It will come as no surprise to anyone that knows me, that I opposed the Vietnam War. I was regular Army back then, and if I had been sent to Vietnam, I would have gone. I probably would have also gotten myself killed, since my record for getting eliminated in war games was pretty much 100%.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Even though I was against the war, and protested against it, I never was against the troops that got sent there. Just as I don’t think we should have gone into Iraq, I don’t think we should have gone into Vietnam. We wasted valuable lives and squandering treasure in both cases.
It was after the war was over that I learned about how some assholes had jeered at troops coming home. Quite truthfully, it made me sick and I would have punched someone out if I had witnessed any of that, but I didn’t.
Today, I saw a car with a sticker that said the owner was a member of the “Association of Trench Rats.” He was an older Polynesian gentleman, who was missing a lot of his teeth. He had a grey beard, worn long enough so that he could have combed it over the bald spot on his head; sort of the reverse of what Donald Trump does. The man was about five foot nine or so, and maybe close to two hundred pounds; in other words, stocky.
We talked for a while about what he had done in the war. I mentioned that I thought the tunnel guys were smaller than he was, and he laughed when he told me he used to be very skinny. But then he turned sad and told me how much it had hurt when the assholes railed against him and his buddies when they came home. He was still hurt and angry about that treatment even after thirty-five years or so.
I told him that I had been RA; that I had gotten out before Vietnam; that I had protested the war; but had never protested the soldiers who had to fight. I told him that I admired what he had done, and that I was sorry he and his fellows had been treated so poorly. We parted after that, he with his Starbucks coffee and me with my thoughts.
After all those years, he is still carrying the weight of the tunnels without any real appreciation for the job he had to do. I cannot imagine what dreams and nightmares such a man has, and I’m not sure I would want to know. What I do know is that I met a hero this morning, and I wish I could have said something to make up for the years he has felt sad about his homecoming. Somehow, I don’t think anything I said would have been enough. Maybe I did as much as I could do by saying thank you.