I attended a ceremony yesterday to honor three Viet Nam War veterans for their service to their country. Fifty years it has taken us to recognize and say ‘thank you’ for what they endured. At their discharge, these three men had simply been handed an envelope, containing at least six medals for service and valor. One veteran recalled that when they got off the plane they were warned to keep a low profile because people might spit on them.
There was a Purple Heart, which brought a lump to my throat, because I had never seen one and the recipient is profoundly disabled with PTSD and has two service dogs with him at all times. It has only taken fifty years for us to honor their service.
As I sat in that small room in a shopping center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, among some fifty friends who had shown up to honor these men, I listened to their stories and the history of these wars. I’m old enough to remember the Second World War and the ensuing conflicts and, as I listened, I recalled the monstrous acts of brutality perpetrated on our soldiers by the Japanese, the Germans, the Koreans, and the Vietnamese. How could we have forgotten this? The Bataan Death March? The tortures the VC perpetrated? These men haven’t forgotten. The rage is still there.
Why do we react with such outrage to interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo, which are part of the militant Muslim’s culture and expected by them? Indeed, our disgust is, to them, an example of our weakness.
I think it’s time, on this Veteran’s Day, to take another look at what I feel is one of the finest films on the Viet Nam War—Born On The Fourth of July. Tom Cruise earned his acting chops on this one. It is told from the disabled veteran’s point of view and is the story of a young man who bought the whole myth of men proving their courage by fighting for their country, an attitude championed by his parents. He joined up, came home in a wheelchair, and had to deal with the scorn of his fellow countrymen. His scream of rage at the end when he demands to know, “What was it all for?” says it all.
You can rent this film for $2.99 from Amazon Film Library and play it on your Kindle or computer. Let’s give real homage to these veterans of all these thankless wars including Iraq and Afghanistan by remembering. Watch the film.