This coming Wednesday, March 29, we observe Vietnam Veterans Day, the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. This is the day marked by the last American combat troops leaving Vietnam following the Paris Peace Accords, which were signed in January 1973.
It is only in recent years that this day has been formally recognized as National Vietnam Veterans Day.
About 9.2 million Americans served in the military during the Vietnam era and 2.8 Million served in-country, including myself. And over 58,000 of them lost their lives in their ultimate sacrifice to our nation. Several hundred thousand were wounded. Following the end of the war, the terrible effects of Agent Orange claimed more lives than we lost in the war, including my brother-in-law, Captain Dan Sanders.
At the top of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in lower Manhattan, etched in glass, is the last stanza of a poem written by Major Michael Davis O’Donnell three months before he died in a helicopter crash in a rescue mission to save a LRRP team near the Cambodian border. Here’s the full poem, as published in Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam, edited by Bernard Edelman for the New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission:
If you are able/save them a place/inside of you/and save one backward glance when you are leaving/for the places they can no longer go.
Be not ashamed to say/you loved them,/though you may or may not have always. Take what they have left/and what they have taught you/with their dying/and keep it with your own. And in the time/when men decide and feel safe/to call the war insane,Take one moment to embrace/those gentle heroes/you left behind.
This coming Wednesday, let’s take a moment to pause, reflect, and express gratitude to our Vietnam Veterans.