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Helping to heal our Vietnam War veterans’ wounds | In Our Opinion
How Vietnam War veterans were treated when they returned home was a national tragedy. Unlike the generations before them — in Korea and the world wars — they were not welcomed home.
The Vietnam War — a war to stop the spread of communism into Southeast Asia — was long, political and costly is terms of lives and dollars. The young men and women who enlisted in the Armed Forces came from all walks of life and had their own feelings about war. But they served because their country needed them to.
Meanwhile, all that is ugly about war — in this case, the Vietnam War — was broadcast into American living rooms for the first time. As the human and financial costs of the war grew, opinions collided — sometimes violently — in the U.S. capital, on college campuses and on city streets.
The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who did return home “were not treated like heroes as those who returned from Korea and World War II,” said state Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Toppenish, told a state legislative committee. “Instead, they were portrayed as baby killers, warmongers and other things … That had a traumatic effect on these soldiers that is still painful to these days as many of them refuse to talk about their experiences.”
Now, 38 years after the fall of Saigon and the end of the war, Washington state’s Vietnam War veterans will finally be welcomed home.
The state House and Senate both unanimously approved State House Bill 1319, establishing March 30 of every year as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” in Washington state. The bill, introduced by Johnson and co-sponsored by 38 state House members, among them Sherry Appleton of Poulsbo, was unanimously approved by the House on Feb. 20 and the Senate on March 25. Gov. Jay Inslee was scheduled to sign the bill Friday at 9 a.m. Several veterans groups, including the Suquamish Warriors, were expected to be present the colors Friday in the Legislature and gather for a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Capitol grounds.
March 30 will not be a public holiday, but rather a day of public remembrance. However, all public buildings and schools will be required to fly the POW/MIA flag; that flag is also flown on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, National POW/MIA Recognition Day and Veterans Day.
Gil Calac, an Army veteran from Yakima who served in Vietnam from 1969-70, testified for the bill. He said Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day would help veterans “put away our guilt, the shame, the grief and despair,” and heal from the animosity veterans faced when they returned home.
“The scars will always be there forever,” Calac said. “I know we can’t change the past, but we can help our Vietnam War veterans by opening the door and saying, ‘Welcome home.’”
According to the National Archives, 58,220 Americans —1,047 from Washington state — are known to have died in the Vietnam War. The Library of Congress POW/MIA Databases & Documents website reports that as of November 2001, 1,948 Americans remain unaccounted for in Vietnam. An estimated 304,000 were wounded. Some 75,000 Vietnam War veterans are living with war-related disabilities.
Their country asked and they gave in full measure. “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” should be a national recognition.