In the midst of chaos there is also opportunity.Sun Tzu
Since 2017, this day has been set aside to honor and remember Vietnam Veterans; it is the anniversary of the withdrawal of military units from South Vietnam in 1973. I was a freshman in high school at the time. As you might imagine, I didn’t know a great deal about the war. I had three cousins who were in the service at the time. Two were marines and one was in the army. They were all a good bit older than me, and I didn’t really understand the entire situation. I did know that one of them went “overseas,” but I don’t think I put two and two together. I do remember worrying about draft numbers when my older brother was getting close to turning 18. He did not get called to serve.
Vietnam by the Numbers
- 20 years – the length of the war – second only to the war in Afghanistan
- 9 million US military personnel served
- 58,000 soldiers are memorialized, for being killed in action, in the black granite of the Vietnam War Memorial
- 1500 are still unaccounted for.
- 19 was the average age of a soldier fighting during the war
- 27 young men from Father Judge HS in Philadelphia (where one of my brothers would later attend) were killed in action. 1961-1968
- 27 young men from the former Cardinal Dougherty HS in Philadelphia also lost their lives in Vietnam. These two high schools each lost the most alumni of any other parochial or private school in the nation.
- 64 alumni of Thomas Edison High School lost their lives from November 1965 to January 1971 while serving in the Vietnam War. Edison holds the distinction of having the most casualties from Vietnam than any other single high school in the United States.
When I was around ten or eleven (1968-1969) I began to notice the war and the protests against the war. I know I did not understand the politics of the times except for the arguments that would sometimes break out at family gatherings. I still don’t know enough – not what I should know. I have vague memories of the Kent State Massacre, and “Hanoi Jane” Fonda. For me, those years are etched in my memory via songs – the soundtrack of an era. We would sing songs around the fire on Girl Scout camping trips not knowing if they were for or against the war – at least I had no clue at the time. You could hear the echoes of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” through the trees as the guitars gently strummed the accompaniment. I would listen to my transistor radio and sing along with tunes like “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Peace Train,” “War,” “The Times They are a-Changin’,” and “Get Together.”
I do know that Vietnam Veterans were not welcomed home with parades and fanfare. Often they were disrespected and the victims of taunts and shouts. They came home with physical and mental health problems and some people didn’t even seem to care. Only now are they beginning to get some real recognition – too late for some. In just a few short years the US will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of our involvement in Vietnam. I promise to know more by then.
Within the soul of each Vietnam veteran there is probably something that says, ‘Bad war, good soldier.’ Only now are Americans beginning to separate the war from the warrior.Max Cleland