This may surprise you, but what we commonly call the Vietnam War, or the Second Indo-China War, was technically the “Vietnam Conflict.” The US Congress never officially declared war against Vietnam. They viewed our participation in the conflict as a means of protecting South Vietnam from Communist takeover.
What was our involvement in the war that began fifty years ago?
According to America’s Wars Report, issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs (May, 2010,) 8.7 million service members were involved. To put that number into perspective, that’s over half the number of all US service members who were involved in World War II. About 5.4 million lives were lost to the Vietnam War.
It may seem small in comparison, but that is over twenty times the number killed in the American Revolution. Over 153,000 Americans were wounded in the Vietnam War.
At the height of hostilities in January, 1968, US forces heavily bombed the borders of Cambodia and Laos. The Communists launched the Tet Offensive, but failed to gain control over South Vietnam. The American public grew weary of government policies and suggestions that we were winning the war.
Even though the Paris Peace Accord in 1973 called for a cease to hostilities, and was agreed to by all parties, the war dragged on until April, 1975. Our involvement in the war ended on August 15, 1973. By 1976, both North and South Vietnam were reunited.
As of May, 2010, in the above cited report, 7,391,000 veterans were still alive. That number is three times more than the number involved in Desert Storm.
What do the numbers mean?
The numbers give you a snapshot of our involvement, but scale the numbers down to just one, where you can understand it personally.
Every number represents a loved one… each with a unique personality, with extraordinary talents and aspirations, each one with a life ahead of them.
How could they have known that their American Dream would turn so horribly into a hellish nightmare? Many were too young to understand. They did not have to wait long to find out.
Many of them were sent home in body bags. Even more came back with limbs amputated by landmines, suffered shrapnel blasts and bullet wounds. Many became blind. Others were deafened from the continual strafing, screeching, and thudding of aerial bombardment, machine gun fire, and explosions. Many are confined to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. Many came home unappreciated, rejected, and spiritually devastated. Even today, many of the survivors of that war will not speak of the atrocities they witnessed or the hell that they suffered.
The horrors of war, the memory of loss, the chronic pain; it’s just all too agonizing to remember. But remember we must, even if it is too difficult for those who actually endured the horrors of that war.
Remember Our Service Members…
America owes a debt of deep gratitude and appreciation for the service members who fight for the freedoms we far too often take for granted. Let us not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to our own. Let’s remember every last one of them. If you have opportunity, visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington in person. If not, visit The Wall USA, a non-profit established by veterans of the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment to honor those who died in the Vietnam War.
It is here you’ll find the poignant words: “If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go. Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own. And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.” (Major Michael Davis O’Donnell 1 January 1970 Dak To, Vietnam Listed as KIA February 7, 1978)
As we remember the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, let us…
Resolve to end all war, respect and accept all persons, and pray daily for peace.
To remember does not mean to simply recall or bring to mind. It holds even greater significance. When you RE- anything, you are doing it again. Redo. Reapply. Reassure. Whether or not we are a service member, we are all an individual members of a greater organism called humanity.
When we join together and stand united as one, in strength and purpose, this is how we RE-member.
And, rightly honor the memory of our soldiers.