These comments and observations come from a member of the United States Armed Forces who served in Vietnam from 1969-1970. While I was not assigned to a unit fighting in the jungles and rice paddies of that nation trying to preserve its freedom and independence, I was in harm’s way from enemy rockets and guerilla attacks raining on my locations many times. I saw firsthand the efforts of American forces to subdue the enemy, whether it was the North Vietnamese Army or the Viet Cong, and how we did so just about every time we had contact with them. Like many others, I am of the opinion it was the politicians, the news media back in the States and the misguided youth of the ‘60s and ‘70s who caused the war to be lost.
Like many of you when I returned to the world, I faced name calling, shunning and other forms of degradation for my service and wearing of the uniform of our country. I remember traveling from Travis AFB to the airport in San Francisco and having to duck down below the window of the vehicle, so agitators along the streets would not know a service member was there. I had the pain. I understand the pain my fellow servicemen and women endured during those times. Today, I weep silently for all of us and what we went through and should not have had to endure because we served our nation, our flag and our freedom.
On March 30, 2015, the Governor of Georgia inaugurated a program to recognize and to thank Georgia’s veterans who served our nation during the Vietnam War era, to say thank you to all of us for our service by issuing Certificates of Honor to those who served during this period of war in our nation’s history, to welcome us home, as we had not been welcomed when we came back so many years ago. The State of Georgia partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Commemorations to recognize all the servicemen and women who served from 1954-1975, when the United States had troops in Vietnam as advisors and members of full units fighting a Communist insurgency to take over a free and independent nation.
Why are these certificates being issued to all who served during this period of time and not just those who served with boots on the ground, as crew members of aircraft and naval vessels that directly supported the troops on the ground?
Because everyone who served during that period had some role in fighting or supporting those who were in direct combat with the Vietnamese enemy! Some of us who were there argue, if you were not there with boots on the ground you should not be eligible to receive a certificate. Oh, how soon we may forget our country had military commitments around the world where the firing up of hostilities at any one of them could have caused our efforts in Vietnam to be seriously jeopardized in a manner much worse than they ultimately were. We were and still are technically at war with North Korea. We were protecting the nations of Europe against potential Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact aggression and we had other military obligations that if not upheld would have had catastrophic consequences.
Those of us who served in country in Vietnam were not the only servicemen and women who were treated like scum, spat upon, called baby killers and the recipients of other humiliations. From personal observation I am aware all who wore the uniform of our nation were subjected to these degradations. Now, fifty years have passed and the citizens of the State of Georgia and our nation are trying to say “thank you” and “welcome home,” which should have happened back then.
While I am disappointed in the way many of my fellow countrymen and women treated me and my fellow members of the armed forces who served during those turbulent times, I try not to be bitter and unaccepting of those today who are trying to make amends. The citizens or our country have learned much during Desert Storm and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars about how to protest against policies of political leaders, while still supporting the servicemen and women who follow orders and defend us from who would destroy us and our way of life and freedom. Today, our fellow countrymen and women are doing what should have been done by their ancestors, fifty years ago.
So, I say to those who would refuse to accept a Certificate of Honor from the State of Georgia because they are being presented to Vietnam War Era veterans, please reconsider your position. Those who were there were treated badly when we came home, we were treated badly by the politicians in Washington who did not and would not support us like they should have back in the day. Now, it is fifty years later and calmer minds with clearer thinking are doing their best to correct a terrible wrong done to all of us. I encourage you to accept the thanks of a grateful state and nation. Let our state and nation say thank you and welcome home. Accept the fact our fellow citizens have determined people were wrong back then and need to make those wrongs right, NOW.
Thank you for your service to our nation. Thank you for giving your treasure in your service to our nation. Thank you for doing your part to keep our country free and independent. May your God bless all of us and our nation.
About the Author
Dan Holtz is the GDVS Assistant Commissioner for Administration, Health & Memorials. He is a retired Air Force Colonel who served in Vietnam.