The Vietnam War…often thought of as the one America lost, was an unpopular war, as most people know. Protests were everywhere, and some young men ran away to Canada to avoid going to war. Our soldiers were hated, mocked, and protested…especially when they came home from the war. People didn’t line up at airports to welcome them home, they lined up to protest them…calling them “baby killers” and spitting on them. Although such incidents were rare, the stories were often repeated among US soldiers in Vietnam. These stories added to the soldiers’ resentment of the antiwar movement. Rather than being greeted with anger and hostility, however, most Vietnam veterans received very little reaction when they returned home. They mainly noticed that people seemed uncomfortable around them and did not want to talk about their wartime experiences. “Society as a whole was certainly unable and unwilling to receive these men with the support and understanding they needed,” Christian G Appy explains in his book Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam, “The most common experiences of rejection were not explicit acts of hostility but quieter, sometimes more devastating forms of withdrawal, suspicion, and indifference.” There was no tickertape parade to welcome home the heroes…nothing!! The veterans, who were just following orders, doing their duty, were blamed for the decisions of the government to go to war. It doesn’t matter to me whether this war was unnecessary, a lost cause, or a war we should or should not have been in, the soldiers should never have been blames for it. For years after the war, the Vietnam Veterans were shunned, neglected, and ridiculed.
By the 1980s, however, many Americans began to change their views of Vietnam veterans. They began to see that even if the war was wrong, most of the men who fought it were just ordinary guys doing their jobs. Many people started to feel sympathy and even gratitude toward the veterans. Soldiers who had served in Vietnam finally began receiving recognition and were honored by marching in holiday parades across the country. In 1985, Newsweek reported that “America’s Vietnam veterans, once viewed with a mixture of indifference and outright hostility by their countrymen, are now widely regarded as national heroes.” People had finally begun to understand how wrong they had been to blame the veterans for the war. Many people felt remorse for the horrible way this returning heroes were treated. Those who had this change of heart, began to do what they could to make amends. Better late than never, I guess, but in reality, no veteran should ever be treated that way.
On November 13, 1982, near the end of a weeklong national salute to the American who fought in the Vietnam War, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington after a march to its site by thousands of veterans of the conflict. The long-awaited memorial was a simple V-shaped black-granite wall inscribed with the names of the 57,939 Americans who died in the conflict, arranged in order of death, not rank, as was common in other memorials. The designer of the memorial was Maya Lin, a Yale University architecture student who entered a nationwide competition to create a design for the monument. Lin was born in Ohio in 1959, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Many veterans’ groups were opposed to Lin’s winning design, which lacked a standard memorial’s heroic statues and stirring words. However, a remarkable shift in public opinion occurred in the months after the memorial’s dedication. Veterans and families of the dead walked the black reflective wall, seeking the names of their loved ones killed in the conflict. Once the name was located, visitors often made an etching or left a private offering, from notes and flowers to dog tags and cans of beer. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial soon became one of the most visited memorials in the nation’s capital. A Smithsonian Institution director called it “a community of feelings, almost a sacred precinct,” and a veteran declared that “it’s the parade we never got.” “The Wall” drew together both those who fought and those who marched against the war and served to promote national healing a decade after the division the conflict had caused.