Honoring all our warriors

The Best Times Digital Edition

Oct. 26, 2021

By Gerald Hay

Almost 50 years ago, the final American troops left South Vietnam on March 29, 1973 with scenes of chaos in Saigon, the capital, as the U.S. involvement in the war came to an end. Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, fell two years later, ending the war after 19 years, five months.

At the end of August, scenes of chaos again played out as the final American troops were airlifted from Kabul, ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. It became the nation’s longest war, spanning 19 years, 10 months.

There was no U.S. victory in either prolonged conflict. Soldiers from both wars came home to a divided nation. We must always separate the warrior from any war. We must welcome them home even if they returned months, years or decades ago.

Veterans Day is always a good day to honor all generations of veterans, including our new DD-214 (military discharge form) vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. It remains a special annual observance to salute all our local veterans from all wars and military service. They all have served with distinction and have given far too much.

Long ago, Korean War and Vietnam War soldiers, now aging veterans, were drafted or voluntarily answered our country’s call and went to war with experiences and memories of fear and danger, dreams of coming home, disappointments in their homecoming.

More than 5.7 million Americans served in the Korean War. Almost 37,000 soldiers died in the three-year conflict, often called “The Forgotten War” that ended in a truce that has now spanned 68 years.

Approximately 9 million military service members served during the Vietnam Era. More than 58,300 died in the war.

I was among the Vietnam War combat soldiers who returned amid a massive anti-war fervor. Some of us were called baby killers. Some of us were spit on. Some, perhaps many, felt deep betrayal that some, perhaps many, hid inside. It left a huge scar for years and decades to come for some, perhaps many, Vietnam veterans.

More than 3 million American military service members have served in the War on Terror in post-9/11/2001 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than half of them have had multiple deployments.

According the Department of Defense, 4,431 U.S. soldiers were killed in the two phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) claimed 2,455 American military lives, including the 13 soldiers killed by a suicide bomber at Kabul in the final days of the withdrawal.

The greatest tragedy of any war or military conflict, long or short, old or new, is the toll in lives that were lost, bodies that were damaged and minds that were impaired.

We all have different opinions about life and about war. The rightness or wrongness of war often becomes an issue and hot topic for second guessing, 20/20 hindsight and historical judgement.

Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are not to be caught up in any debate. They should be recognized for doing their duty and volunteering for military service. Their country called and they responded. They did what they were told to do. They went where they were told to go. They did their jobs. Many bravely fought in combat. Some died.

They and their families should always hold their heads high and always be thanked.

They are not alone. Veterans from all military services from World War II to the War on Terror, serving stateside or overseas, have protected our nation. They took the oath to defend our Constitution. They served under our flag. Many returned in caskets under our flag to sad homecomings.

In a nation of more than 333 million, there are only approximately 19 million veterans and members of the armed forces on active duty. That’s only about 6% of the population who chose to serve in our military, safeguard our nation, ensure our freedom and protect our rights.

Going home is so important to the men and women of our armed forces in any generation. Welcoming them home is equally important by a community and a grateful nation.

Our warriors – serving in past, present and future wars or in times of peace– deserve our deep respect and sincere appreciation on Veterans Day and every day. Please continue to honor aging veterans from bygone wars and to those who’ve just returned by simply saying: “Thank you for your service.”

That is all any of us ever wanted.