By Sarah Naron
On the 45th anniversary of U.S. withdrawal from the Vietnam War – Thursday, March 29 – Americans everywhere are encouraged to take time to commemorate the sacrifices made by those who fearlessly served in America’s longest war.
March 29 also is recognized as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
According to Henry Kitchens of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 991, respect and gratitude was not always freely given to those who provided their services.
“When we came back, we weren’t accepted as far as what we did,” Kitchens said. “It was just one of those things about the political climate at the time. The people just got tired of war.”
Upon returning home from Vietnam, many veterans struggled to adapt to civilian life.
“When they applied for jobs and things like that, they were kind of almost shunned,” Kitchens explained. “They (society) didn’t want to have nothing to do with us.”
Fortunately, Kitchens said, such resistance has since come to an end.
“I consider the current climate very favorable toward Vietnam veterans right now,” he said.
According to Houston County Veterans Services Officer Fred Newtz, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was another issue largely faced by those returning from the war.
“I have veterans with 100 percent PTSD and 70 percent PTSD who were in ‘Nam and come back drinking and so on,” he said. “Plus, they came back to a society that spit on us. They thought we were evil people.”
Newtz described the Vietnam War as a conflict which was “a lot different than the rest of them.
“You had these college kids and everybody that just couldn’t stand us,” he said. “It made a lot of difference.”
Local Vietnam veteran Tommy Byrd echoed the sentiments of Kitchens and Newtz in terms of the treatment received by the soldiers upon returning from Vietnam.
“All the wars were the same, pretty much,” he said. “When them bullets is flying and the bombs is a dropping, it’s all the same thing.”
The major discrepancy between Vietnam and other conflicts, Byrd said, was the treatment received by the soldiers returning home.
According to Byrd, those who served in Vietnam were viewed as second-class citizens by society.
“We still get treated pretty much like that – not completely that way since 9-11,” he said. “Everybody got patriotic after 9-11; they stayed patriotic for about six months, and then, it all left.”
Kitchens and his fellow VVA Chapter 991 members hosted a “Welcome Home” fish fry Saturday, March 24 at the DAV/VVA Hall, located at 927 Gardner Drive in Palestine.
Sarah Naron may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.