Once a year we come together to honor those who have served our country in military service. Whether they were in the midst of battle or served in a supporting role, their service to our country is debt that we will never be able to repay.
This Wednesday marks Veterans Day. Whether they were at Battle of the Bulge, the Chosin Reservoir, a rice paddy in Vietnam or in a desert in the Middle East, our nation pays tribute to their bravery and dedication for serving.
“Every service member who ever served gave us the opportunity to have the freedoms we enjoy,” said Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Ernie Heflin. “No matter what branch they served, no matter how long they served, they have my respect and we should honor their service to our country.”
For almost 100 years we have been honoring our veterans with a special day. We have thrown parades, made speeches and laid wreaths on tombstones in honor of those who did not return ... but how many of us know the origins of Veterans Day and the significance of Nov. 11?
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs the day of honor was first set aside by President Woodrow Wilson in November of 1919. The President selected Nov. 11 for one specific reason. It was on that day in 1918, World War I, known as the “The Great War,” came to an end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
With Wilson’s proclamation, Nov. 11 would be known as Armistice Day and was originally intended to honor veterans of World War I.
But in 1954, after the U.S. involvement in World War II and the Korean War, President Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation” to honor those who had served after World War I.
This year will be no different than years past. Our schools will invite local veterans to breakfast. Our high schools bands will play patriotic songs as our country’s colors are displayed. We will meet on the steps of courthouses across the country and have speeches honoring those who served and those who did not come home.
According to the Office of Public Affairs, Veterans Day recognizes approximately 23.2 million veterans in the United States. Government reports shows there are 9.2 million veterans over the age of 65, with 1.9 million under the age of 35, and 1.8 million veterans are women.
The largest group of veterans today are those men and women who served during the Vietnam era with 7.8 million members, which represents 33 percent of all living veterans.
For those who served during the Vietnam era this year is a very poignant marker. It marks the 50th anniversary of that war, a milestone and a reminder of the toll it took in casualties and the price many veterans paid when they returned home.
Vietnam was a defining moment in our country’s history. It was a time of unrest, a time of social and cultural change. During that time a generation found its voice and learned how to use it. While some marched in protest towards a war they believed was completely political and unjust, many brave men and women marched off to Southeast Asia to serve their country.
When Saigon fell and the war had come to end, more than 58,000 Americans had been killed and 150,000 wounded ... many of whom suffered permanent disabilities. By one estimate more than 800,000 of those who served in Vietnam came home with some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Since August the Daily Journal has been honoring members of our region who participated in a war that would forever change our view towards human rights, war, our government and the our place in world politics.
Unfortunately the men and women who served in this era were caught in the middle of the turmoil. Their service often went unnoticed, or for some it was met with contempt. There was no parades, no special recognitions.
Just like most wars, those who served came home with many different experiences. Some were in the thick of battle and came home to a world that was indifferent to them, while others were lost and faced an unsympathetic world. Others came home and picked up their lives where they had left off before their tour of duty.
For Bob Tomlinson, a member of the 1st Cavalry Division, 2nd Battalion 12th Infantry, his experience began just two months after leaving high school. According to the veteran infantryman, his only job in the Vietnam was to engage the enemy.
“As an infantryman, your sole job was to search out the enemy,” Tomlinson said. “It was our only purpose for being over there. Depending on our mission, we either did search and seizures or search and destroy.”
For Tomlinson war became reality after his first fire fight. It is where, he said, 18-year-old boys age 10 years.
Tomlinson said part of the culture shock came from how you were sent home after your tour was over. He went from a firefight to a 13 hour plane ride back to the states where he was thrust back into the “real world.” For many it was too much of a shock.
“When a lot of us got off the plane from Vietnam we would find the closest men’s room, trash our uniforms and immediately put on our civilian clothes. We were just shocked how people really hated us.”
Tomlinson believes it was the atmosphere of the times that fostered a lot of problems he and his fellow Vietnam vets experienced during the years following the war.
For others they served their country by administering to the aid of their wounded brethren. As a Navy hospital corpsman, James Hutchins would do three tours in Vietnam, the first two aboard the Enterprise and the third tour, a year after leaving the Navy, in country with a Marine unit.
“I went back because they pissed me off. They killed some of my Marines over there,” Hutchins said. “I was mad, so I went back over.”
Hutchins admits that during his time in Vietnam he lived a very charmed life. During his year in combat he was never wounded and was only shot at once.
Hutchins’ luck would stay with him even when he returned to the United States. Like most veterans from that era will tell you, the military kept information on the anti-war movement away from the soldiers, and Hutchins only experienced one episode.
“When I came home we had landed at Travis Air Force Base in California and there was a Marine in front of me,” Hutchins said. “I don’t know where this girl came from but she came up and spit on him. He didn’t know what to do. He had a pretty good temperament. He was just thinking about getting home to see his parents and his girl."
For some serving in the war, they would not see battle or conflict. They were in the rear units supporting the troop in the brush. They were in transportation, supplies or the military police.
For Donn Adamson, his time in country was spent working as a military police officer in the U.S. Army’s K-9 support unit station in Long Binh, the site of the TET Offensive in 1968 and 1969.
“Kennel support meant I didn’t have to walk around the ammo depot every night on patrol with a sentry dog. I got to stay inside,” Adamson said. “While the other handlers were walking at night, I was asleep in my bunk. I was on easy street, or so I thought.”
Each veteran, no matter what war or conflict they served, paid a price. It is to these men and women that we pay tribute on Veterans Day.
This Veterans Day the Daily Journal will wrap up its special tribute to those who served in the Vietnam War, and offers our gratitude to all who have served to protect our freedoms.