by Joshua M. Patton
Growing up the in the 1980’s, the waning years of The Cold War, the Vietnam War was the grown-ups dirty, little secret. They didn’t talk about it much, and when they did it was in whispers and curt language. In the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, the spending bill that allocates money for all things military and defense, money was set aside for the Secretary of Defense to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War and “in conducting the commemorative program, the Secretary shall coordinate, support, and facilitate other programs and activities of the Federal Government, State and local governments, and other persons and organizations.”
On May 25, 2012 President Obama kicked-off the solemn anniversary by issuing a proclamation declaring that commemoration would begin three days later and continue until Veterans’ Day 2025. According to the President, this is a time to “pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women who left their families to serve bravely,” and “honor more than 58,000 patriots — their names etched in black granite — who sacrificed all they had and all they would ever know.” The Vietnam War was the last conscripted American war, a final chapter of sorts. However, even though it’s almost a half of a century behind us, this conflict never went away entirely.
The selection of May 28, 1962 as the launch date for this commemoration is seemingly random. The U.S. stock market dropped $20 billion that day, 60,000 refugees from China who entered Hong Kong illegally were deported, and Wide World of Sports debuted on CBS. The Vietnam conflict had been brewing since 1945, when communist Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam (after the war, it was a French protectorate) as a free and independent country and paraphrased the Declaration of Independence in his speech. The trouble really began when Ngo Dinh Diem, the Catholic president who had the backing of the U.S. began executing suspected communists, which included many of his political opponents. President John F. Kennedy doubled-down on the country, seeing it as a move by the Kremlin to win Asia as if the world was a giant RISK! board. The country split along the 17th parallel, those who moved there were mostly Catholics who feared persecution by the communists. This happened over a span of decades, with nothing significant happening on May 28, 1962.
While the spectre of Vietnam has loomed over the country for generations, it has been especially present when considering the current war in Afghanistan. This time of commemoration is important, not because we have somehow forgotten the lessons of Vietnam or because it represents any sort of ideological stand against forces that threatened the American way of life. Instead, this time of commemoration is a time for the nation to make up for the poor treatment that the veterans of this war received from the government and the nation-at-large.
This current generation of veterans owes much of what benefits we have to the tireless efforts of the Vietnam Veterans who were determined that we would not have to suffer through any political backlash that would spring from the conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. From Military Treatment Courts to the benefits today’s veterans enjoy, Vietnam veterans were on the political frontlines ensuring that theirs was the last generation of veterans to deal with derision and be forgotten by the government that sent them to war. They are owed a debt and it’s time to make good. The next thirteen years will be a time for those veterans that are left to be honored as they should have been decades ago.
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