If you never had the chance to speak to a veteran of the Pacific Theater of World War Two, don’t worry; most of the men who fought there never spoke about it very much. The ground war in that particular part of that particular war, especially that fought by the United States Marine Corp, went far beyond the pale in brutality and horror. It was a horrible, grinding, and lethal series of battles where there was no mercy, no compassion, and few prisoners taken.
The next conflict in Korea for a war that has been more or less forgotten by most people, except for MASH reruns. Yet 37,000 men died there in just over three years or so. We did not win nor did we lose that war, it was a simple holding action that got a lot of people killed. That region has yet to recover from the war, and we still have people in uniform over there.
I did, in fact, have several opportunities to speak with veterans of the war in Southeast Asia. We started out trying to prop up the government of South Viet Nam, after we helped partition the country, bombed the hell out of a major city, Hanoi, and then we invaded Laos and Cambodia.
Estimates are that we killed over one million people in that war while we were there. We left a devastated countryside and destroyed infrastructure behind, as well as a large population of children fathered by soldiers, and a great many people poisoned by Agent Orange. Each year we maim hundreds of people, and kill a dozen or more, with left over land mines.
When veterans returning home from the wars of World Wars I and II, were greeted, they saw parades and parties, confetti and fanfare, honor and respect.
Veterans returning from Nam were called “baby killers” and they were spat on.
No less than any of our men and women in uniform who have fought in any war, anywhere, at any time in the history of this nation, the veterans of the war in Viet Nam fought bravely, with distinction, and with honor. No less than any other group of men or women in uniform, these men fought bravely, and they went not because they wanted to go, but because we, as a nation ordered them to go. We elected the politicians who created that war, and we, the American public, instead of turning on the men in office who wore suits and told lies, turned on the men in uniform, who sacrificed their lives.
I have to say that here in South Georgia these men were honored when they returned, at least by the common men and women. I have to say my family never turned their backs on the men who served, ever. I have to say that even before I wore the same uniform as some of those men, I still respected what they did even if I thought the war as wrong, horribly wrong, and there were men in office who should have been dragged out of their homes and hung from lamp posts for it.
So today, Memorial Day 2017, I want you to remember those men who served in the jungles of Southeast Asia. I want you to remember some of them never returned. I want you to remember their courage, their sacrifice, their commitment and dedication to this country, and I want you to remember they came home to a lot less than any other group of veterans who ever fought for this country.
If enough people remember these men, maybe we’ll never have to feel the burn of shame for the way some people treated them, and the way the men in suits hold office, turned their backs on them when those men returned home again.
55,222 men died in that war. I want you to remember them today.