The Vietnam war spanned eleven years of combat. Eleven years of soldiers fighting in some of the most unforgiving conditions you could imagine. Unbearable heat, constant wetness, dangerous terrain full of deadly animals and booby traps.
By March of 1971, many of the troops had already been removed from the country, but it wasn't until March 29th, 1973, that the last of the troops and prisoners of war arrived safely on American soil. (Pictured to the right, the last 55 troops to leave Vietnam debark their Air Force C-141 at Travis Air Force)
The reception for these veterans was not full of the parades and celebrations that the veterans of previous wars had experienced. While the war was happening in Vietnam, a different kind of conflict was being waged within the U.S. The country was reeling from the assassinations of President Kennedy and several major civil rights activists. The civil rights movement was in full swing, desegregation was being implemented, and on top of all of that, many of the American people didn't understand why the U.S. was involved in Vietnam. The United States was experiencing one of the most tumultuous times in its history, and as these soldiers returned from this highly controversial war, many of them were shunned and neglected and not given the treatment that their courage and resiliency deserved.
The next year, in March of 1974, President Nixon made the declaration:
"As a Nation, we have acknowledged our deep respect and admiration by setting aside March 29, 1974, as Vietnam Veterans Day to remember that the honorable peace America achieved came through great sacrifice. Those who served, those who gave their lives, those who were disabled, and those who are still missing in Southeast Asia--and whose full accounting we shall continue to seek--deserve the profound gratitude of their countrymen."
In a time when the country was at its most divided, and many men were burning their draft cards, there were men who were loyal and brave, who fought for their country when it was popular not to. Thank you Vietnam Veterans. We acknowledge your sacrifices, we apologize for your mistreatment, and we celebrate your bravery.