• 72°

Let’s honor Vietnam veterans

He danced with tall grass
for a moment, like he was swaying
with a woman. Our gun barrels
glowed white-hot.
When I got to him,
a blue halo
of flies had already claimed him.
I pulled the crumbled photograph
from his fingers.

The morning cleared again,
except for a distant mortar
& somewhere choppers taking off.
I slid the wallet into his pocket
& turned him over, so he wouldn’t be
kissing the ground.
— Yusef Komunyakaa
“Poem of the Day: We Never Know”

September 1980, second year of medical school. I was learning to draw blood. The 32-year-old Vietnam veteran allowed me to blow his vein, shrugging off my apologies.
“This doesn’t hurt. What hurts is stepping onto American soil after a year in Vietnam, and having eggs thrown at you while people are yelling ‘Babykiller!’”
Doug’s WWII veteran father had been welcomed home by grateful citizenry lined up to shake his hand. There had been parties and ticker tape. Doug hadn’t expected that kind of welcome but was totally unprepared for what did await him.
“We ran onto a bus whose windows were covered with metal bars, surrounded by a mob screaming at us, holding angry signs, hurling eggs and stones. We were all shaking when we got on that bus. ‘Change into your civvies!’ They told us. If they knew this was going to happen, why didn’t they warn us ahead of time? Why didn’t they have us change into civvies before we got onto the plane to the U.S.? Why couldn’t the police arrest people for attacking us?
“We were treated like we had done something shameful. I could handle being in combat better than this. I still haven’t gotten over it.”
Over the ensuing 35 years of medical practice, I heard a similar tale from one Vietnam veteran after another.
Those friends who are Vietnam veterans echoed the experiences of my patients. My neighbor Walter Maxwell said, “I yearn for someone to just say thank you for your service. I don’t think I could keep from crying if I ever heard that, just once.”
The writer Paul Salvo said, “It was a confusing war, in a confusing place, at a confusing time. Along with the many young lives lost, the war pitted neighbor against neighbor, citizen against soldier, and stole our nation’s innocence. When I came home, I wanted to forget (or was it deny?) I had been there, but I couldn’t. Till this day, I still think and write about the war, and it feels just as confusing as it ever did.”
Judy Livengood, a combat nurse in Vietnam, was surprised by the rabid, angry crowds raging at her when she stepped onto the tarmac in San Francisco. As a result, she resigned her commission within the month.
Tears well in her eyes as she speaks about it.
“I watched brave young men get seriously injured and die, thinking they had done their duty by their country, a country that was rejecting their sacrifice. It was like spitting in our eyes.”
April 2015 will mark the 40th anniversary of the 1975 Fall of Saigon. This would be the perfect time to celebrate our Vietnam veterans and offer long overdue thanks for their service to our country.
Next Veteran’s Day, Nov. 14, 2015, I propose all of us initiate simple celebrations in honor of the Vietnam vets amongst us — at our churches, fraternal organizations, places of work. This would be healing for the entire nation and for our Vietnam veterans, who deserve recognition, at last, for the sacrifices they made when they answered their nation’s call.
Pass it on.
Dr. Susan Jensen lives in Salisbury with her family.
“My Turn” submissions should be 500-700 words. Send to ecook@salisburypost.com with “My Turn” in the subject line. Include name, address, phone number and a digital photo of yourself if possible.

Comments

Comments closed.

Health

‘Nudge from God’: 10 years after diagnosis, Rockwell man to receive kidney from live donor

Crime

Salisbury police warn residents after increased trailer thefts

Education

Elon heightens alert as 32 test positive; Wake Forest in good shape to continue instruction as is

Cleveland

Corn picker catches fire at Knox Farm, destroying nearly eight acres

Nation/World

House easily passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown

News

Supreme Court vacancy looms large in 2nd NC Senate debate

Coronavirus

Additional COVID-19 death reported in Rowan; Cooper announces small business relief

Crime

Asheville man charged with heroin possession following traffic checkpoint

Education

Susan Cox conceding school board race, putting support behind opponent

Education

Rowan-Salisbury Schools will survey families, stakeholders about next superintendent

Local

Library to reopen for in-person visits Oct. 1

Local

Rowan Sheriff’s Office K-9s to receive bulletproof vests

Crime

Man charged with sex offense, raping teen

Business

Commissioners receive analysis of county’s development application process

Crime

Man arrested in Spencer in connection with Charlotte murder investigation

Local

County government losing assistant manager, social services director

Education

RSS will collect information on full K-5 return

Education

KCS sees smooth transition back to classes, unlikely to transition to all in-person for K-5

Nation/World

Barrett emerges as court favorite; Trump to pick by weekend

Local

Tillis says Trump will extend offshore drilling pause to NC

Coronavirus

12% of all Rowan COVID-19 cases currently active

Crime

Blotter: Concord man faces drug charges after hotel disturbance call

Crime

Rockwell teen charged with rape of a 14-year-old girl

Crime

Police: Charlotte man caught stealing funeral home employee’s truck