For many Americans, it is hard to believe the Vietnam War was 50 years ago. For Vietnam veterans, many still carry the scars — physically and emotionally — of their experiences during the two decade-long battle beginning in November 1955 and lasting until the fall of Saigon in April 1975.
The time the United States was involved in the Vietnam War was a difficult time for our country. While many cried out that the U.S. shouldn’t be involved, more than 58,000 Americans died during the war. The war divided families, friends and politicians. We will not debate the morality of the country’s involvement, but we need to note the tens of thousands of lives lost and the hundreds of thousands more who brought the war home with them.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has designated March 29, 2016, as the day for the department to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war, by expressing gratitude and support through numerous planned ceremonies across the nation.
To mark the day, organizations in Maryland and across the U.S. will host events to welcome home Vietnam-era veterans who feel they did not receive a warm welcome home upon their return from war 43 years ago. For some such events, Vietnam-era veterans are asked to proudly wear their uniforms, hats and medals.
Last May, local veterans gathered in on one of 20 “listening sessions” held around the state by Maryland Public Television in preparation for a three-hour program to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the war.
“This war was quite unique, when these soldiers came home they were told to change out of their uniforms in the airport bathrooms for fear of being called ‘baby killer’ or worse,” Ken Day, a MPT executive producer, said during a stop at American Legion Cecil Post No. 15 in Elkton. “It’s terrible; we asked them to go to war, but when they returned home we didn’t herald their return. The nation was never so divided except for perhaps the Civil War.”
The multi-part documentary will air over three days starting May 24 and may feature local voices.
Similarly, the Historical Society of Cecil County chose to remember the war in recent exhibitions and projects. In August 2014, local historians put out a call for oral histories and artifacts for a Vietnam remembrance program. Over the course of a year, the Vietnam Veteran’s Remembrance project documented the stories of local vets in more than 20 hours of video.
“This information will help future generations of high school students, genealogists and researchers understand the period as the time grows distant and memories dim,” Mike Dixon, project manager and local historian, explained at the time.
The Vietnam War was, no doubt, a controversial one, and the ripples that ran through protesters at home and veterans upon arriving home took years to settle. It was how veterans of the Vietnam War were negatively treated upon returning stateside that caused Americans to band together and ensure we would support our troops returning home from modern conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many veteran support programs have been created since the end of the Vietnam War, and many more have sprouted up during the time the U.S. soldiers have been deployed in the Middle East.
Still, much has to be done. Veterans don’t always have visible signs of battle, such as a lost limb due to an IED, or facial scars caused by shrapnel. The psychological effects of battle are direct causes of post-traumatic stress disorder, a leading cause of suicide among veterans. More needs to be done to help veterans suffering from the effects of war, both mental and physical, and that lies on us, the citizens whom our military men and women fight to defend.
We learned many lessons from Vietnam, and hopefully the greatest one is that while we may not agree with the reasoning behind sending soldiers to fight abroad, we need to welcome them back with open arms and offer them the support they need.
To our local Vietnam veterans, we salute you. We’re sorry America wasn’t always there for you when you returned home. But we’re here now.