It's often and widely said that our World War II generation was "The Greatest Generation," and it's an idiom that is difficult to argue with.
But when it comes to veterans, my opinion is that our Vietnam veterans are the greatest generation of vets this nation has ever produced.
And that's no mean feat considering how poorly this same nation treated those veterans--and still do to this day.
When I enlisted in the Air Force, the war in Vietnam had been over for only a few years. The men who trained me were all veterans from that war. Virtually everyone of them had done at least one tour overseas in places like U-Tapao and Korat, many of them having done far more than one tour. Others served in places like Guam, the Philippines, Okinawa, secret air bases in Cambodia and Laos, Korea and elsewhere.
And many of them told me of having watched pilots take off. . . and not return.
The stories were the same with my friends who'd enlisted in the Navy, Marines and Army. They were all trained by Vietnam veterans. To a man, we held these special warriors who trained us in the absolute highest esteem.
But back at home, a significant portion of the country held these brave men and women in anything but esteem. They cursed them and mocked them both while they were overseas and when they returned. At some airports, our returning warriors were actually spat upon or had food or drink thrown at them.
Those memories were still fresh--and bitter--in the minds of the men who trained me, and I have never forgotten. I vowed even back then, as a young E-2, that I would never, ever let someone who spits at or curses a soldier to his face go unchallenged.
I read some academic crap over this past Memorial Day weekend written by asshat egghead college professors stating that the "cursing, spitting and general mistreatment" of returning Vietnam veterans was largely, if not wholly, urban myth.
My fucking ass it is.
In my family, every generation of men has produced multiple veterans. I had a great uncle, who I actually knew, who was a World War I veteran. The stories he would tell you. . . Like many of my age, I had grandparents and great uncles who were World War II veterans. My father-in-law, God rest his soul and Semper Fi, was a Marine in the South Pacific. I have a picture of his memorial on the side of this blog. Cousins and uncles served in Korea. Two uncles far closer to my own age served in Vietnam--one as an infantryman in the Army, the other as a pilot and Captain in the Air Force.
I remember the old-time newsreels in which the great reporters and actors would rally together and urge our brave troops on to defeat the "heartless Nazis" and the "barbaric Japs" and in the Korean War, they were the "red menace" and the "commies" and the "red Chinese."
Our soldiers and sailors and airmen were heroes during those wars.
Then comes the 1960's era, hippies, drugs, and other such scourge that you'd find in a liberal enema such as was produced during the LBJ era. And with that, our soldiers fighting one of the most vicious wars in global history were no longer heroes.
They were baby killers. War mongers. Barely human and only worthy of contempt.
I will NOT soil the pages of this blog with images of that traitorous bitch, Jane Fonda, or of that turncoat bastard, John "Swift Boat" Kerry, but I will mention them and hold them as examples of everything that was wrong during that time frame.
Of course, the hippies and cowards/liberals loved them. Cowards like Kerry and Fonda give legitimacy to other cowards.
We all know the history of the protests, the civil unrest and everything else that occurred at the same time the Vietnam war was going on. And we all know how low-down lousy our troops were treated upon returning.
Yet, what did they do upon coming home? I'll tell you what they did.
Some married. Some went to college. Some re-enlisted and continued to serve their (ungrateful) nation. Almost all went to work. Some dropped out and went to live a recluse's life, others became social activists working to change things.
Yet, anytime a Vietnam vet had a social problem, it was blamed on the "psycho Vietnam killer vet" mentality. Funny, but I don't remember hearing that so much in regards to Korea or WWII or WWI vets. For the last three wars, a common denominator was that our troops were fighting Asian enemies of one sort or another and whose treatment of POWs was known to be the most barbaric and hellish kinds of atrocities imaginable.
But it was always the "Vietnam vet" who endured the scorn and scathing remarks about psycho vets. Sylvester Stallone lined his bank account with it courtesy of his bullshit Rambo movies. Hollywood, the same institution that scorned the Vietnam vet, quickly began cashing in with movies like The Deerhunter, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, The Boys From Company C, Uncommon Valor, First Blood and too many more to list.
The Vietnam vets stayed quiet. The ones that trained me and my buddies knew better.
Meanwhile, our vets put their lives together and got on with things. They raised families, built churches, started businesses. . . and above all else, they remained tight with each other. I've yet to see a "war" group that is any tighter than those men and women who served in Vietnam.
In 1991, the men and women of our armed forces gave the Vietnam vets the single greatest gift imaginable--an adoring and grateful nation. With a decisive, inarguable victory over Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the liberation of Kuwait, our returning warriors--some of whom were Vietnam vets themselves--came home to parades and yellow ribbons and adulation.
And most important of all: Gratitude.
That's all any soldier or sailor or airman who served in Vietnam ever wanted. He wanted the same "thanks" that our nation gave to those returning from Korea and Germany and the South Pacific and elsewhere.
And yet, these Vietnam veterans not only survived, but came back home and worked harder than ever. They know tough times, and $4/gallon ain't hard times. Not compared to what they endured.
This veteran learned a lot from you Vietnam heroes. Not just about the military and how to do my job in the manner it needed to be done in the Air Force. No, you taught me lessons about loyalty, steadfastness, honor, patriotism and doing the right thing no matter what anyone else may think. You taught me to honor my uniform, protect our nation's flag and to always stand for something. You taught me to always stick together and to have my fellow airman, sailor or soldier's back and that they would have mine.
All veterans know those lessons. I've tried hard to never forget them and to pass them along to successive generations.
Because when such lessons are taught by a group of soldiers and sailors and airmen who endured the scorn and ridicule and sometimes hatred of much of the nation and yet, continued to persevere, those lessons become platinum.
And this is why I think the Vietnam veterans are the greatest generation of veterans American, in all her glory, has ever produced.
To those who answered the call in Southeast Asia, this veteran salutes you and thanks you. You have my eternal respect, gratitude and admiration.