A Memorial Day history lesson about the Vietnam War

by midlifecrisisqueen on May 24, 2013

Just got back into town after a short trip up to South Dakota to experience Mt. Rushmore personally… overall a very worthwhile experience!

Here in the U.S., most of us are about to celebrate Memorial Day, a holiday which meant very little to me until I married a Vietnam era veteran.  I am afraid most young Americans have no understanding of what happened to those in their late teens and twenties during the Vietnam War.

If you asked them, most probably would not know that everyone fought our wars back then, not just those who volunteered.

We boomers remember well “the lottery” or annual drawing of birthday dates which determined who might be sent first to Vietnam, and eventually who might die or be injured there.  This applied only to men.  Their only options were to go fight, try for conscientious objector status, or go hide in Canada if their number came up and they did not wish to risk dying in Vietnam.

Many of the men I have known throughout my life were scarred permanently by their Vietnam service.  One still carries around shrapnel from being shot in the back and left for dead by the Viet Cong.  Another was a medic who broke his back when he dove out of a helicopter that was about to blow up.  And I wonder how many families have been destroyed by military service, either by members never coming back home, or coming home devastated or traumatized.

Most of these men experience varying levels of PTSD to this day.  Far too many ended up mentally ill and homeless after the war.  Unlike most veterans today, many were spat upon and called “baby killer” when they returned home.  And remember most were drafted into the military.

My husband Mike volunteered for the Navy during the Vietnam War.  He had always loved the sea and wanted to experience life on the Pacific, which he did.  He suffers today from exposures to numerous toxic chemicals during his years of service to our country, with severe long-term disabilities, which the VA takes no responsibility for.

Mike suffers from a severe case of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) everyday, and has suffered for over 20 years now. He is caught between VA coverage of veterans exposed to Agent Orange, because he received exposure  just off the shore of Vietnam, and coverage for CFS, which is only acceptable as a result of Gulf War exposures.  He and his Vietnam veteran friends will never forget being disrespected upon their return home.

For those in Northern Colorado this Memorial Day weekend, please consider a trip out to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, an 80 percent replica of the iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

This wall is located in the Veterans Plaza of Northern Colorado at Spring Canyon Community Park in Fort Collins this weekend, where volunteers will be reading the names of over 50,000 American soldiers who died fighting in the Vietnam War.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellen Dolgen May 24, 2013 at 11:59 am

Thank you so much for this great reminder of the sacrifices so many have made for us, Laura. You’re right in that many take for granted everything so many gave up for us – and Memorial day is the perfect time to really stop and remember – and to give thanks – to those who fought for us.

midlifecrisisqueen May 24, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Yes Ellen, It is hard for me to imagine the American people sitting still for a “draft” these days, and I’m sure most kids have no idea what that would have been like!

Mark Taylor May 29, 2013 at 11:02 am

I remember in high school… seeing those images on TV every night and thinking “this is what I have to look forward to”. Eventually I enlisted in the USAF but ‘Nam was over by then so I got off lucky on that count. My dad was there though.

midlifecrisisqueen May 29, 2013 at 11:41 am

Yes Mark: Thank you for reading…
I’m sure young people today have no idea what it was like wondering if you would be sent to Vietnam at age 18. It impacted all of our lives in so many ways we may not even understand today! -LLC

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