Yesterday was National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
Vietnam was a strange war. The American people were against it. Prospective draftees were running off to Canada to avoid the draft. Families were encouraging their children to do so.
People marched in the streets in opposition. It was the first time I saw such demonstrations. Clergy, doctors, lawyers, college students, all elements of society.
We had honored World War II veterans. Even those of the Korean War. Vietnam was strangely different.
When the veterans returned, they were not met with bands and all types of honors. They just dropped back into the normal daily routine. Back to work, home with family, some off to college.
Vietnam veterans were disrespected.
In 2013, Key West erected a Vietnam Living Memorial at Bayview Park. I attended the dedication.
I have always felt guilty that I never served. Korea was over when I graduated high school. When Vietnam was heating up, the remorse returned. I was a young lawyer. My practice was starting to produce decent money. We had purchased a home. We had 4 young children.
I went home after work one evening and sat my wife down at the kitchen table. I have something to tell you, I said. She never expected what I hit her with: “I want to join the Marines.”
Her response was immediate and loud. She stood up over me and yelled, “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR F—ING MIND?”
That was the end of the Marines.
I attended the Vietnam Memorial dedication in May 2013. There were a large number of former military standing around. All older, of course. Some with bellies. Others, long hair. Even some beards.
Most wearing something to signify that they were Vietnam Veterans. A cap, a jacket, whatever.
All stood proud, except those that could not stand. All had sharp salutes at the appropriate time during the dedication.
It was their time. Their country was finally respecting their service.
Yesterday, there was another service at Bayview Park. The day dedicated in Key West and the entire U.S. to honoring Vietnam veterans. Those who served. Dead and alive.
I stopped by. Though I did not serve, I always felt Vietnam was my war.
Some 200 in attendance. Long retired military. Some with family. Marines among them. Once again, all proud. You could see it on their faces and in their eyes.
Recognize the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam March 29, 1973. Forty six years ago.
I live on the golf course in Key West. My next door neighbors are Homero “John” Lopez and his wife.
One of the speakers at yesterday’s ceremony was my neighbor John. I had forgotten that he was a retired major from the Marine Corps. Did more than one tour of duty in Vietnam.
A conversation John and I had almost a year ago came back to mind.
We were outside our homes chatting as neighbors do. My memory tells me John and I are the same age. Eighty three. I might be off a year or 2 regarding John.
Somehow we got into a portion of John’s life. An important and proud one to him.
John joined the Marines. A young man. Not a U.S. citizen. He was born in Cuba or Mexico. The Marines became his life.
Vietnam erupted. John was shipped to Vietnam. A corporal or sergeant at the time. He received a battlefield commission as a second Lieutenant. The fight went on. He kept receiving battlefield promotions. By the end of the war, John was a major.
John wanted to stay in the Marines. He could not be a major, however. Battlefield commissions are removed when a war is over. John’s rank dropped to sergeant.
Not dismayed, he was the best sergeant the Marines had. He continued to do well and moved up in the ranks. All the way back to major.
John had been in the service 32 years. He had to make Lieutenant Colonel or he would be retired. He did not make it. John was retired.
At some point in his career, John became a U.S. citizen. He was in Hawaii at the time. John is proud of his American citizenship. He and his wife return annually to Hawaii to celebrate the event.
Children and grandchildren brought John and his wife to Key West. The desire to be near family.
Their home next to mine is immaculate. Trees and foliage always trimmed. Not one branch even slightly out of line. The private walled back area blooming with all kinds of growth. Even bananas. John offered me a bunch one day. The bananas were overgrown and he had to cut some away.
An American story.
Recall, John was an immigrant. A dirty word to some today. He dedicated his entire adult life to the service of protecting “his country.” He fought in war. Put his life on the line.
Not like some who tend to criticize the immigrants of today. John had no disease, no criminal record, nothing to prohibit his entry.
Enjoy your day!