Guest Commentary

It's time to give Vietnam War veterans the respect they deserve

On a bright and warm Saturday morning in April, I joined several thousand people from across Southern Arizona, searching for familiar names among the seemingly endless engravings in the simulated black marble commemorating the lives lost during the Vietnam War.

The visitors to the wall were friends and family members of Vietnam veterans, along with veterans themselves and so many others. This is a wall of remembrance, a wall of heroes, a wall of men and women long dead in a war that some Americans wish to pretend did not happen. Many people like me came here out of honor and respect to see the names of our comrades in arms, friends, brothers and sisters who did not return from Vietnam more than 35 years ago.

We are the Americans who felt--and continue to feel--let down and abandoned by our government and our country. We did not return to parades and banquets honoring our service. Instead, we were scorned, vilified, spit upon, ignored and called vile names, ranging from "baby rapist" to "murderer."

We did not do anything different from those before us in Korea, World War I or World War II. We served the call of our government.

Many combat veterans stood staring at the names of fallen brothers in quiet reflection. Mike Meidle spent all of 1970 in Vietnam; he's a member of American Legion Riders. "I cannot touch the wall. I am so afraid that my friends' ghosts will come to take my soul back with them. I am not ready for that yet," he said as he wiped the tears from his cheeks.

Fred Glad, of Nogales, served with the 173rd Airborne at LZ (Landing Zone) Uplift in 1970 and 1971. He was in awe of the tribute. This was his first chance to see the wall. "We all came back to the insults and hatred from our country. We were confused by it all. ..." Glad said. "Where were our parades? We deserved it."

This was my first visit, because it was the first time I felt emotionally ready for the experience. I am glad I waited. I found the names of many of my fallen brothers and friends. I found the name of a friend and crewman. Barclay Bingham Young has been listed as MIA since 1972; his name is on a remembrance bracelet I have worn for years. I traced his name and felt his presence.

Some of us are not mentally or emotionally ready to view the memorial to the 58,000-plus fallen brothers and sisters. Time is a healer, but sometimes a scar has to be reopened to release the festering agents. I don't think the ghosts along the wall are evil or there to hurt us. They are there to help our healing and to remind us our sacrifices meant something.

Two men, who wished not to be identified, wandered along the wall; one pointed to a spot and said, "Dad, this is where I am supposed to be. These guys and I were together at the attack; I don't know why I survived." The father said, "It wasn't your time." They hugged, cried and slowly walked away.

Some say that there are too many of these touring replicas of the wall. Meidle said it best: "Not everyone can afford to go to D.C. Not everyone can take time from their jobs or family obligations to visit these memorials. Who has the right to tell us how and when we may mourn? There are not enough of the memorials for every veteran or surviving loved one to get at least one chance to see and experience this."

We should see one of these walls at least once to pay our proper respects to the many young people lost in Vietnam. It took almost 50 years to get a proper memorial for World War II and Korea; I can only ask myself how long before the losses of Afghanistan and Iraq are memorialized. Let's hope it doesn't take as long to remember this new class of heroes.

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