Bates: A welcome home to Vietnam vets

About the writer: A 47-year resident of Boring, Steve Bates is a life member of the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America and honorary life member of the Vietnam Veterans of America. He chairs the Committee on Memorials and Remembrance and serves as president of the Vietnam War Memorial Fund. He can be reached at vietnamwarmem@aol.com.

March 29 has been set aside as Vietnam War Veterans Day by presidential proclamation in 2012 and congressional action in 2017. In Oregon, the Legislature has declared March 30 Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

The first Vietnam Veterans Day was declared 50 years ago by President Richard Nixon. It celebrated the first anniversary of the day the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam in accordance with the Paris Peace Accords — March 29, 1973.

That first Vietnam War Veterans Day was ignored by most. There was no pomp or circumstance.

Most Vietnam veterans themselves were still confused about their treatment upon their return from serving their country with dignity and honor. I’ve been in several meetings over the years where Vietnam veterans shared their experiences.

One Vietnam veteran said he and others wanted to be invisible upon their return to avoid strife and confrontations. Many would not admit they served in the military, let alone Vietnam.

No one told them thank you. No one acknowledged their service. One vet put it this way: We were abandoned by the generals, we were abandoned by the politicians and we were abandoned by the public.

In another venue, a Vietnam veteran said he was called a baby killer. Another said he was attacked in the San Francisco airport because he was wearing his Air Force uniform, which was a requirement for free airline passage home.

Others described verbal abuse they received from family members and veterans of World War II and Korea. For them, the natural response was to be invisible and keep their service to themselves.

As time passed, the Vietnam veterans learned to identify each other. They started greeting themselves with a “welcome home.”

It’s important that we embrace that greeting for our Vietnam veterans. It is a way of acknowledging their service — and the poor treatment they received for doing their duty in an unpopular war.

It is shameful that we did not actively and collectively recognize our Vietnam veterans appropriately until the start of the 21st century, about 25 years after the end of the war.

The Vietnam War Memorial on the Oregon State Capitol grounds will be one of the few Vietnam memorials in the country to have this greeting engraved in granite. This will be Oregon’s monument to the heroes who gave their all in Vietnam and all who made it home in their military uniforms.

You can see the plans for the memorial on the website at www.ocvvm.com.

It will include a sculpture of a returning Vietnam veteran by Libby Carruth, a Portland based artist. This sculpture captures the frustration of the soldier who did his job and came home to an ungrateful nation.


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