I am a veteran who went to Vietnam. What did I do there? Well, I was a disc-jockey and loved every damn minute of it. Before my thirteen months in what was then South Vietnam I was assigned to 13th Psychological Ops at Ft. Bragg NC. I spent much time there picking up pine cones, white washing rocks and other neat military things. Before that I took my basic training at Ft. Dix NJ. There I improved my posture, learned how to fire a rifle and really wished I could be a civilian again.
I was in my early thirties before I realized that I owed to the US Army an enormous debt. They had taken a very callow twenty year old self-absorbed brat and helped him gain a maturity and self confidence that grows to this day. Did I mention a regard for others regardless of background and first impression? That too.
Now I was very lucky. Nearby to Armed Forces Radio and TV operations in Saigon (Now Ho Chi Minh City because of our “no win” policy) was a kind of nursing facility for GI’s who hadn’t been fortunate. I quickly learned that bullet and shrapnel wounds are always of the leg and arm. There were young men, some younger than me, who had been badly disfigured, paralyzed and physically shattered in too many ways to count. And I was the all-night dj spinning the hits. I contented myself that orders is orders and I was following mine.
When I returned home I did not have the bad experiences many others did. I chose to take a fancy passenger train from San Francisco to Chicago and in the club car couldn’t buy a drink. The first meal I had in the dining car was on the railroad and fellow diners couldn’t have been nicer. Returning to hometown Buffalo I encountered a very pleasant homecoming. This was in 1967, the war was not yet unpopular.
I worked in the news dept of WYSL in Buffalo and soon helped cover the growing war protests on the University of Buffalo campus. I had my first view of the so-called ’60’s left and young as I was got it right about them: these folks were out to turn things upside down and my adult life was not going to be as I had previously envisioned. These folks were indeed all about change. The slow achievements of centuries, the blood and treasure spent to overthrow tyranny, civil behavior; all of these meant nothing to them. They are with us to this day.
They’ve matured a bit. They too now say thanks to veterans.
But as one who lives in the “actions speak more loudly” part of the world I have to say talk is cheap.
Bill Clinton, a draft dodger, was twice elected over honored World War II combat vets. That fellow Red State mavens could not have happened before the ’60’s. It was very powerful evidence that something had changed in American life. Bush II did beat medal-throwing John Kerry, but was reviled for missing some reserve meetings. The fact he successfully took many months of jet fighter training rarely mentioned.
John McCain’s incredible bravery wasn’t enough. Fifty-three per cent of voters thought a man with no military experience would be a better commander-in-chief than one who had a great deal of experience and had acquitted himself most admirably under most difficult and trying conditions.
Richard Blumenthal thought Vietnam on one’s resume was in the era of Thank you for your service would be desirable, even laudable. Problem was he hadn’t gone. No problem for a Blue State: he is now US Senator-elect from Connecticut. Think about that. What once would have immediately disqualified you and quite rightly so no longer does. We now will have this locked-molar grinning lefty for six years.
So, perhaps impolitely, when I am thanked for service I ask who they voted for because talk is cheap.