COMMENTARY: Vietnam was a war that defined America's post World War Two experience and forever left its mark on this country. Even today the effects of the Vietnam War still linger as the country deals with similar wars in the Middle East.
Editor's Note: Jim Mesko is a Vietnam War veteran who has written numerous books related to the conflict. He also is suffering from exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam and has been diagnosed with kidney failure, one of the effects caused by that chemical, which will eventually require him to be put on dialysis and need a kidney transplant. He taught at Green Middle School for 35 years, has been a reporter for the Suburbanite since 2007 and is a tour guide at the MAPS Air Museum.
Vietnam was a war that defined America's post World War II experience and forever left its mark on this country. Even today, the effects of the Vietnam War still linger as the country deals with similar wars in the Middle East.
The United States became involved in Vietnam following the French defeat in Indochina. The U.S. took over limited involvement to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam. Unfortunately, the South Vietnamese government proved incapable of dealing with the insurgency. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided to commit the full power of the U.S. to defeat the communist-led Viet Cong forces backed by North Vietnam.
At first, the war had the general support of the American people, but as it went relentlessly on, this support slowly diminished, fostered by a vocal anti-war coalition. Unfortunately, many people against the war focused their outrage on the military and the returning veterans, who became a focal point for the anti-war protest.
It became quite common for returning veterans to be hassled, spit on, called murderers and baby killers, and even physically assaulted in airports, bus stations, and other public places. Eventually, the military even ordered returning soldiers to travel in civilian clothes to avoid such incidents.
As the war went on, many returning veterans just put their uniforms away and tried to pick up where they had left of before going to Vietnam. That was something that would not be easy. Many suffered from PTSD and others came back with drug problems, especially in the latter stages of the war. The situation was not helped by Hollywood which often portrayed the Vietnam veteran as a criminal misfit, strung out on drugs. That is a far cry from typical hero of the World War II movies as exemplified by John Wayne.
For years, this feeling of disdain haunted the Vietnam veterans, who, in all fairness, only did what their country asked them to do. Their country had called them to serve, they had done so, and had been rewarded with derision and blame for serving their country.
But as country got away from the Vietnam era and became involved in other wars, Americans began to realize that the real culprit of the Vietnam War was not the soldier, sailor, airman, and marine who had done their duty, but the politicians in Washington D.C. It was these politicians who should have been held accountable, not the men and women of the military who only did as they had been ordered.
When US soldiers returned from the victory in "Desert Storm," they were welcomed and honored with parades and thanks for a job well done. At the same time, America slowly began to try to thank the Vietnam veterans who they had shunned decades before. It was too late for some, who had passed away, but at least it was a start.
Today, Americans don't turn their backs on the men and women who serve. Instead they honor these brave warriors and hold them in high esteem, while holding in disdain the politicians who send them into harms way.
That is the true legacy that came out of the suffering that the Vietnam veterans endured when they came home. This is their legacy, and though late in coming, is one that honors the men and women who served their country long ago halfway around the world. It is one they can be proud of.