30 Days of Gratitude – Day #10, Hello Heroes, Goodbye Vietnam-Era Hate


Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, I am thankful for the freedoms we have in our country, and the role that the millions of veterans living and deceased have played in helping our country throughout its history. I have seen a very large swing in perceptions of our veterans during my lifetime, and knowing the high regard our soldiers get today is a great thing for me.

Day #10 – Honor for those who serve

When I was growing up, America was a bit of a mess: JFK was killed when my older brother was only a few weeks old, RFK and MLK were assassinated when I was only a couple of years old, and when I was in elementary school along with being introduced to Monty Python I watched the Watergate Hearings and the Fall of Saigon on TV, which along with many of my generation forever changed our views of government and the military.

For soldiers returning from Vietnam, there was no hero’s welcome – you were more likely to be treated like Sylvester Stallone early in Rambo … like a drifter, an outcast, an abomination. That image has never fully left my psyche. The draft and mandatory military service ended in 1973, but draft registration was reinitiated as one of the final (desperate) moves by Jimmy Carter in 1980, and remains in place today even in the all-volunteer army.

I am SO HAPPY that today when someone comes home from a deployment they are welcomed, and that it is not out of place for me to see someone in uniform and say ‘thank you for your service’ and while they might be humble, they accept it and it is clearly not the only time they hear it. At many events we celebrate veterans – and last year one of the marching bands used a theme on the 150th anniversary of a Civil War battle in their town as a theme and got a rousing ovation. This celebration of the men and women who put their lives on the line for our freedom and right NOT to have to serve? It is an amazing and awesome change in my lifetime.

But I have to be honest with a couple of things:
– The military life has never been something that I have wanted or aspired to … maybe it is residual post-Vietnam cynicism, I don’t know.
– While I definitely applaud our veterans and the military heroes who have been so important to our country … I do not believe that all military members are heroes, nor that the only heroes or people responsible for the growth and greatness of our country.

Bottom line – I am grateful, respectful and fully aware of the sacrifice of the millions of men and women who have enlisted and forever been changed by their time in the military, putting what they saw as the needs of the country first.

What are your thoughts on Veteran’s Day?

14 thoughts on “30 Days of Gratitude – Day #10, Hello Heroes, Goodbye Vietnam-Era Hate

    • I like how Harold referred to the military as a ‘tool’ for those in power. I think it is very much a necessary tool … but one I wish spent more time in the tool chest these last 25 years … 🙂 And yeah, the trillions we have dumped into Iraq alone could have done so many more amazing things at home …

  1. Thank you Mike.

    As a retired 20+ year member of the military, I remember the days of “Sailor’s and Dogs stay off the grass” signs in yards in Norfolk in 1975. I also agree that not all former or current military members are heroes, but the military is also no longer the final option — “son you can go in the military or go to jail” either. Most of the soldiers, sailors and marines of today’s military are well educated, well trained and are cognizant of the image they project to others – that was not always the case.

    We all need to remember is that most people in the military do not want to fight or go to war…because they are the one’s being put in harm’s way and run the risk of dying or injury.

    Military members are just people too, with dreams, goals, strengths and weaknesses, just like the person working next to you or living down the street.

    The only difference in my opinion between someone in the military and a civilian, (beyond training for different things), is the oath that they give, when they raise their right hand.

    I am adding it here, because many people there are many myths and misconceptions about what the oath is.

    The Oath of Enlistment

    “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

    and when I was promoted to a Commission Warrant Officer, I took this oath

    I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

    They are slightly different.

    The oath that all military members take is not long and drawn out, as the movies sometimes lead you to believe.

    I still remember the first time that I said it on June 23, 1975 – a long, long time ago in a very different world and what it mean to me and my family that morning as a 17 year old kid.

    Looking back 40 years later, would I take that oath again…absolutely. Taking that oath changed my life completely and gave me a chance to be something other than a clerk at Agway or working in the tannery.

    Like you Mike, I am glad things have changed to where the people who serve in the military are shown respect and are seen in a positive light, but at the same I do not want it to become that the military is seen as anything more than what it is. We do not need to put the military up on pedestals or move to hero worship of what they are doing and I do not believe that members who are currently in the military want that either.

    It is an honorable profession that allows some of us opportunities that we never would have had otherwise, but is a demanding mistress and can put people in harm’s way or demand the ultimate sacrifice.

    We have to remember that the military has been and will be a tool that our elected and non-elected politicians use to achieve certain ends (good and bad) and that is what the military will remain – a tool, no matter who is serving in the military.

    The pendulum continues to swing.

    Sorry for the soapbox Mike, I will stand down.

    • Thanks for the awesome comment … there is so much great stuff here. A couple:

      – “the military has been and will be a tool that our elected and non-elected politicians use to achieve certain ends” – that is completely true … and by design! We always hope that this ‘tool’ will be used for the good of the country and with the best interest of the lives of those serving in mind … but there are no guarantees.

      – “It is an honorable profession that allows some of us opportunities that we never would have had otherwise, but is a demanding mistress and can put people in harm’s way or demand the ultimate sacrifice.”

      Couldn’t have said it better! 🙂

  2. My husband was a Marine and when I hear about some of his experiences, my eyes tear up with pride that he did that, but also that so many others did (and do). I couldn’t have done it — the conditions, the risks, the hardships. And I’m so grateful for those who did and do! We both see lots of issues with military action these days, but I see that as executive decisions and can feel nothing but pride for those carrying out the orders, whether those orders are ones I agree with or not.

  3. I think that the attitude towards the military in this country has some similarities to the attitude towards doctors: we always assume we know what is going on. There will always be good and bad eggs. I see people like my husband, who volunteered for a hard life of helping people, often having to fight the system, having people think that we will just be “fine” (love when they say that with regards to money), and having to go to work everyday wishing he could be home with his wife when it is time for dinner but knowing that there is no way that he will be leaving his patients. And I see others who just check out as soon as possible.
    I guess what I am saying is that I respect that there is a great deal about the military situation that I do not understand (as I did not choose it, I am not in it, much like others are not in my situation), I respect that there are heroes as well as crooks. But at the end of the day, I just hope that the good prevails. And I will do my best to support those that I can.

    • I agree and think that is true for many professions – pretty much ALL of them, really, but in particular those in a ‘service’ type of industry (I include teachers, police/fire, etc in that).

      And then it gets back to judgment and acceptance … we are not anyone but ourselves, so we should try to avoid passing judgment on others when we cannot know their lives.

  4. I’m so glad Susie jumped in here to comment–she beat me to it.

    I’m older than you, Mike, and I remember vividly being in the 5th grade in 1963, when Sister Superior announced over the PA that JFK had died.
    The world as I knew it changed right then and there. It was like what 9/11 has become for our kids’ generation.

    We had Vietnam in the dining room every night. Walker Cronkite and “in living color” shared the horrors of the war with us while we ate. I remember watching young men go off to Vietnam and their haunted empty shells coming back home. Those vets did not get what they deserved from us–they certainly didn’t deserve what they got over there. (ooh, good phrase)

    On Veterans Day, I remember watching on TV as the Vietnam vets arrived back to boos and jeers. That saddens and embarrasses me to this day–that we judged them without knowing what they had seen or done or felt. I also remember my father-in-law’s staunch devotion to, and belief in, that being a Marine had made him a better man.

    Those who stand guard on that wall at night, and allow us the freedom to sleep through the night, deserve our thanks, our support and our understanding that they are human, too.

    • I am a bit confused … because I pretty much agree with everything you say, and it echoes much of what I said. And yet I got a bit of a tone that I was being chastised or corrected … am I wrong in that read?

      • OH NO, I’m sorry, I agree with EVERYTHING you said!

        And……see?………just look how I reacted to mention of the Vietnam war……..
        how it affected and still affects me! ……..it makes me sad? defensive? uncomfortable?
        It takes me back to a time when, b/c I was a kid, my thoughts were to be kept quiet. I didn’t question what was going on there, and I didn’t understand it, I just saw the effects, night after night, of my parents watching Walter and the war….I watched them cry as sons of their friends, friends of my brothers and sister, and some of our cousins came home in caskets. I didn’t understand.
        WWII was a great war and my dad, his friends, his generation were always so proud of serving their country, I didn’t understand why WE (as a country?) didn’t feel that way about this war that we watched every night.
        I fly a LOT, and whenever I see military members (personnel seems such a cold word) I try to say “thank you for your service” or at least smile and acknowledge them. Am I trying to make up for the fact that “WE” didn’t do that to the soldiers from that war? maybe?
        But then again, I try to acknowledge everyone I encounter, to let him know that I see him and that he isn’t invisible, That is a big part of who I am and what makes me ME.

      • Thanks so much for the reply! Whew! I agree that the impact of Vietnam lingers … I love seeing the proud but slightly uncomfortable look on a kid’s face when I thank them for their service.

        “I try to acknowledge everyone I encounter, to let him know that I see him and that he isn’t invisible”

        I definitely do this … I realize how invisible I felt in spite of my obesity – ironic, but I have found that as a result I walk around head-up with a smile and acknowledge and greet everyone, and very often people really ‘needed that’ and you can just tell.

  5. Pingback: 30 Days of Gratitude Revisited | Running Around the Bend

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