Editor's Note: Jim Mesko is a Vietnam Veteran who is suffering from kidney failure and diabetes due to his exposure to Agent Orange. He is currently on a waiting list a kidney transplant. Many veterans of the conflict also suffer from this exposure to Agent Orange which has already claimed thousands of lives, one of the continuing ramifications from the war.
In a rare show of bipartisan support and cooperation members of Congress passed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act. By this action, Congress declared that every March 29 be recognized as the National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
The significance of that date goes back to 1973 when the last US combat troops were ordered out of South Vietnam. While some troops remained behind in support and administrative roles, this date was considered to be the official end to US combat involvement in Vietnam.
The bill was authored by Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana. The legislation represents the first federal statute that honors the courage and sacrifice of millions of veterans who served in Vietnam.
The bill was introduced into the Senate on Feb. 3. After the mandatory three readings, it was passed by unanimous consent by the Senate and sent to the House after being discharged out of committee. It passed the House by a voice vote on March 21, was sent to the President on March 23, and was officially signed by President Trump on March 28.
The Vietnam War divided this country back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. More than 58,000 Americans died in the war while more than 153,000 were wounded. Long term effects from Agent Orange, PTSD, drug addiction, and various other effects also took, and continue to take a toll of veterans of the conflict.
One of the more unfortunate results of the war was the blaming of it on the young soldiers by many people. Many veterans were made to feel guilty for only doing their duty and serving their country. Eventually, this would result in Americans realizing that the real culprits of the war were the politicians in Washington. Since Vietnam, Americans have embraced and supported their soldiers while holding the political leaders accountable for their actions.
While some veterans feel there is no need for a special day or that it would be better to focus more on problems facing veterans, there is still a positive appreciation by many.
"It is really great that Vietnam veterans are finally be recognized," said Bob Schwartz, executive director of the Military Aviation Preservation Society (MAPS) Museum in Green, an Air Force veteran of the war. "Many of the veterans are getting very old and it is great to be remembered."
Mark Ford, a Marine Corps radioman who served around Dong Ha, believes that "Vietnam veterans deserve the honor and recognition this provided for their service in an unpopular war. In my mind, Vietnam is the classic example of a war run by politicians who didn't allow the military to win it. It was a purely political war that needlessly resulted in the loss of over 58,000 young Americans."
Jim Supo, who served as an advisor to Vietnam forces with the US Navy, said "that while this honor is very nice, it is long overdue for Vietnam veterans, many who have passed away, but is does help heal the emotional wounds Vietnam veterans suffered for only doing their duty to their country."
There are numerous memorials to Vietnam veterans in the area. Perhaps the most impressive is the Vietnam Memorial Park in Clinton, which honors not only Vietnam veterans but veterans of all American's conflicts. At MAPS, there are numerous aircraft, displays and exhibits that honor the sacrifices made by Vietnam veterans.
There is a saying "Freedom is not free, but it is worth fighting for." The young men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country, protect our freedom and deserve our support and thanks for their sacrifices.