By Jim Reed
“On the worst days, no one expected to get through it alive. A despair set in among members of the battalion that the older ones, the veterans of two other wars, had never seen before.”
The bestselling book, "Dispatches," a 260-page memoir by war correspondent Michael Herr, includes this up-close perspective of the soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War.
The excerpt captures too, perhaps, the sentiment of despair in the country during the dark days of that war. The conflict divided the nation bitterly in the 1960s and 1970s and, in significant ways, still defines American policies and politics today.
Sadly, those returning to civilian life back then were often met with hostility by members of the public who had opposed the war, wrongly blaming the warriors for a conflict that was instead set into motion by decisions made by United States leaders over several years, amid a complex set of geopolitical, strategic and historical factors.
Thankfully, as a nation, we are now 50-plus years beyond the Vietnam War era and have for many decades honored the sacrifice of those who served in the armed forces in Vietnam, as well as all prior and subsequent times of war.
On March 29 each year, the nation observes National Vietnam War Veterans Day. This is a way to thank and honor the nation’s Vietnam War veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice.
All the states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have issued proclamations, enacted legislation and/or adopted resolutions to recognize a Vietnam Veterans Day either annually or for a specific year.
An example is Idaho’s HCR 51, passed in 2014, that observes a “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” designed to commemorate and honor the contributions of Idaho veterans who served in Vietnam, and encouraging the people of Idaho to undertake “ceremonies and activities that promote awareness of the contributions of our Vietnam War veterans and the importance of helping Idaho Vietnam veterans readjust to civilian life.”
Because of the effects of their service, veterans of all eras can encounter a variety of obstacles to finding employment, housing, health care and mental health services. NCSL’s bipartisan legislative Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs addresses a wide range of state policies affecting the health and well-being of service members, veterans and their families.
The next meeting of the task force will be Aug. 6-7 in Nashville in conjunction with the 2019 Legislative Summit. Topics will include preventing servicemember and veteran suicide, improving justice outcomes for veterans, supporting military spouse employment, enhancing state military economies, and a special briefing on the report of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service.
NCSL Legislative Summit registration opens on April 1.
Jim Reed staffs the NCSL Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force.