To the Point for 5/12/05

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IT WAS TRULY AN HONOR to speak with veterans of the Vietnam War in last week’s issue of the Vevay Newspapers. It was the 30th anniversary of the end of the war, and the three men that I interviewed all brought unique and interesting perspectives to their view of the war.

One of the common threads that ran through all three interviews, however, is something that I believe needs to be addressed by our nation’s leaders.

In all three cases when discussing the adjustment to coming home after the war, Darrell Hansel, Richard Adams, and David Jan Rayles all expressed concerns about our soldiers who are currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like the soldiers of the Vietnam era, the soldiers who are fighting today halfway around the world will face many difficulties in adjusting to a “normal life” after spending a year or more in harm’s way.

Darrell Hansel made an interesting point when he spoke about how fast American soldiers leaving Vietnam got back home as opposed to veterans of previous wars.

After World War II, soldiers returned home by troop ship, and often is was a month between the time that they left combat and the time that they got back to their hometown. This time gave soldiers the opportunity to mentally remove themselves from the war that they just fought.

After leaving Vietnam, soldiers boarded airliners that whisked them back to this country in a matter of hours. There was time to catch some sleep on the plane, but very little time to come to grips with what a soldier had just experienced.

That brings us to today, and the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many of those soldiers who are in those countries at this very moment are professional soldiers, full time employees of Uncle Sam. They have been trained and prepared for what they are going through.

But others are members of reserve units that have been “called up” to active duty. They also are brave men and women, but they are leaving civilian jobs in order to go and serve and fight.

For the full time soldier, war and removing themselves from it will be hard enough; but how much harder will it be for the reservist to come back from war and jump right back into their work routine as if nothing has ever happened?

Will those reservists get the same opportunities to have professional help if they need it in order to adjust? I assume that they will, but there will also be pressure to get those soldiers back to their civilian jobs as soon as possible in order to calm business leaders who have been doing without employees for a year or more.

What we cannot allow to happen is for the returning soldier to come back to this country in silence.

Because many of the soldiers are reserve forces, there is the risk that they will simply be brought home and discharged back to reserve status and sent back into society.

They will also come home in shifts as others make their way there, so many times those brave men and women run the risk of getting “lost in the shuffle” to everyone except family and friends.

As a country we must not welcome our soldiers home with the sound of silence. We must extend our hand and our gratitude for the work that they have been doing; and continue to do for the sake of freedom.

Our Vietnam veterans came home to a country angry with political leaders, but it was the soldier who bore the brunt of that anger.

Those soldiers did what they were ordered to do and what they were trained to do, but a country outraged by political idleness projected those feelings onto men and women who had little to do with it.

I think a striking moment in my interviews last week came when Richard Adams spoke of airline officials in San Francisco walking off of the job rather than unload the baggage of American servicemen returning from the war.

But perhaps the most striking was the comment that all came home to the silence of their country. No parade. No celebration. No nothing.

Just silence.

Perhaps we can’t repair the damage of an attitude more than 30 years ago; but we can understand that today there are men and women who are in a country that they never dreamed of being in because national politicians have put them there.

This is no longer a war about weapons of mass destruction, but now more than two years into it, the feeling is that we are merely working to get out and save face.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

But political idiocy doesn’t transfer to the men and women who are sitting in a desert and following orders.

When they return home, no matter how you feel about the war, you need to think about that.

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One other note: The recent anniversaries of World War II and Vietnam should not overshadow the brave men and women who fought in the Korean War.

Those soldiers are sometimes forgotten between the pageantry of World War II and the conflict of Vietnam, but each and everyone of them deserves our thanks and appreciation for the job that they did.

Vevay Newspapers will soon be profiling some of those soldiers in a future article.