National Vietnam War Veterans Day
From November 1, 1955 to May 7, 1975, some nine million American men and women served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam era. To give South Vietnam the chance to shape its own destiny and prevent the nation from falling to communist North Vietnam, American combat troops hit the ground in 1965. By the time the last U.S. combat units had left Vietnam on March 29, 1973, around 2.7 million Americans had served in defense of the Republic of Vietnam. One would also be remiss to forget the thousands of South Vietnamese soldiers who served in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and fought for 25 years in defense of their country. Around 200,000 South Vietnamese troops were killed and another 500,000 wounded over those long years of conflict. Among the Allies who stood up to help defend South Vietnam, Australia suffered over 500 dead and 2,400 wounded, South Korea lost 4,500 dead, Thailand lost 350 dead, and New Zealand lost 83 dead.
The tragedy of South Vietnam's fall to the communists in April 1975 was compounded even further due to the treatment many American veterans of the war received when they returned to the United States. Instead of returning to the home-front and receiving a hero's welcome, far too many Vietnam veterans were met with outright hostility and disrespected by certain segments of the public that opposed the war. As one veteran recalled of his homecoming, "On returning home from Vietnam, minus my right arm, I was accosted twice ... by individuals who inquired, 'Where did you lose your arm? Vietnam?' I replied, 'Yes.' The response was, 'Good. Serves you right.'" While those noble warriors who served in Vietnam did not receive the praise and acknowledgment they deserved then, we can continue to do everything in our power to make sure they get the welcome home they deserve now. If you ever see a Vietnam veteran out in public, thanking them for their service and saying the simple words, "welcome home," will very likely mean the world to them.
Like all Americans who have faced the dangers of the battlefield throughout history, those who served in Vietnam were the best of their generation, especially the 58,220 who gave the last full measure of devotion. Today, on National Vietnam War Veterans Day, we have another opportunity to make things right and honor this special group of warriors. They fought the good fight and their dedication to duty in a long and complicated conflict, which was made even more difficult by disunity on the American home front, must never be forgotten. One of the greatest honors of my life has been getting the chance to meet, interview, and share the stories of Vietnam veterans through This Is Why We Stand. I’m lucky to call many of those heroes my friends. To all who fought and bled to build a better world in Vietnam, I express my most profound gratitude to you on this much-deserved day. May God bless you all.
The Vietnam War, 1956-75 by Andrew Wiest.
Vietnam's Forgotten Army: Heroism and Betrayal in the ARVN by Andrew Wiest.