Honoring veterans who marched before and after me

I do appreciate the occasional “Thank you” for having served in Vietnam. But those platitudes are often muted, since I was an unwilling participant in that war. Drafted you see, and at the age of 19, war was the last thing I wanted to have preoccupy my mind. For whatever reason, I passed on the chance to attend college, which would have provided a valid deferment from the 1969 draft lottery.

That war had begun to sour following the Tet Offensive in 1968. It had become completely obvious to most, including news anchor Walter Cronkite, that the Vietnam war had become a terrible waste of America’s youth, money and soul. The casualties I came to personally know, were decades after the war, when PTSD pushed them to squeeze the trigger —one last time— on themselves.

“We’ve been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders… both in Vietnam and Washington to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. For it seems now more certain than ever, that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past.”

Walter Cronkite – CBS Evening News – February 27, 1968

And then there was the catastrophic environmental legacy we left behind, from years of spraying large swaths of Southeast Asia with “Rainbow Herbicides” – of which Agent Orange (AO) became the most infamous. Legacy pollution marked by birth defects, not only in the Vietnamese, but also with returning GI’s to their families, including Spina bifida.

Vietnam veterans struggled for years, actually decades, to be heard and believed, concerning their very real health problems. And as far as war reparations for Vietnam, there was no Marshall Plan to help them rebuild, as there was following World War Two.

“The Children of Agent Orange” Pro Publica story – December 16, 2016

It was alarming when we learned that AO legacy not only extended to veteran’s children, but could also affect their grandchildren. “The gift that keeps on giving,” as the saying goes. The list of medical harms in veterans from AO continues to grow, five decades after the war, while the legacy of PTSD suicides has exploded in GI populations who served more recently in our nation’s “forever wars.”

“When compared to non-veterans children in the registry, the children of Vietnam veterans have shown consistent increases in learning, attention and behavioral disorders; all types of skin disorders; problems with tooth development; allergic conditions and asthma; immune system disorders including chronic infections; some childhood cancers and endocrine problems including thyroid disorders and childhood diabetes.”

Betty Mekdeci, Executive Director / Agent Orange and Birth Defects / BirthDefects.org

PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The evening news recently said that more veterans have died by their own hand, than were killed in recent wars. Repeated deployments created unfathomable stress and strain on both them and their families, as Afghanistan stole Vietnam’s bragging rights to become our nation’s longest war. Military gains were sporadic, limited and never final, like Vietnam, leaving nagging questions about a sacrifice of amazing proportions.

On this Veterans Day 2021, surrounding the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month moment of silence, I would like to honor by remembering, those veterans who marched before and after me. The draftees and the volunteers.

“Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance.”
Remembering the sacrifices of soldiers and their families. In a sense, they’re all veterans.
Bob

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