HEROES THEN-HEROES NOW
Many of us in this room returned from Vietnam after serving in one of the most battle engaged units in the Vietnam War: The Wolfhounds. When we faced each new day we found ourselves in the “Land of Plenty”. Plenty of bugs, plenty of rain, plenty of heat, plenty of mud, plenty of leeches, plenty of rockets, plenty of mortars, plenty of booby traps, plenty of snipers, plenty of dust, plenty of snakes, plenty of rats, plenty of disease, and certainly plenty of enemy.
Many of us in this room were wounded either physically and or emotionally. We all returned home carrying with us the memories of the horrors of war and the haunting reality that many of our fellow comrades were killed while serving with us. Many of us were conflicted between the feelings of great loss and the feeling that we were glad it was someone else that died and not us. We returned home to a hostile environment where Americans did not welcome us home, but instead made us feel guilty for serving our country. Seldom did we ever talk about our “tour in Nam”, who could understand? Combat is scary but exciting. Winston Churchill once said “You never feel so alive as when being shot at without result. You never feel so triumphant as when shooting back –with result.” You never feel love as pure as that was burned into your heart by friends willing to die to keep their word to you. And they do. The biggest sadness in your life is to see friends falling. The biggest surprise of your life is to survive the war. Although still alive on the outside, you are dead inside—shot through the heart with nonsensical guilt for living while friends died. The biggest lie of your life torments you that you could have done something more, something different, to save them. You spend the rest of your life searching for this kind of camaraderie but never find it.
Many of us made the conscience decision to put “Vietnam” behind us. Many of us had no outward signs to remind us and others of our involvement in the war. Many of us returned home with permanent injuries and disabilities such as amputated limbs and the twisted scars of shrapnel and bullet holes. All of us returned home different men than when we went to Vietnam. An unfortunate consequence of being a Vietnam Veteran is we never saw ourselves as heroes. The only war hero’s we remembered were men like Audy Murphy. How sad it is that we didn’t recognize how we measured up to other generations of American military combatants. Tom Hanks said that the WW2 Veterans were Americas Greatest Generation. I’ve got news for you Tom, you were wrong.
Let’s consider the facts. The average infantryman in the South Pacific during WW2 saw about 40 days of combat in 4 years. The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat thanks to the mobility of the helicopter. 1 out of 10 Americans who served in Vietnam was a casualty. 58,148 were killed, 304,000 were wounded out of the 2.7 million that served. Amputations or crippling wounds were 300% higher than WW2. 75,000 Vietnam Veterans are severely disabled. Medivac Helicopters flew nearly 500,000 missions. Over 900,000 patients were flown to field hospitals. Nearly half of those patients were Americans.
The news media would have people believe that we lost the Vietnam War. We were never defeated in Vietnam. The American military never lost a battle of any consequence. From a military standpoint, it was almost an unprecedented performance.
Joe R. Hooper was the highest decorated veteran in our history. He was a Vietnam Vet.
85% of all Vietnam Vets made successful transitions to civilian life.
240 men were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War; 154 posthumously.
97% of Vietnam Vets were honorably discharged, 91% were glad they served and 74% said they would serve again even knowing the outcome.
Vietnam Vets have a lower unemployment rate than the same non-vet age groups.
87% of Americans hold Vietnam Vets in high esteem.
Vietnam Vets are less likely to be jailed for crimes.
I think the record is clear on who the greatest generation truly is. Many of us never considered our service as heroic. We came home and got on with life. Many of us got married and raised families. Our children are productive citizens of society. We raised our children with values and a love of country, despite our shameful reception when we came home, no one or no thing could beat down our sense of patriotism. Most of us belong to a Veterans group or organization like the DAV or VFW despite the fact that we were not welcome there when we returned from the war.
We have shown ourselves to be resourceful and resilient. When most men would give up the men in this room pressed forward and claimed their rightful place in society, In this room we have
Electricians, School Teachers, Financial Planners, Engineers, Mechanics, Insurance Agents, Police Officers, Career military men, Contractors, Postal Service workers, Entrepreneurs of all kinds. We have community leaders, political activists, judges, Tradesmen of all kinds, a man that has spent his life helping veterans receive the VA benefits they so richly deserve. We have volunteers that have given thousands of hours to help benevolent organizations. We have professional truck drivers, musicians, medical personnel.
You want to talk about heroes? Represented in this room are men that through their undaunted courage and valor were awarded:
- 4 Army Commendation Medals
- 5 Silver Stars
- 41 Bronze Stars
- 45 Purple Hearts
- 12 Air Medals
- 33 Good Conduct Medals
- 10 Letters of commendation
One man in this room Dick Glover, was put in for “The Medal of Honor”
Last but certainly not least 31 Combat Infantry Badges and 2 Combat medic badges.
What makes these awards so significant is that they recognize the bravery and valor represented in this room. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We can now wear our Vietnam Veteran title with pride and self confidence. It’s because of our service that the US Military has said they will never allow political correctness to reduce their resolve for victory.
Friends in this room who did not die in Vietnam are the survivors. Like me we managed to make it home. For many of us however, their bodies and or minds will never again look or function as God intended. I will always remember the guys I served with. I will always remember their determined spirit, individual courage, and loyalty to me and America. For the most part they were great guys and served their country valiantly.
We kept our wits about us when we came home and a nation shunned us and doled out some pretty shabby treatment. We are now the light at the end of the tunnel and some of the most refined leaders this nation has ever known. We know things that can save our nation. All of us in this room earned honor under fire and it changed who we are forever.
You are all heroes of the highest order for your service in Vietnam.
We have found each other and once again can kindle that unique camaraderie we once shared with each other. Being found is a good thing. Staying connected with those who walked through hell helps us deal with the rest of what the world throws at us.
We arrived in Vietnam as strangers. We came home as brothers and brothers we will be until the end.