When U.S. military service members came back home from Vietnam, they often were shunned, spit on, discriminated against (for) getting work. At best they were ignored. For many years. Even by the veterans from World War II – our Greatest Generation.
The safest course of action was to take off the uniform, stash it in your sea bag or put it in a Dumpster, hunker down and pretend like you never even saw a war movie, let alone thought about serving. In short, most were not welcomed home or thanked for their service.
Decades passed and the social fabric of the nation changed. Many of those who screamed in protest: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Min, Ho Chi Min is gonna win” and applauded Hanoi Jane (Fonda) at some point began to separate their feelings about the Vietnam War into disagreement with political decisions and decision makers and their feelings about the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who were either drafted or volunteered to do what they thought their country wanted them to do in Southeast Asia. As time progressed, there was an apparent national guilt about making the common service member be the scapegoat for a war they did not cause, did not understand, but were willing to commit to support as a member of the U.S. armed forces.
What was society’s new response to American servicemen? To try to make amends for past insults by thanking veterans and service members for signing a blank check to give, if needed, their lives, their bodies, and their healthy minds to serve in the armed forces. Didn’t matter if they served in combat, stateside support missions or in a multitude of small wars. Today’s veterans receive a different and justified response from society.
As one who had eggs thrown at him while doing recruiting duty during the Vietnam War, the change in society’s view of servicemen was, and sometimes still is, hard to comprehend. As one whose mother was told at work that her son was a baby killer and they hoped I died, I could not grasp why her fellow newspaper reporters would take it out on her for my standing up for my country and doing what I thought was the right thing. At 96 years old, she still has mental scars from those verbal assaults.
“Thank you for your service.” How do you respond to that? I understand it is an attempt to say the right thing, to atone for past behavior, but is it appropriate?
I, for one, appreciate the gesture, the offers of special discounts for veterans, for recognition, as a way to make up for facing the crowds on college campus as draft-deferred students ruined my uniforms with their more than vocal assaults at a different time when military service was not appreciated.
“Thank you for your service.” I always smile and say, “thank you.”
At one point in my life, I wrote the nation a blank check. There was, and is, no expiration date on that check. Millions of young men and women have written that check.
Our nation needs to have the ability to cash those checks when necessary.
Thank you for appreciating my service.