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.  It 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.

Write Family Stories

picture of extended family around a table in an album frame
image by Sean Lynn

“So many family stories lost,” I commented as we drove out of the cemetery in the desert of West Texas, “somebody needed to write them down.”

“That’s why we are doing the genealogy project,” Chris responded, “so they won’t be forgotten.”

That had to be the reason. She had already commented that no one else in the family was interested. But you never know when that might change.

When my mother died, I finally realized that I was no longer young, that the life I had known was falling away never to be retrieved. I found myself remembering those snippets of stories my parents had let drop but never fleshed out. Or maybe they did and I was not interested enough at the time to pay attention. There were hints of my dad brewing beer in a Texas Tech dormitory bathtub. That’s all I know of that story. Did he get caught? What were the consequences of brewing beer on a college campus in the Bible belt in the late 1940s? I don’t know.

My grandma told us (me and my cousins) of taking an iron bar and banging the head of a cat, killing it because it kept getting into her cream. Being sensitive young teens at the time, we were horrified, not understanding the self-sufficient farm economics of the 1930s; life was hard.

I didn’t write the family stories.

I didn’t ask for more information.

So many stories lost. Your stories may not sound like anyone would be interested in them because, they are what everyone currently alive has experienced. Ways of life change though.

Write the family stories.

What may be common now may be incomprehensible twenty or thirty years from now. Fifty years from now, someone may be writing a cultural history, or a school report, and your life stories could be their research. Publish them… or not, start a blog… or not, but at least start a file on your computer, or just a spiral notebook. Just Write them down.
Record the stories of the elders in your family or community and transcribe them. What was life like for them when they were young? What was life like for you? Studies show that children who know the family narrative are more self-confident and resilient and that the qualities carry on throughout their life.

You don’t have to do anything with them, just write them down. You don’t have to be a GOOD writer. Just don’t let all the struggles, emotions, and humor of the past get lost. It feels good to release those feelings onto paper. It is good for the soul.

Write the family stories.

Someone, somewhere, someday will be glad you did.

originally published at www.creativeprovocateurs.com on June 15, 2016.