By Lee Hughes
Staff Reporter 

Vietnam veterans: Welcome home

Write to the Point

 

Last updated 6/13/2019 at 2:40pm



This is for all you civilians out there. Yes, you, who have never served in the defense and protection of these United States.

You see, all veterans make a sacrifice. All serve with the explicit understanding that at any time they may be called upon to protect and defend this great country of ours from enemies foreign and domestic, as the oath of enlistment reads.

And in doing so they give something up. In a word, they give up their freedom.

Because serving in the armed forces is not a democracy, but by necessity a top-down, hierarchical, authoritarian system wherein those who enlist or are commissioned agree to serve their country for a specific period of time, usually measured in years, under orders that are issued from time to time by their superiors.

This chain of command does not happen organically.

Service members fall under not just one rule of law, but two. Like everyone, members of the armed forces are subject to U.S. laws. But they are also subject to the Universal Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ.

In a nutshell, the UCMJ is the military law that requires service members to take and accept lawful orders, and obey them.

I can’t speak for the other branches, but one of the first things a Marine Corps recruit is taught when they arrive at boot camp in the dark of night, standing on the yellow footprints, is the basics of the UCMJ.

Most service members survive their military service unscathed, receive their discharge and move on with their lives proud to have served.

When I was discharged, I was not only surprised, but strangely moved when, in my final formation as an active duty member of the U.S. armed forces, an officer stepped before me, shook my hand and said, “Thank you for your service.”

It had never occurred to me that someone might thank me for fulfilling my duty.

As the Cheney Free Press has been reporting these past weeks leading up to the arrival of The Moving Wall, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C., those who returned from the war in Southeast Asia received far less than the welcome past returning veterans had received, particularly those who served in a combat zone.


Instead, they were vilified, spat upon, called names and generally made to feel like they had done something wrong, when in fact they were generally just following orders as prescribed under the UCMJ.

Many carried — still carry —deep-seated feelings that they didn’t need to be reminded of when they were discharged: survivor’s guilt. Regret. Sorrow and deep sadness.

Anger.

These men placed themselves — or were conscripted — under military law, giving up a part of their freedom in the service of their country.

One Vietnam vet shared a story with me recently in which another veteran had told him “welcome home.” But that wasn’t good enough, he told me, because most veterans get it, at least insomuch as every veteran has the shared experience of life under military law.


Instead, he yearned for civilians to welcome him home — the people for whom he had served to ostensibly help preserve their freedom. He wasn’t expecting a ticker tape parade, but a simple, genuine gesture of appreciation. Certainly not the caustic welcome that many Vietnam veterans received.

The Moving Wall arrives in Medical Lake on Thursday, June 13. An opening ceremony is scheduled that evening at 6 p.m., followed by another on Saturday at noon. It may already be there as you read this. The exhibit will be staffed with helpful volunteers; veteran’s service organizations will be on-hand to help veterans with individual needs.

The traveling monument will open for viewing 24 hours a day until one final closing ceremony on Sunday at 6 p.m.

There are 58,318 names on the Wall, United States citizens who surrendered their freedom in the defense of the United States and were subsequently sent to the front lines of a war that arguably turned into a quagmire.

Those 58,318 men — and eight women — never returned home. Their names are listed in order of death beginning in 1955 and ending in 1975.

I encourage you to visit The Moving Wall this weekend. Consider that sea of names, and then look at your reflection in the black granite panels that bear those names. Those young men gave up a part of their freedom, and eventually their lives, on foreign soil so that you could live in relative peace and freedom here in these United States.

Ponder all those names of young people whose lives were cut short in your defense. Take your time. Think about the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, wives and kids they left behind. Lives, relationships and futures cut short.

Then take a look around. And if the urge overtakes you and you see a guy with gray hair and, perhaps, some indication that he is a Vietnam veteran, and if the moment seems right and appropriate, walk up to him and ask if you can shake his hand.

And if he accepts, look him in the eye and tell him, “Thank you. Welcome home.”

Lee Hughes can be reached at lee@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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