The Vietnam War ended in April 1975, I graduated from High School in June of 1975. What if I had been born just a little earlier, or if the war had lasted just a little longer? Today I ate lunch with a group of guys who didn’t have to wonder, they were called and they served.
Like a lot of “facts” dealing with the Vietnam War the start date is a little hazy. Different sources put it at different dates but most seem to settle on November 1, 1955. Its ending date is firmer, April 30, 1975. Twenty years of involvement in a foreign war. Twenty years when American soldiers/airmen/sailors were put in harms way. Over 58,000 American dead. The number for Vietnamese, north and south, is much higher. Just a little background for the historically challenged.
Last Saturday Kat and I parked cars in a big open field. Why? Because there was a Spartan Race going on and the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America had an agreement with Spartan Inc. to park cars. Spartan would then make a donation. They advertised for volunteers and Kat and I went to help. Our reward, other than it just being a cool thing to do, was to attend their monthly meeting and be treated to lunch.
For those of you who didn’t grow up in the sixties and seventies, the tumult around our involvement in Vietnam and the protests it inspired make this past summer (other than the nonsense still going on in Portland, OR) look like child’s play. My Dad would watch the nightly news and each week they would give the body count. There were X number of US deaths, XXX number of “enemy” deaths. If you were morbid enough you could keep count. I remember my Mom and Dad worrying how long it would go on and if it would affect me and my brother.
It didn’t. I registered for the draft in February 1975. The war ended, and so did the draft, that spring. My high school class, and those right after, never had to do anything. We were never put into a position of serving or hiding. Lucky us, I guess.
I’m not much younger than some of the guys that were at the lunch, most had served somewhere in the hay-day years between 1965 and 1975. Looking around the room I saw a group who America had called on, a group who answered America’s call and then were deserted and, sometimes, defiled for their service. It was clear that life for some of these guys had not been easy. They were worn, they moved slow, there were more that a few canes hanging on the backs of chairs.
What the years and the politicians couldn’t take away however was their spirit and the overwhelming sense of comradery. I might not be a veteran of Vietnam or any other conflict, but I am a veteran of many thousands of business meetings. This meeting was not just efficient, it was inspiring. And not just a little politically incorrect.
Here was a group of late sixty and seventy-year old men and women with a purpose. They were here to support each other and to help other veterans. It was a meeting filled with humorous cat calls from the back of the room. It was run with a sarcastic, self-depreciating humor that had me smiling the whole time I was there. Chili cook-offs, car shows, picnics. These guys were active and moving forward with a mission.
America had treated many of them like shit but they had as the Marines say, adapted and overcome. They embraced a common bond, a common experience that the rest of us will never know. They wore their badges of service on their hats, on their biker vests and on their ‘you can’t beat me down’ attitudes.
It was supposed to be just a thank you lunch for me and Kat. Instead, for me, it was a humbling, educating, ‘thank you God for guys like this’ experience.
You can find out more about the Vietnam Veterans of America organization here: https://vva.org/