My Turn: This is how Vietnam veterans were treated

  • An honor guard stands prior to a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington on March 29, 2016. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 6/25/2017 12:15:16 AM

I am not sure when or if Bruce Currie (no relation) served in the military, but his Monitor letter of June 22 implies a knowledge that has no relationship to the actual treatment of Vietnam veterans in the period from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.

I served in the Navy from 1965 to late 1969, including a tour in Vietnam in 1968. When I returned from Vietnam in late 1968, I was stationed at the Naval base in Norfolk. I personally was spat upon by two teenagers just after leaving the base one evening. It was not an isolated incident. The whole situation got so bad in this Navy town that regulations came out from the base commander that military personnel were not allowed to wear their uniforms off the base on liberty.

Incidents like this happened all over the country. Protesters lined up outside the base in the San Francisco area where soldiers caskets were being unloaded and the protesters were spitting in the direction of the caskets from outside the cyclone fence. That story was picked up and shown on local television. The bottom line, however, is that most of those kinds of incidents didn’t happen in front of a news team and were so common it wouldn’t have been carried anyway.

Let’s face it, for most of us, we had seen much worse than someone spitting on us, and we weren’t going to run to the police to report an assault.

The negative attitudes toward veterans impacted our ability to get jobs, and the stories of “baby killers,” etc., along with some very strange movies coming out of Hollywood, left a public perception that veterans were crazed, unstable and dangerous.

Even as late as the early 1980s this attitude persisted.

In Houston in 1980, the anti-military feelings had gotten so bad that on Memorial Day there were almost no ceremonies or parades. I applied to have a small candlelight service on the grounds of the VA Hospital to honor all those killed in service. I was given permission but when our small group showed up for the service we were told that permission was now being rescinded because they were afraid of the political fallout of having such a service. Fortunately, a small park was across the street and we decided to go there for our service. It was a small group: several nuns, some veterans at the hospital, most in wheelchairs, several parents of young men killed in Vietnam, and my family and friends.

The whole thing backfired on the politicians when a news team from one of the major networks showed up. It turned out that our little ceremony was one of the largest in Houston that year, and so they decided to cover it. When they found out we had been kicked off the VA Hospital grounds, the news guy had a story. The footage became the lead piece on the evening news and the resulting feedback from viewers pretty much ended the period of disrespect of vets in the Houston area.

For the letter writer to imply that these kinds of incidents never happened is a sad reminder of the continuing efforts by some to rewrite history. We all need to move on from Vietnam, but to pretend that the poor treatment of Vietnam vets never happened is a further sorry effort to justify the actions of some who helped create that negative and toxic atmosphere.

Perhaps Currie is too young to remember that period, but he needs to realize that just because there isn’t any video doesn’t mean those incidents never happened.

(Glenn K. Currie lives in Concord.)

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