Most of us are about to celebrate Memorial Day, a holiday which meant very little to me until I married a Vietnam-era veteran. I am afraid most young people have no way to understand exactly what happened to those in their late teens and twenties during the Vietnam War.
If you asked them, most probably would not know that every American male was eligible and required to fight that war, not just those who volunteered.
We boomers remember well "the lottery" or annual drawing of birthday dates which determined who might be sent first to Vietnam, and eventually who might die or be injured there. This applied only to men. Their only options were to go fight, try for conscientious objector status, or go hide in Canada if their number came up and they did not wish to risk dying in Vietnam.
Many of the men I have known throughout my life were scarred permanently by their Vietnam service. One still carries around shrapnel from being shot in the back and left for dead by the Viet Cong. Another was a medic who broke his back when he dove out of a helicopter that was about to blow up.
Most of these men experience varying levels of PTSD to this day. Far too many ended up mentally ill and homeless after the war. Unlike most veterans today, many were spat upon and called "baby killer" when they returned home. And remember, most were drafted into the military.
My husband Mike volunteered for the Navy during the Vietnam War. He had always loved the sea and wanted to experience life on the Pacific, which he did. To this day he suffers from exposures to numerous toxic chemicals during his years of service, with severe long-term disabilities, which the VA takes no responsibility for.
Mike suffers from a severe case of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) everyday, and has lived with CFS for over 20 years now. He receives no VA benefits because he is caught between coverage of veterans exposed to Agent Orange, (his exposure was from being just off shore at the end of the Vietnam War) and receives no coverage for CFS, because only those service members who fought in the Gulf War are eligible for CFS benefits.
So even though Mike is proud to have served his country in the Navy for a number of years, he still feels cheated by his country on a number of different fronts. I wonder how many other vets feel exactly the same way.