Ric Vandett

Ric Vandett

Welcome Home

Of all the holidays we celebrate, the one that means the most to me is Veterans Day. Each holiday is important to different people for different reasons, but Veterans Day is special because it honors the men and women who served our country, often paying the supreme sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy today.

I respect all veterans, from those who were freezing at Valley Forge to those who are sweltering in the “Sand Box” in the Middle East. But my deepest feelings are for my brothers and sisters who served in Vietnam.

The Vietnam experience unites all who were there. I once wrote a poem entitled “The War” that I believe captures the feeling of many of us who served.

The War

From a noble beginning

To an ignoble end

It parted the nation

As Moses parted a sea

Overnight boys became men

And men died

Politicians argued in Congress

And men died

Students protested in college

And men died

Nixon replaced Johnson

And men died

The sixties became the seventies

And men died

Gone was the reason to go there

Gone was the resolve to stay there

Winning was not as important

As surviving a year

And we went home

To a nation divided

Coming home to a nation divided is an experience all Vietnam vets share. Our returning home was different than that experienced by G.I.s who returned home after World War II. During that war, soldiers stayed until they reached their objective: winning the war. In Vietnam, the objective for individual soldiers was surviving a year, not winning a war. We didn’t have to win in order to go home. We only had to survive for one year. There was no incentive to win the war. For nine years we had thousands of servicemen and women trying to survive, not win. And we succeeded.

We came home, but there was no homecoming. Returning G.I.s were not thought of as being special because they were coming home all the time. Put in a year and go home. That’s all we had to do. At the end of World War II, the return of the American fighting men meant the end of the war, a glorious, victorious end. Americans returning home during the Vietnam War meant only that they had survived a year. So coming home was special only to the veterans and their families.

Veterans of all wars have stories to share and memories that stay with them always. It is so easy to forget that war is all about people dying. I recall Gen. Patton’s words about the fact that Americans should not die for our country. Our job was to make the other guy die for his country. And all veterans are affected by the concept of dying. Those who served in a war were always close to dying. Whether they were actually in a fire fight, were in a plane, or simply walking in a village or city, our veterans were always close to dying. It’s hard to live with that thought even if that thought was hidden deep in the recesses of our minds. I don’t live today thinking about death, but that’s how I lived that year in Vietnam. That kind of living has to do something to a person. Add to the experience the fact that none of us returned home to a nation grateful for what we had done, and you get a picture of the Vietnam veteran.

Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have different stories to tell, but they experienced many of the same things those who served in any war experience. Gratefully, they are much more respected by people in this country when they come home. These veterans also carry hidden scars from their experiences.

Veterans Day helps us remember the sacrifices and the service that many men and women have given, are giving, and will someday give to serve this country and to fight to protect the freedoms we all enjoy today. I hope that is how people will view Nov. 11, as a day to honor veterans. It is not a day to celebrate a day off of school. It is not a day to take advantage of special sales. It is a day to remember that every man and woman who serves is willing to give, in Lincoln’s words, “the last full measure of life.”

I shared more about the Vietnam War because that was my personal experience. But men and women have been serving our country since before 1776. Veterans Day honors all of those people.

I’m proud to be part of the fraternity of veterans, and to my brothers and sisters who served in Vietnam, let me say, “Welcome home.”

Ric Vandett

Vandett is the former superintendent of Hickory Public Schools. He enlisted in the Air Force in October 1962, was assigned to the Army in April 1963. He served in Vietnam 1965-1966 with both the First Air Cavalry and the First Infantry divisions.

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