Dear Vietnam Veterans:
I as a teenager in the 60s I was horrified at the way we, as a country, treated you. Years later, as an adult, when I heard someone putting down Vietnam veterans, something snapped; I knew that none of you would take any more abuse from anyone, anytime, about serving your country, as long as I was around to intervene. Though not verbal politically, I had the opportunity a couple of times to say firmly, "The politics don't matter now and they didn't matter then. We must not, cannot, and I will not listen to anyone put down any veteran, especially from Vietnam. I don't care if the war was right or wrong. They served and died, and they suffered terrible abuse and raping of their wounded souls. People ignored their wounded bodies and blamed them for their wounds, and for the wounds to their own minds." Then my friends' kids grew up and joined the Armed Forces, and here we are in wars across the world again. When the first political discussions began, I listened carefully for any comments about the troops. But I never had to utter one word in their defense; it seems most of the people feel as I do. I passed a large intersection the other day. There was one huge, brightly lit flag, and then about a hundred smaller ones clustered around it. It was a good feeling, but every time I see an outpouring of love like that for these troops, I grieve because we didn't do it for you. I asked a Vietnam vet how he felt when this country tied millions of yellow ribbons and held rallies of support and wore the Eagle proudly in a place of honor across jackets instead of wearing the flag as jeans patches to sit on. I asked if he felt cheated that Desert Storm troops are getting what he, and all of you, too, deserved and did not receive. . "No," he said, but that he had known for a long time that he would not and could not allow these troops to be treated as he had been, even if he personally had to stand between them and the crowds. They would not be spat upon if he were there. And, oh yes, he would be there! But, no defense of them had been necessary. As he paused, I asked: "...As if the country were ashamed and trying to make amends?" "Yes," he replied. Dear Vietnam vets, and all who have fought for our freedom and who received less than the proper welcome home - I have to tell you that for me and for millions of others, every yellow ribbon tied, every flag flown, every prayer said, has been for you, too. And every parade, and homecoming, every fireworks display, every celebration on the Fourth of July and on Veterans Day this year and every year, is for you, too.
Please forgive us. It will never happen again.
Copyright 1991 Dawn McRae
The late Dawn McRae's Op-ed was first published in 1991 in her mother Bettye Martin-McRae's weekly SRN column, "View From the Hill," which appeared several years in this space. It is republished in memory of "Doctor Dawn," and for all those who serve and have served in our nation's defense.