, “torn the country apart.”

More than 50,000 Americans died in that war and over 300,000 others came home physically injured. There were also those with deep psychological wounds. Vietnam hurt us all. It tore at the soul of this country and those who fought, most of them not at their own choosing, found themselves caught in that emotional crossfire when they got home.

Now years later, there are those asking us to remember and to let Vietnam Veterans know we care about them and about what happened to them when they served and when they returned home.

The United States Senate recently passed a resolution designating March 30 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. The declaration is an attempt to say to these veterans, “We honor your service and we recognize that we didn’t do such a great job expressing appreciation when you returned stateside after the war.”
I hope that the day is also an opportunity for us to decide that never again will veterans receive the treatment many of them received after Vietnam. And, maybe it will encourage us all to be peacemakers in hopes that we can change the world so wars like Vietnam cease forever.

On March 29, 1973, I was too involved with my own life to give much notice to news about those final troops leaving Vietnam. I was glad the war ended, but did not fully realize the scars it left on the hearts and lives of so many people, those who served and those closest to them.

Now in 2011, I am stopping to say, “Welcome home and thank you” to our Vietnam War Veterans. You served because your country sent you and we as citizens of that country, whether we supported the war or opposed it, should acknowledge and appreciate that service.

So, welcome home Vietnam veterans. You served with honor and we honor you.