The Importance of Today
38 years ago today, soldiers got off planes or buses or some other mode of transportation thankful to be back on US soil only to be spit on jeered and mistreated by the people who they signed up to protect. There was no “Cup of Joe for A Joe,” no “Soldiers Angels,” no “My Soldier.” Many of those vets ended up homeless, lost their families because of their PTSD, because they had seen things no one can unsee.
13 years ago today, I was a fourth grader at Little Britain Elementary School in New Windsor NY. I had a classmate name Nicholas. I can still remember him, but can’t tell you for the life of me what his last name was other than long and unpronounceable as most names from Italian descent can usually be. More than anything else I remember about Nick, I can still remember his Dad. Nicks’ Dad, was not as tall as some other Dads, but I am not so sure that’s because he actually wasn’t or because he walked with his shoulders hunched down around him his head always hung slightly. His skin was brown and leathery like the first edition of a very used book, his eyes sunken in protected by the bags and dark circles under them. His very long pony tail was off the ears, but not off the collar, but always neat and pulled back, but it seemed like it had lost its shine long ago, long before I was a fourth grader. His mustache in regulation, the color of his hair and mustache matching the dark brown leather coat he always seemed to be wearing. More than anything I remember, I remember he was missing several of his fingers. As a true 09 year old it was something we absolutely discussed when his Dad wasn’t there to pick him up. That was the first time I had ever heard of “Vietnam.” Nick’s Dad had lost some of his fingers in Vietnam. Nick’s Dad had seen things that cannot be unseen; he had suffered injuries that he had to live the rest of his life with. Still though, he came and picked his son up from school most days.
So when I heard that Congress has declared 30 March as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” the first person I thought of was the first person who showed me what Vietnam was: a place that taught soldiers that there’s no place like home. It was a place where they were as much the enemy as they were when they got home. No Vet should have to hang their head or be ashamed of their service. No Vet should be treated like the enemy. The Vets of the First Gulf War, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, have had so many benefits: military discounts, Decks for Vets, free meals on Veterans Day, Homes for Troops. Take the time to realize 38 years ago had you been a Vet the most you would have gotten was an insult. The importance of Today? The tomorrow it created for the rest of us. If you see a Vietnam Vet today, thank them, it’s the least anyone can do for these forgotten heroes.
Thanks, Nicks’ Dad.