We are still struggling to keep that vow. But for those of us with relatives and friends who served, it is a vow of honor worthy of our men and women who served in that terrible time, and those who serve in terrible times today.
There is a haunted look in the eyes of combat veterans…and often, those veterans who were left behind to serve in other ways, and could not stand side-by-side with their brothers and sisters in combat. These veterans touch my heart and own a piece of it. To you, I say the following.
Do not doubt your legacy. You may feel it is still that of a political war and taking blame for things that had nothing to do with an honorable sense of duty, the highest level of sacrifice or the most courageous of actions. They are part of the times. But they do not define you. Here is what defines you…this is your legacy: you have created heroes.
To serve this country with a strong sense of duty…to put your life on the line for all people of your country, even the ignorant, the haters and those who demeaned you…is the definition of a hero. But you had more to shoulder than simply being a hero. The reaction of this country upon your return…the misplaced blame and subsequent abuse…the humiliation and injustice that made you put away your uniform and hide your years of service…you shouldered all that, too.
It would have broken any man or woman. But it did not break you. You stood tall. You carried courage in your heart. You stared life in the face with compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, never once forgetting that the brothers- and sisters-in-arms who came after you deserved a proper welcome home. You shook their hands. You welcomed them home at airports. You patted them on the back. You never…not once…turned your back on the country who turned its back on you.
Therein lies your legacy. You cast a stone into the lake of humanity that is rippling out to multiple generations after you. And in those generations that you are touching…those who now see what you had endured before, during and after the war…they are changed for the better. They see you for the heroes you were, not only in the war, but at home afterwards. And they want to be just like you.
They, too, want to serve their brothers and sisters who took up arms to serve, defend and protect them. They are creating organizations to help wounded warriors…feeding homeless veterans…advocating for financial assistance, health care and education. The cry now is not only to welcome you home properly, but to send no man or woman into war without a justifiable cause, without the necessary and full equipment, or without the proper financial, medical, emotional, and social support upon return.
Your legacy is that they want to be heroes…just like you. And just like you, they are standing tall and doing so.
To all Vietnam veterans I say, especially on this day of national gratitude: welcome home. Thank you for your service. Thank you for reaching into generations past you and planting the seeds of true heroism. Our world is a better place because of you.
That…my friend…is your truest legacy.