Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of attending the first meeting of a new Haven Hospice program, “Coffee With Vets”. It was a nice thing to be a part of on Memorial Day weekend. Jean, the Volunteer Coordinator; Cathy, a Gold Star mother; and Liberty and I hosted four members of the local chapter of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association for coffee, pastries, and conversation. There was no formal agenda – Jean just wanted to offer a place for veterans to meet and talk. Everyone agreed that it was a success so the guys will invite other veterans and continue to meet us for coffee on the 4th Saturday morning of every month. They also offered to ride along with Haven Hospice as we walk in the July 4th parade! The veterans liked having Liberty there and one Iraq veteran, who suffers from PTSD, said he will bring his dog next time. I’m sure Liberty will enjoy that 🙂 Many patients are veterans so Haven Hospice has been creating special programs designed around their motto “We Honor Vets” (you can learn more at Haven Hospice). I have respect and a deep appreciation for all the men and women who choose to serve our country by joining the military, many of whom put their lives at risk every day, so I’m glad I’ve been offered the opportunity to give back in some small way. Haven Hospice also does “veteran pinnings” in which they give the veteran a “We Honor Vets” lapel pin, a framed certificate of appreciation for their military service and a small US flag. I was happy to be able to participate in this recently with one of the patients that Liberty and I visit.
Although I’m grateful to everyone who has fought in every war, I have a special place in my heart for the veterans of the Vietnam “conflict” because it was the war of my generation. It was the longest war (“undeclared war”) in US history and it eventually split the nation in half. The 58,220 who died there and the approximately 10,000 who are listed as POW/MIA were my contemporaries. 1968, the year I graduated from high school, had the highest number of deaths – 16,899. The young men who returned from combat in Vietnam had a very different homecoming experience than the ones who returned from combat in WWII. Unfortunately, many people could not separate the individuals serving in the military in Vietnam from US policy that was carried out there. At the main re-entry points returning soldiers were often greeted by anti-war protesters screaming insults at them. They quickly learned not to wear their uniforms during commercial travel. A former boyfriend told me that he was followed through an airport by a jeering group of young “hippie-types”. He ignored them and they eventually left him at his gate but, not before one of them spit at him. None of the people nearby tried to defend him or even seemed to notice. He was returning from his second (and final) tour of duty piloting the big Chinook helicopters, which transported wounded soldiers from the battlefields. He said his experiences in Vietnam twisted him in a way that would probably never get straight again – and this was 25 years after he came home. It took many years for his country to heal the emotional wounds of Vietnam but a good start was the Vietnam War Memorial, which was dedicated on November 13, 1982. If you’re in DC it’s definitely worth a visit.
I’m ashamed to admit that the Vietnam conflict is a period in history of which I am woefully uninformed, even though the worst years of it occurred during my teens and early twenties and several of the boys I went to school with served in Vietnam. In honor of Memorial Day this year I have made a promise to myself to finally study the Vietnam War. I feel I owe it to all the boys who died there to at least educate myself about why the US was involved for so many years in an “undeclared war” in a tiny country in Southeast Asia (FYI, Congress has not declared war since 1942 so Iraq and Afghanistan are also considered to be “conflicts”).
One thing I did learn from Vietnam is that, no matter whether you agree with the military actions of our government or not, the men and women of our military always deserve our support and respect and our wounded deserve the very best care we can give them.
We owe this freedom of choice and action to those men and women in uniform who have served this nation and its interests in time of need. In particular, we are forever indebted to those who have given their lives that we might be free. ~Ronald Reagan (Arlington National Cemetery, May 26, 1983)
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