Veterans’ Day is next week and I am proud that it is now a national holiday. I have been humbled by the fact that my status as a veteran has meaning to the many vets I meet daily and am honored that they choose to share their stories.
These days I meet many Viet Nam veterans coming simply to talk. All express wonder and even concern that memories from 50 years ago are suddenly coming back. I share with them an encounter I had with my brother-in-law Dave, an Air Force veteran who served courageously in Viet Nam.
A while back, I was at a family gathering and approached my brother-in-law and noted that I was seeing an influx of Viet Nam veterans. He became quiet then said “Well, you go over there and you see some things. Then you come home and you throw yourself into your work and your family. But your kids grow up and eventually you retire.” He paused, then said “And stuff starts coming back to you.”
So it goes. Horrific experiences in the jungle 50+ years ago are coming back to the men and women who served in a very unpopular war that led to hurtful receptions at home. The atmosphere for returning vets was so hostile that many simply didn’t acknowledge that they were veterans. And they kept what they had seen and done to themselves.
But those memories don’t go away. And as these vets begin to have more time on their hands, the memories can flood back with a vengeance. Some of the Viet Nam vets do indeed need help but many more simply need an an opportunity to talk and be listened to without judgment and especially without the judgment they faced 50 years ago.
Some are still angry about the reception they received at that time. One vet told me of an encounter he’d had in a grocery store. He happened to be wearing a Viet Nam veteran hat and someone came up to him and said sincerely “Thank you for your service.” At the time he simply grunted a thanks but said to me “Where the fuck where those people 50 years ago? I didn’t get thanked. I just got spit on.”
So if you know any Viet Nam veterans, be sensitive to the fact that their nights may be more tortured then ever and that they may be flooded with memories and very much longing for inner peace. If they honor you with their stories, just listen.