I may be overstating the obvious, but we’re not expecting parades. So that’s understood by veteran and non-veteran alike.
There is a legacy though and that does count. So ok, Bird, what is that legacy? Well, it comes in several parts. Today soldiers, sailors and marines do not pass through airports and other public places without being recognized. Not everyone, but someone is going to thank them for their service. There was a cultural shift across the US of A after the Vietnam war. People understood that disrespecting or ignoring service members was unjust.
There’s a not a complete understanding, but a better understanding of what extreme stress and PTSD can do to a person. Soldiers and marines from WWI to Korea were recognized with what was called “shell shock” frequently, but it wasn’t something people discussed; it was shameful, like you were weak and couldn’t hack it. You didn’t want to admit your brother wasn’t able to function normally after he came back from the front, not when others had stories of bravery and honor. Yes, there was a lot of distressed vets coming home from the Nam and treatment was poor to non existent. Another cultural shift occurred. People, at least a lot of them, recognized that those suffering the ill effects of their service, this of course includes first responders, fire fighters and others, those suffering needed help. Homelessness, suicide, and a host of other issues needed to be dealt with and that continues today with all veterans including post-9/11.
These are not happy topics, but I didn’t promise happy.
There’s another piece to the legacy and it can be summed up in two words, Agent Orange. You could write a book about this and people have of course. As tragic as it is, and it is still ongoing, the discoveries, the denials by the VA for years, the eventual recognition of related diseases and health issues has fueled the work of many individuals and organizations to get at the truth. This in turn has kept service members in the light of ongoing research and discoveries and not just for agent orange. Veterans have been exposed to nuclear radiation and many other contaminates, it almost goes without saying, but we have to keep sayin’ it. I think of it as Pandora’s Box, if the government could put the lid back on it , they damn sure would, but they can’t. It’s impossible to overstate the tragedy of this and as I write, I think of the soldiers so exposed to the contaminated products they didn’t live long after finishing their tours, dying painful deaths at a young age. Maybe some day there will be a memorial for them.
Ok, there is a happy part to the legacy. This occurred when the everyday veteran returned home, started a career or took up useful employment, whether that was fixing cars, teaching school or selling insurance. They worked, got married and started families and have their grandkids on their knee today. They became an important part of their community and their outlook is tempered by their experience. The recent Vietnam documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick refreshed everyone’s memory of the sacrifices they made.