Three different Vietnam veterans told me their stories over the past two weeks. All three of them shared a wistful sadness. Proud of their service, but with a lingering melancholy about their time in the military.
The first vet walked up to me and another prior-linguist LT. We were talking outside an office building. He had a large Longhorn logo on his button-down shirt. Just wanted to thank you guys for your service. I’s a Soldier. In Vietnam. And he shook my hand with a hell of a grip.
He almost walked off without chatting with us, but I thanked him. And told him: I tell you, Texas certainly treated us well when we returned dog tired from the Middle East. It was amazing, a line of 100 people greeting us as we walked off the plane.
(Even now, typing this, I remember it vividly. Folks of every color: white, hispanic, black, asian, and a long line of them. I had to excuse myself to duck into the bathroom to get my game face on. It is a challenging emotion to describe and I am not particularly emotional. I had been working twenty hour days, here and there. And finally it felt like I could breathe. In Texas, of all places. . .)
Sir, I continued, that is what you all should have received. It is a crime the way this country treated you all.
Sign of the times, he replied. I got blood thrown on me and spit at. Before they finally changed the airport from San Francisco to some other place.
Ach, sorry. Where were you stationed?
At the SAC base. (Of which, I forgot what he told me. Long Duc, or something like that.)
My first night there- I asked where the latrine was and was pointed in a dark direction. I headed out that way and heard gunfire not far from where I stood. It was something else. But listen here- me and my fellow vets promised, we were never again going to let our young guys get treated like how we were treated. I don’t know if we ever even talked about it. It was unsaid.
Well, thank you Sir, I replied. And shook his hand again. You all are heroes.
More to follow on the other two vets. . .