Can We Get the Lights?

Wayne Horne | 4/13/2016, 2:59 p.m.
Many people may not be aware of the fact that our nation is already four years into the commemoration of ...

Many people may not be aware of the fact that our nation is already four years into the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. By presidential proclamation on May 25,2012 the remembrance extends from Memorial Day 2012 through Veterans Day 2025.

It is easy to forget the lessons of history when confronted with the pangs of the present. Each generation confronts history from the impact it has had on their own generation. Historic commemorations are often short-lived unless they are supported by national holidays such as Memorial Day or The Fourth of July celebrations. “The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration” was formed to recognize the service and sacrifice of Vietnam era veterans.

The official period of the Vietnam war is usually measured from August, 1964 to May, 1975, but that is for the history books. The United States had advisors there as early as the end of World War II. In fact, the first time Vietnam requested help from the U.S., Abraham Lincoln was President. However, Lincoln was immersed in the Civil War at the time and there is no record of his response.

The return home for many Vietnam Veterans was marked by indifference and, in some instances, with resentment. It took many years before the veterans’ sacrifices were acknowledged with respect and thanks. One of the largest events honoring Vietnam veterans occurred on June 13, 1986. Over 200,000 veterans participated in a parade in the streets of downtown Chicago while a million people stood on the parade route and cheered as they went by. It was the largest parade honoring Vietnam veterans in the country. There were no floats or political speeches, just veterans.

Since that time the country and its citizens have recognized the soldier’s responsibility to be the guardian of our freedoms. The profile of the Vietnam veteran includes many of the same qualities found in the soldiers of today. Of the military personnel sent to Vietnam 76 percent were from middle working class backgrounds. Three-fourths had family incomes above the poverty level.

There were 9.1 million military personnel on active duty during the era and approximately 2.6 million military personnel actually served in Vietnam. The perception that mostly draftees went to Vietnam is false. Only 25 percent of the forces in Vietnam were drafted. The casualties totaled over 58,000 with over 47,000 from hostile action. More than 303,000 military personnel were wounded. The average age of the soldier was 19 and most of the men killed during the Vietnam war were under the age of 21.

Today most Vietnam veteran have retired, or soon will, from a civilian occupation and spend time with grandchildren and other family members. The war is a distant memory but not a forgotten one. “The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration” was formed with five major objectives as its goal:

  1. Thank Vietnam veterans and their families including those who were prisoners of war or missing in action.

  2. Highlight the Armed Forces service during the war and the contributions of agencies, governmental and non- governmental, that supported them.

  3. Pay tribute to contributions made by people on the home front.

  4. Highlight advances made in technology, science, and medicine related to military research.

  5. Recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by U.S. allies.

Vietnam veterans have been recognized in many ways over the years, both locally and nationally. One of the more recognizable legacies of the Vietnam veterans experience is the way todays veterans are respected for their service and sacrifice by the non-veteran public. The City of Joliet has applied to become a Commemorative Partner. It is anticipated that there will be several local events planned during the designated commemorative period.

One last thing… do you think it will be possible to put lights on the City of Joliet flag pavilions before the official start of any veterans’ events? Just askin’. Stay tuned…