I was going to write about this several years ago and it promptly escaped my ADHD -addled head. Jez, I gotta get one of those little pocket-sized Joe Friday/Dragnet spiral notebooks and carry it around with me. Just the facks, ma’am. Whoa. That was ten years ago. Seems it came to pass in Congress’ hallowed halls that a day was needed to tie yellow ribbons ’round diseased oak trees and officially declare “Welcome Home” to Vietnam Veterans. How a day celebrating this
war conflict was overlooked for so long is immaterial. In this new, woke age of calling out every mistake or error committed by Americans since the dawn of Jamestown, it was probably inevitable that someone figured he could monetize this and sell a shit ton of ___________s on March 29 every year out in front of the Wall.
I look back and remember the days prior to the official day everyone beat feet out of Saigon in ’75-not ’73. They were still boogying a week later so March 29 1973 DEROS Day, to me, doesn’t seem to have any particular cachet-let alone meaningful import Sounds like some politician’s Fig Newton of the imagination. May 7th, 1975 is the official Olly-Olly-Income-Free day for VA purposes. So who’s in charge of assigning days for War remembrance? Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day have deep roots. Ditto the 4th of July. Did Congress’ Wheel of Fortune spinner just inadvertently stop on March 29? Here’s what the Google Encyclopaedia regurgitated…
In 2012, President Barack Obama signed a presidential proclamation, designating March 29 as the annual observance of Vietnam War Veterans Day. The signing of the proclamation marked the 50th anniversary of the departure of the last American troops from Vietnam — March 29, 1973.
Aruuuuuh? The official explanation by our 44th President was that March 29, 2012 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the day of departure of the last American soldiers from Vietnam (March 29, 1973)? With all due deference to our former President, I beg to disagree. First of all, 1973 plus 50 = 2023… without even using tortured VA math. A commenter below links to an official proclamation tying all this back to 1962 as the date we “landed”. Negatory. We landed while the Dien Bien Phu debacle was developing in ’54. Eisenhower’s Presidential Library has plenty on the subject. Ask Joe Vietnam Veteran what significance March 29 has to him and you’ll get the 1000-yard stare. Ask him what 1/30/68 or 5/7/75 means and you’ll get a far different response. Nobody forgets a Huey Throwing Contest at Dixie Station. Look at the VA’s regulation as to when they maintain the Boundary disagreement began-§3.2(f)- 2/28/1962. So again, where in Sam Hill did 3/29 enter into this again? How about 2/8/71 (Lam Son 719)? More appropriate, if you wanted a purely American, historic involvement date would be 11/14/65 (Ia Drang Valley).
We were still running SOG ops looking for our POW/MIAs in ’73. We still had probes working in Barrel Roll and Steel Tiger MRs until 1975 -and occasionally afterwards. They were being run out of Thailand until the King began tiring of the complaints from his neighbors. Without the clout of 80,000 US troops in his country, he didn’t cotton to an insipient communist insurgency either. His most modern fighters at that point were F 86s and leftovers from WW II like P-40s. His new neighbors in charge to the east had MIG 21s.
I recently saw a picture of the Traveling Wall -a shorty version of the DC wall they haul around the country. It’s advertized as the ‘Healing Wall’. I’ve been to the regular, full-sized version personally four times. I try to go when I’m in DC for hearings or when I visit my family in the tidewater region. It’s a short jaunt by Uber from the Hyatt Regency. Seems each time I go, it’s a mission to go find yet another long-forgotten acquaintance on there. I need to remember to pack charcoal for these expeditions. In this case, bad news travels extremely slowly. When I came home in ’72, I never settled down again back east and failed to reconnect with my former life. Friends of our family mention these more recent epiphanies now that I do VA law for a living.
With advancing age, the one thing us old farts need most at the DC Wall these days are benches to sit on while we visit and feed the squirrels. Most of us Vietnam Vets still vertical look like remnants of the chip-and-dent club. I guess benches are probably right out with the new ‘green outdoor camping’ phenomenon taking root but they sure would be nice.
I’m pretty sure many of you will never feel how this impacts you-even those of you my age- unless you have family on the Wall. It began subtly. Back in 1965, we young’uns began to notice a slow exodus of fellow classmates at Evergreen Elementary next door to Seymour Johnson AFB, NC. They were packing up and moving out of base housing and heading back to family homes in other states. Their dads were fighter pilots of the 4th TAC Fighter wing who were being reassigned to Vietnam combat squadrons. I began to find out when we moved to Langley AFB, VA that some had been shot down and were now POWs of the North Vietnamese. Some were MIA. But up in Laos, they were KIA and BNR. That stands for body never recovered. And then my dad got his orders in June ’66. Fortunately, he made it back alive but one of my classmate’s fathers- Major General Robert F. Worley- didn’t. He was shot down west of Da Nang by a SAM and that was all she wrote. The GIB egressed successfully and it’s theorized the smoke/fire in the cockpit overwhelmed him.
I sent his son an email last week with my condolences about his father’s passing. That was July 23, 1968. He works for VA and I happened to spot his name in VA’s email rolodex. It’s a small world but I wouldn’t want to paint it.
Many of you who served with me over there, either before or after me, lost friends, too. Nothing about good friends dying is healing to me. I’m sorry. It’s like picking at a scab until it begins bleeding all over again. Since I don’t go every year, when I do, it’s more like a chance for peaceful reflection on what could’ve been and what will never be. What if I hadn’t thrown those eggs at Officer Rohrbuck in his unmarked cop car four days after I graduated from high school? What if my draft number hadn’t been 39? But then reality intrudes. Why, I would never have met Cupcake and have this wonderful life helping Vets get what they (and I) should have received…yep…fifty years ago.
The fifty-year conundrum means little. I’ve never bought extra fireworks just because it’s the 25th or 225th anniversary of something. Likewise, it doesn’t refresh me or heal me to immerse my mind back into the biggest shit show I ever attended in my life. Going to the Wall is not healing. It’s sad remembrance. It’s guilt that you survived and your buddy didn’t. Every Vet I rep who carries a dx of PTSD will tell you that attending weekly Tuesday night Vet Center Kumbaya meetings where everyone sits in a circle and relives (and shares) life’s shittiest moments is not exactly cathartic. I don’t care what psychologists insist on as valuable therapy. I’d say it might make me want to ‘self-medicate’ more than I do already. Waaaaaay more. Certain parts of folks’ existence over there, by rights, deserve to be filtered or attenuated. Even mine. Rehashing old stories about Bouncing Bettys for discussion, dissection and Monday morning quarterbacking heals no one. I reckon it does wonders for pot sales though. That’s what the majority consensus is from the cheap seats. But then we’re not psychologists.
The period Vietnam photographs above I insert here awaken memories of that unique camaraderie I enjoyed for a fleeting moment in time. I don’t wish to remember the angst or the fifty-year emptiness of an aircrew who will never land again and laugh at their narrow escapes. I’d rather remember the whores in Vientiane to be brutally honest. I’d prefer to remember sucking oxygen in the morning with my GIF trying to get rid of our splitting hangovers before the preflight briefing. Going to visit the Wall, whether it be the Virtual Wall, the Traveling version or the raw, live one in 3D living color need no words. They need a place to sit serenely and visit with your best friend(s) you haven’t set eyes on in fifty years… And that’s all I have to say about that.
Speaking of fifty-year events, I had a close encounter with death January 15, 2022-forty nine years and some change after I left. Someone stole our Expedition and a friend spotted it several days later and followed it to a residence. I was informed and went over to “repossess” it. Seems Johnny Methhead was reluctant about relinquishing it. He backed up and tried to run over me with it. That’s attempted murder so I shot him. He’ll survive. He’s missing a large percentage of his right ear and suffered a through-and-through to the right upper shoulder.
The Expedition didn’t fare so well. I accidentally put a few into the engine block which prevented him from leaving. He opened the driver’s door and caught my noggin with it as I tried to jump out of the way. It rang my bell but I’ll recover. Cupcake’s synopsis is I’m fragile but still agile.
P.S. Perhaps what concerns me is that due to the fact we now have a set aside for Vietnam Veterans Day, who speaks for a Iraqistan Veterans Day? The remaining unrecognized Korean or WWII Veterans Day? The granddaughters of the Spanish American War Veterans Day?