By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
Today, March 30, is designated Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day in the State of Maine. The day is set aside each year, by order of the Maine State Legislature, to remember the sacrifices of those who fought, served and died in the Republic of South Vietnam.
It was a war that polarized our country, similar to what America is experiencing today. Many of the returning men and women who came back had no “safe space” to decompress in, so they took their own lives. But unlike today, few people cared.
Now, after villainizing Vietnam veterans for the past several decades, suddenly their status has been elevated to “hero.” No longer will they be forced to wear a scarlet letter, alerting the general public that they are in the presence of so-called psychotic baby killers. Finally, we are being welcomed back into everyday society.
We won every major battle. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong unleashed a bold attack simultaneously throughout the country. In the end, its mission failed and maimed the Communist forces for the next two years.
But on the television nightly news from his headquarters somewhere in a safe space in the Republic of South Vietnam, the General of the airways, Walter “Uncle Walter” Cronkite, declared the Tet Offensive a major loss for America’s military. This resulted in jubilation and major celebrations on American streets by anti-war college students looking for extra credit from their professors.
During this time a group of stolen-valor grifters formed an anti-war group, the Vietnam Veterans of America. They became the darlings of the media. But there was a problem: some had never served a day in the military; others never served in Vietnam while in the military; and still others who did serve in Vietnam had been assigned to non-combat duties.
When the war finally ended, everyone went back to the lifestyle they enjoyed before the war—everyone but those who fought it. Unlike today, those returning home from Vietnam were shunned and demonized. They packed their uniforms and the decorations they had earned into their luggage so they would not be identified as a returning Vietnam GI, which would have led to being spit at, having bags of feces thrown at you and possibly being assaulted.
Upon arriving back home, they encountered friends who no longer wanted to associate with them. Most disturbing and shameful of all, a few were actually disowned by their families.
Spending several months at Chelsea Naval Hospital, everywhere you looked there were young, broken bodies. Being from Boston, my family was just across the river and they were able to visit me frequently. But others were not so lucky.
Bobby Mulholland was a Navy Corpsman attached to the Third Marine Division in Vietnam’s Demilitarized Zone. He became trapped in an armored personnel carrier as phosphorus grenades were going off inside. This resulted in Mulholland losing his face. Think about that—he lost his face.
But across the river on the Boston Commons, thousands were celebrating Bobby’s wounds and the wounds of the others in the hospital that had been inflicted on these men by the Vietnamese Communists.
Yes, it’s Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day. The last combat troops came home in 1973, 44 years ago. In 1975, with the fall of South Vietnam, our remaining troops came home. We came home to shame, not welcome. Many of our brothers and sisters died never experiencing the newfound appreciation for their sacrifice and service.
To those born after 1955, thank you for your recognition of our service. To those of you born prior to 1955, you’re 40 years too late.