At age five, I remember huddling around a Philco floor model radio with my parents listening to President Roosevelt’s chilling words, “This is a date that will live in infamy.” I knew by the grip of Mother’s hand something terrible had happened. While Japanese diplomats talked peace in Washington their planes bombed Pearl Harbor. Four days later, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Declaration of War. It was the beginning of World War II.
When Dad didn’t receive his notice, like most of his friends, he stormed down to the draft board and demanded to be inducted. It was a blow to his pride when they told him he’d been frozen to his job as a coal miner. It didn’t matter to him that coal was needed to make steel for war weapons. He felt he had somehow shirked his duty.
Everyone wanted to do their patriotic duty and no sacrifice was too great and inconveniences were accepted graciously. Nylon was needed for parachutes so women gave up wearing nylons and wore leg makeup. The makeup wasn’t so bad they reasoned if you could get it on even and didn’t get caught in the rain. Children did their part with paper drives, collecting scrap iron and metal and saving aluminum foil from candy and gum wrappers to help the war effort. I remember how a uniform opened doors for soldiers and even strangers gave them lodging, food, transportation, and respect. And when the war was over they came home to marching bands and ticker tape parades. They were truly America’s heroes.
Then, when trouble erupted in Korea I was in the ninth grade. I remember being confused when the government labeled it a conflict or a police action, even though it was a bloody war, lasting three years, with over 54,000 casualties. I wondered what happened to all that patriotic energy I had witnessed during World War II.
The 8.7 million men who served in Vietnam during the longest war America ever fought and the only war it ever lost, came home feeling scorned and my husband was one of them. Like many others, upon Donald’s return to the States he was taunted at the airport by protestors. Even families who came to claim the bodies of their fallen heroes were sometimes treated with the same disdain. Many of the wounded, some on crutches, or in wheelchairs with missing limbs or paralyzed bodies, were told they got what they deserved. No one wanted to talk to them about the war so these vets, who had been through hell, held all their anger in and felt everyone was ashamed of them. There are vets who still feel that way . . . who have never dealt with the pain of their rejection.
A MESSAGE FROM KRISTY
So many nights I have spent up late.
Wondering where I went wrong.
Why can’t you relate?
I have stared at the walls and read many a book.
I ponder your eyes.
Why can’t you just look?
One time’s all I ask.
Is my image so bad?
I am not asking for heaven, only a Dad.
Your daughter: Kristy Ann Davis – 1988
From my journal: February 28, 1991, Thursday. Last night President Bush announced the cease fire. Thank God, the war in the Persian Gulf is over.
March 9, 1991, Saturday. Today some 20,000 people welcomed Air Force units returning to Langley Air Force Base at Hampton, Virginia. Streets were lined with American flags. People were wearing yellow ribbons, carrying welcome home signs, and cheering the returning soldiers. Americans are standing up and being counted in this war. No one wants another Vietnam . . . but it’s to late to reverse the shameful legacy of that war.
Some say, because of America’s support to the soldiers who served in the Persian Gulf, adjustments are not expected, and I hope they’re right. World War II returning vets suffered “Shell Shock,” Korean vets, “Battle Fatigue,” and Vietnam vets’ disorders were finally labeled “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Each war has brought a softening of the words describing traumas suffered by our soldiers. I wonder if adjustment problems do arise from this war if they’ll be called nothing more than “MILITARY ANNOYANCE.”
Surely some of those almost half a million men and women will be affected by the same delayed stress process that veterans of other wars have been. And this will affect their loved ones as much as Donald’s Vietnam has affected me and our children. . . . And the beat goes on. . . .
June 6, 1991, Thursday. The “Red Carpet” will again be rolled out this Saturday honoring the troops who served in the Persian Gulf and this time the parade will be held in Washington.
In the morning paper Harry Walters, President of the Desert Storm Homecoming Foundation was quoted as urging the committee to use Saturday’s tribute as, “an opportunity for our Nation to redress a wrong,” by including Vietnam Veterans in the parade who, “were never welcomed home by a grateful nation.”
A decision to limit the parade to only veterans of Desert Storm was made by a committee of 20 veterans’ groups, including the Vietnam Veterans of America. Congressman James P. Moran, Democrat from Virginia, said he did not expect the foundation to reverse its decision, but said he wanted to speak out on the behalf of Vietnam Veterans whose public shunning stands out even more against the backdrop of Saturday’s $12 million-plus celebration, financed mostly by tax dollars.
“I’ve been told behind the scenes some people involved in the discussion over who would be invited felt the Vietnam Veterans would be disruptive to the parade,” Moran said. “Some of them are unkempt, they have beards and all, and they might detract. . . . But I think the American people would like the opportunity to say ‘thank you,’ even if it is 20 years late.”
Congresswomen Mary Rose Okar, one of six Ohioans, and one of 127 members of Congress who signed a hastily circulated letter asking for Vietnam Vets to be included in the parade said excluding the Vietnam Vets was in keeping with, “the desire to present this as a cosmetic war, without pain or suffering. They want us to think everything’s beautiful with war.”
But everything is not beautiful with war. And the beat goes on. . . . And on. . . . Dolores Riggs Davis