This column first appeared in the Montgomery Advertiser, December 14, 2012
As the wife of a Vietnam veteran, I have lived with the atrocities of that war for many years.
Lived with the hurtful shame of veterans who came home without the accolades of those who returned from previous, more celebrated wars.
Lived with the sadness when depression set in and we didn’t even know what the depression was all about. Watched my husband’s premature physical deterioration due to exposure to Agent Orange, the herbicide that U.S. troops used to eradicate the jungle foliage that provided cover for surprise attacks by the Viet Cong on Brown Water Navy units of the Mobile Riverine Force in which my husband served.
Lived with the silence — his inability to tell war stories without tearing up or changing the subject — unless another veteran of the Vietnam era is in the room, in which case the stories could go on for hours.
Lived with seeing my husband’s brother, who went to Vietnam too young and returned with a crippling dependency, never realize his potential as an artist or a singer — two talents he might have leveraged except for that war.
Lived with the unexplained outbursts, the night sweats, the inability to stay on task for extended periods of time — all symptoms of what we later realized was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
And I lived through the many Veterans Day holidays when few people said “thank you” to those who served in the war that took 58,000 American lives. So many Vietnam vets returned to American soil without fanfare. There were no flags waving, no bands playing, no parades when soldiers came home.
I was there the day he came home to our house in the Washington, D.C., area after the first time he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall designed by Maya Lin and dedicated in 1982. He went there to find the names of his two buddies who were fatally struck while he was standing next to them. The grief that day was overwhelming.
The reality is that Vietnam veterans, those who were able to overcome the silent homecomings and the physical and mental disabilities, have continued to serve our nation well.
According to history.com, which has a site that debunks many of the myths of the Vietnam era and the veterans who served in the war, 91 percent of Vietnam veterans say they are glad they served. Like my husband, 85 percent of Vietnam vets made a successful transition to civilian life by cultivating careers, supporting families and serving communities.
Some of these veterans are nameless warriors who walk our streets every day with little notoriety for the service they gave. Others are household names like former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, Tom Ridge, former secretary of Homeland Security, U.S. Sen. John McCain, film director Oliver Stone and actors Glenn Ford and James Stewart.
Now 50 years after the start of the Vietnam War, as many of the veterans of that era still struggle to convince the Veterans Administration to grant the medical and financial benefits they so richly deserve, I walk beside my Vietnam veteran husband when he is wearing a hat or a shirt or a pin or something that shows others how proud he is to be a veteran of the Vietnam War, and I hear people say “welcome home” and “thank you for your service.”
Finally, permission to be proud to be a veteran of the Vietnam War.
Happy Veterans Day Willie Lloyd and all of your fellow Vietnam War comrades. Welcome home.