I saw this photo on FB this week and it stirred some memories and thinking. It was of a visit I was honored to host in 2008 when I was the Chief of Security Forces at Andrews AFB, Maryland. Our guests that day were Air Force Vietnam Security Police Association members who came to D.C. for their annual convention. We did some cool demos and displays for them which they flat out loved. The photo shows one of the weapons displays manned by one of my superb combat arms instructors, Justin Haggerty. Funny aside, the Public Affairs folks were hesitant about letting us host these folks at the home of Air Force One – after all (they assumed) they ARE Vietnamese right? Good Lord… some of the Public Affairs folks I knew were pretty sharp, but not all of them.
Anyway, here is what struck me. These guys kept telling me how grateful they were for our service, how much they appreciated and admired us. Now I served for twenty years before I was ever “thanked” for my service. It was after 9/11 and I remember struggling for an appropriate response. “Your welcome?” I croaked awkwardly. After all, I was a professional airman (insert soldier there if you want, I consider it an honor to be mistaken for a soldier) and I didn’t need or expect thanks. By 2007 though, I was used to it, and could at least respond without sounding like a boob. But thanks from these guys?
I mean, where is the bitterness? The envy? No one thanked them contemporarily for their service. There were no parades for them. They were mostly draftees who honorably served when called by their nation, but they were seen as the visible symbols of a war the nation did not support. And so they were not supported. Some of them were spit on when they returned home. I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like.
While I was stationed in the UK, many of my British friends commented on the tremendous support the troops have in our country, how well we take care of our armed forces members. True, but our treatment of our Vietnam vets suggests that support can be fickle.
And yet, who are these guys in their denim and leather vests, emblazoned with unit and service patches, riding in Rolling Thunder or Utah’s Ride for the Fallen events? Who are the guys standing at attention, silently standing to honor the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery, or hundreds of other places, silently standing to honor men and women they never knew, silently standing to protect the sanctity of another veteran’s funeral from the crazed few who would ruin a funeral if they could to publicize their extreme views?
Well, many of them are Vietnam Vets. The generosity of spirit they show just amazes me, and I see it over and over. Remarkable!