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(OPINION) Reach out and shake the hand of a Vietnam-era Veteran


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March 29 is Vietnam War Veterans Day, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the war. While one day is not enough to honor the service and individual sacrifices of those who served then, it is a vital reminder for all of us.

Let me be clear — this commemoration makes no distinction between veterans who served in-country, in-theater or who were stationed elsewhere during the Vietnam War period. All were called to serve, so our country, our Wyoming communities, our families and our children owe them all a debt of gratitude.

All military families endure the hardship of separation, uncertainty and fear, but the families of our Vietnam veterans also witnessed their husbands and wives, sons and daughters, and fathers and mothers returning home to a nation in turmoil.

These service members, who had chosen to honor our nation’s call, were encouraged to travel home, not in uniform, but in civilian clothes. Those who were able quietly slipped back into the lives they had left — although they were profoundly impacted by their experiences. 

Like veterans returning from today’s battlefields, those who served in Vietnam came home with both physical and unseen injuries of war. Many of the unseen injuries suffered by our Vietnam veterans went undiagnosed and weren’t understood by our medical community, or citizenry, as they are now. Veterans were left to meet these challenges without the outpouring of assistance available today. 

However, too many who fought in Vietnam never experienced that return home or the chance to marry and have children or grandchildren. Their future was cut short; their hopes and dreams along with it. And the families of those who didn’t return — whose names are etched on the Wall — experienced the painful loss of a loved one without the collective support of their nation. 

The following facts provide us some context and understanding of the true cost of war, not measured in dollars and cents, but in lives — neighbors, friends and family who come home with seen and unseen scars that need mending and extensive care, or do not come home at all.

58,307 names appear on the Wall in Washington, D.C. Their average age: 23.1 years. 

Many tens of thousands were disabled. 

Approximately 7,500 women, the majority of whom were nurses, served in Vietnam; eight were killed in theater, all of whom were nurses. 

And 1,627 are still considered missing in action and their families await word of their fate. 

These facts also are best understood by those who served and their families. Some continued to serve in uniform, while many returned to civilian life, started families and immediately began contributing to their communities. Some took up service as police officers, teachers, doctors and nurses. From town halls and boardrooms to the nation’s Capital, others became leaders and elected public servants. And, most importantly, these men and women are in our community.

That’s why I encourage everyone to please take a moment to reach out and shake the hand of any you know — they all deserve our thanks and admiration this and every day.

Thank you, and God bless. 

Pam Crowell
Sheridan VA Health Care System director