VA Maryland Health Care System
Recognizing our Vietnam Veterans
Thank You and Welcome Home
Although the actual start date of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam seems to have been a rolling one—Green Berets served there as advisors long before the President authorized boots on the ground in 1965, and the first American was killed in Saigon in 1958—this year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. The VA Maryland Health Care System, along with nearly 9,000 organizations across the country, joined with the Department of Defense to honor our nation’s Vietnam Veterans in March to recognize the 50th Anniversary Commemoration.
Our nation’s 10-year presence in Vietnam fighting a war to contain the spread of communism began in earnest in1965, and the war exacted a high human cost. When Saigon fell in 1975, nearly 60,000 Americans had died, with another 1,626 missing in action. Estimates of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed in the conflict vary from more than a half a million to 3.1 million. Not to mention the 200,000 to 300,000 Cambodians and nearly 200,000 Laotians who also perished. More than 9 million U.S. military personnel served on active duty in Vietnam in that decade, with the majority being drafted.
Tickertape parades and welcome home celebrations did not greet returning service members from Vietnam. Often, they were forewarned to don civilian clothes before arriving home where tensions robbed them of gratitude for their service and kudos for a job well done. And they accomplished amazing things! Vietnam War era Veterans gave their all for the safety and well-being of others, a distinction that remains the hallmark of the service men and women of our nation, then and now.
Service men and woman may have left Vietnam, but as Veterans, they continue to carry vestiges of war inside them. Many struggle in civilian life more than 30 years later. Instead of praise and gratitude for their valor and service, they received criticism, a total lack of understanding about their invisible wounds, and little support from local communities. Employers refused to hire Veterans who served in Vietnam, prompting them to omit their service and sacrifice from their resumes. Many Vietnam Veterans report that they never felt appreciated for their service to our nation, despite having been drafted. Today, Vietnam War Veterans comprise the lion’s share of those served at the VA Maryland Health Care System.
President Obama has called the way America treated its Vietnam Veterans “a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened.” While we can’t change the past, we can shape present day and set the tone for the future. It’s a long-overdue opportunity to do what should have been done half a century ago: express our tremendous gratitude to the nine million men and women who served in our armed forces from 1955 to 1975. So on behalf of the VA Maryland Health Care System, I want to say to all our Vietnam era Veterans, “THANK YOU.” And two more simple—yet profound—words: WELCOME HOME!
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