Why Were We So Clueless During the Viet Nam War?

stylized drawing of sailor uniforms
image by Sean Lynn

I was recently talking with a friend about Quilts of Valor. She told me some of the problems that she has with presenting them to Viet Nam vets because they did not receive a warm welcome when they returned home. This convinced them that they did not deserve any recognition or thanks. Viet Nam vets downplay their involvement and don’t want to talk about it.

This reminded me of my senior year in high school. Two boys I knew had joined the Navy and were home on leave. They wanted to take me and my best friend out to lunch. We wanted them to wear their uniforms. They balked but we pleaded so they gave in and wore them.

Now I wonder how those boys felt, being forced to advertise in their hometown that they were in the military during that war. I knew that they were uncomfortable because they kept looking around. I just thought it was because they were the only ones in any kind of uniform.

My dad was Air Force and I had two uncles in the Army in WWII so I was always taught that being in the military was an honorable endeavor and I was proud to be seen with them.

Why WERE we so unaware and careless?

My family watched the news every night. We watched protests and riots over the war. I knew that many people were against it but for some reason that was always somewhere else. I did not see those attitudes in my world. What I saw on TV was not real to me. I didn’t see those people as people. We were clueless. We had no understanding, no real awareness that there was a world other than our own, another world where people were mean, disrespectful, and careless of others’ feelings.

There were no incidents while we were with them and they never mentioned any later. They never explained to us why they didn’t want to wear their uniforms. They probably thought we should know. ┬áIt could be that in other places, they would have flatly refused but were counting on conservative Oklahoma to be good to them.

Years later, I married a Viet Nam vet and learned what problems might exist. My husband told me horror stories of being a college student after returning from the war. Other students slammed their books down just to watch the vets duck under the desks. People yelled horrible things to them and call them baby killers. I never knew any of this.

To David and Roger,

I’m sorry.