When we arrived back in the states, we were told to shed our uniforms because Alameda was right next to San Francisco and not friendly to new arrivals from Vietnam.
I was in Europe before Vietnam and having spent so much time away from the states, I couldn’t seem to fathom that Americans would not love us as their hero sons. Afterall, the president came on national TV to ask for volunteers to go to this little country in Southeast Asia to stop communism as it spread south then anticipated east. Afterall, it wasn’t that long ago that other Asian countries tried to make Hawaii theirs.
So my buddy, Sonny, and I put in our request to answer President Johnson’s invitation. In the preliminary training intel we were told that we would be “helo-ed” into “the bush” and dropped at a “LZ” (landing zone) and being that we were Navy photographers, would have approximately 3.5 minutes of life expectancy after we hit the ground. We could add to that if we would carry a weapon instead of just a camera, like the more intelligent of our party.
Being that my best friend was a member of a little known tribe from North Carolina, he said, “Chucks, (that was me) I spent my life fighting my way out of the city park after school and these guys are going to be just a walk in the park, for you and me.”
As was the case in the lives of so many in the military, things changed and we didn’t need a hello but did spend quite a bit of time in that little country of Vietnam. When we came “home” I was sure that our instruction had been wrong and filled my Dress Blues with a young sailor’s proud chest. I was right. Nobody stood and harassed me, but many drove by and yelled and spit and threw things. I was shocked as an American fighting for the safety of our people, families, children and future.
Later, I hadn’t seemed to learn and joined the Seafair Parade of Seattle dressed as Uncle Sam on stilts, with a group of people dressed in red, white and blue, singing the national anthem and patriotic songs and encouraging everyone to sing along. We got a few old people to sing and some fearful to move their lips, but most yelling obscenities and throwing things.
It stayed that way through the ’70s and ’80s and a bit of the ’90s, really to 9-11. Then as a whole America woke up. And who we see as heroes pushed forward with the foundation of Desert Storm and renewed patriotism.
We have sent our sons and daughters, our neighbors, students and family and friends and our nation’s fathers and moms to protect us and our country and other countries.
But I fear that we will never understand the concept of understanding. We have turned the corner of seeing them as monsters to accepting them and people of a lesser level, to just a wayward intelligence to a “first responder,” one who is doing something awfully important to us, so that we can support our families and watch our kids grow up.
Now we seem to be in phase four or five, or however far we have climbed from “The Greatest Generation.” They who move slowly or in wheelchairs, to walk starry-eyed with rejection having become a way of life, to those who have been in an era of fast transportation and modern medicine, that has brought us to repaired, replaced body parts and somewhat more comfortable existence, except for the ability to make a living.
I visit Madigan regularly where I see them in abundance. All of those described, with missing something, some that can be seen, some injuries out of sight, inside of them, us.
What I am trying to express is all of these described have taken an oath that is never relinquished. I will protect you, Foreign, (out of this country) and Domestic (here at home) no matter what age, or shape I am in, until I take my last breath.
Today as we see attacks as never before in our shopping centers, on our streets, in our neighborhoods and schools, a veteran is required to help you. So, you see, it’s more than just “thank you for your service.” It’s more than just a courteous acknowledgement of services rendered.
If you check past news stories about shootings where someone intervened in a public location and saved people or children, it isn’t surprising to me that many, if not all, were veterans. Veterans have training under their belts to act in a difficult situation, without thoughts of themselves, and knowledge that automatically takes over. Always has, always will.
Thank you, for a life of service, my protector, my friend, a lifetime of caring for your country, and me. Even if at the times you didn’t know it was me.
Don Dinsmore is a Navy veteran and longtime Kent resident who regularly contributes to the Kent Reporter.