The Forgotten Ones
I'll never forget the feeling of the smile on my face when I felt our plane touch down. We were finally landing back home on American soil. For the previous 15 months, I had been stationed in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. All the good times, and the bad times were running through my head. I had never felt more accomplished in my life. I was now considered a "Veteran." That is a title that, no matter what I will ever do in my life, can never be taken away from me.
When the plane landed, I remember looking around and seeing that everyone else in my platoon was wearing the same smile. We all stood up from our seats, grabbed our gear, and began to make our way to the exit. The airplane door opened with the steps leading to the ground and we were welcomed by a color guard, many military officers, and our loved ones. I walked down those steps proudly with my chin held high, my "combat patch" proudly displayed on my right sleeve.
Rewind time 30 years back to the end of the Vietnam War. My father, Sergeant Stanley Wood, was flying back to the United States. He felt empty. His battle buddy had been killed in an attack that also made my dad the recipient of a Purple Heart (a medal that is given to any troop wounded in combat.) Instead of wearing his uniform with pride on his flight, he tried to hide the fact that he was coming back from war. While I was greeted with a warm ovation, my dad was greeted with spit in his face and called a "baby killer."
For the first few days I was home I was taken out to so many bars by my friends. It was uncommon for me to not receive free drinks from other patrons in the bar and even the bartender. They would thank me for my service and tell me that my money was no good there. I was even reminded and encouraged many times from fellow Veterans that if I started to feel anxiety or anything to seek help.
For my dad's first few days back in 1975, he did not want to even leave his house. His nerves were shot, he could not get the images out of his head of what he had been through.
My dad who had been in many altercations and even in a helicopter that was shot down, would now wake up in cold sweats and jump every time somebody tried to wake him up. Growing up with him, I thought that this was normal for all adults. I didn't realize that my father was the poster child for PTSD. Sadly enough, when he tried to seek help for his condition, he was told that it was just "shell shock" and that he would get over it soon enough.
What makes this all so much more unfair is that I raised my hand to go, I volunteered to enter the Army. My father, like many Vietnam Veterans, was drafted. He came home from work one day and received a letter telling him (not asking) what to do. After fighting in a brutal war that they had no wish to be in, these veterans all came home to fight another war in their own country. The same place that they should be coming home to and finally feeling welcomed, they were being shunned. They refused the help, they refused to be recognized for what they'd been through, and they refused to be proud veterans.
Many of these Vietnam Veterans are now battling addictions, with 47% of all homeless veterans having fought in Vietnam. They served a country that did not serve them back. Imagine ever going through anything half that traumatic. Were they treated nearly as great as the veterans of my era? Absolutely not. Is it too late to finally give them the recognition that they deserve and that they earned? Absolutely not, I think it starts with us.
No matter how you feel about a war or armed conflict you should always remember that some of these veterans have the same exact feelings as you do towards the war and you might just be interested to hear the same perspective as somebody that has been "over there." So what can you do to show these guys the appreciation they deserve? Just a simple thank you and you will see the same smile on their face that I was fortunate enough to experience the day I came home.