On March 29, the Judd Kendall VFW recognized the 50th anniversary of withdrawing from Vietnam on National Vietnam War Veterans Day. Like many in my generation, I remember Vietnam from the nightly news. I did not serve, but I had relatives and friends that did.
I have several personal memories of that time. One was battle-hardened troops patrolling Detroit streets during that destructive and tragic riot. Another was when I visited Yakota Air Base in Japan during the war. There were upbeat soldiers outside. Inside, the mood was sober; their next stop was Vietnam.
Vietnam was an unpopular war for which many blamed our soldiers rather than their leaders. They were told not to wear uniforms in public to avoid numerous uncivil indignities. In June 1986, they were partially given their due when an estimated 500,000 people cheered them on in Chicago. I cried tears of joy and considerable sadness that it took so long for them to be recognized.
My most meaningful memory was touring Vietnam five years ago. There were two guides. One’s father fought for the South and was imprisoned by the victors. The other’s father was Viet Cong. They are now friends in a united nation. A big surprise was the reverence for the late Senator John McCain. McCain, who endured over 300 surgeries after years as a POW in the “Hanoi Hilton” prison, pushed for normal relations and aid to Vietnam in the 1990s. He forgave his former tormentors.
March 29 was a memorable day for Vietnam Veterans. Many came home with moral wounds, physical and emotional scars, and aching memories of fallen comrades. They may not express their sorrows, but they’re probably there. And, like their World War II and Korean War predecessors, they became valuable members of our society.
I thank them for their service!
Editor’s Note / A beautiful replica of the Vietnam Wall created for Naperville by Blooming Color will return to the Naperville Riverwalk the week of Veterans Day 2023. The impressive memorial with tributes for sacrifice will be placed near the Riverwalk Grand Pavilion from Nov. 10 through Nov. 13. Watch for complete details coming soon.