Thousands of us began as innocent young kids, (or men, if you prefer), who were sent off to do unknown things in a world few will ever know. We became Old Vets long before our time, because we survived all the horrors of war in ways I still find hard to think about, let alone try and explain.
Those of us that survived — and still survive today — were already old by the time we were 18, (or whatever age fits). We came back to a changed world from the one we remembered and longed to come back to. It was a world that had become not only tired of war, but tired of us, as well.
The world didn’t know a thing about the who, the what, or the why, of it all, and we couldn’t explain it to them for many reasons. Some people had — and still have — closed minds to the cold hard truth of war. Some did try to understand, but we as “Old Vets” couldn’t tell anyone anything. We feared the reality of what society already thought of us. The irony is, the world still thought of as kids, and we weren’t allowed to do certain things, because we weren’t “OLD” enough, or mature enough, to make decisions that impacted our lives (as well as those of society). In one respect, we were years ahead of the rest of the world. In yet another, we were years behind.
Nothing like being in combat with the permission and ability to take or save a life, call in air strikes, artillery fire, risk our lives in suicide missions, handle explosives and weapons, live like animals, or worse, and yet back in the world, we weren’t even old enough to buy beer. My biggest issue to this day was being told I couldn’t vote — I wasn’t mature enough to make decisions that affected the future of our country? We were sure old enough to go off to war …
So, we did what we had to do to survive. We withdrew and tried living in what the world perceived to be a normal life with all it had to offer. From where we came from, we never quite seemed to fit in, or adapt, to a changed world. From our viewpoint, we only exchanged one evil for another — one which was much more dangerous. A song, a picture, nightmares, sounds, or cross words spoken to and about us, all brought back the reality of our war, so we withdrew even more, some to the point of no return and no escape. Some blocked it out completely, but it was still there — deep inside it still lurks, always. Even now, as true Old Vets, we constantly live with our demons.
We were a generation that asked nothing for what we did, and we gave all we had to keep us alive and, in our minds, to keep America safe and free. For us, it was a small price to pay for freedom. Whatever it took, we stepped up and paid that debt in full — some more than others. We never failed, backed down, ran, or quit. What we were and are will be with us forever. We were willing to give our lives for our country, our comrades, and everything we considered right, and no one will ever take that away either.We have survived to be where we are now, and we owe so many for the blessings bestowed on us by family and friends who never gave up on us.
For the most part, we as Old Vets have survivor’s guilt. I do. We have questions, too. Why, how, and what were the ultimate reasons we survived? There are no answers, just more questions.
At times, being old Vets makes us wonder what if? What if we didn’t come home? What about those that didn’t — how would their lives have turned out? Would any of them have made a real difference back home? Most of us can’t, nor will we ever, truly come home. Vietnam will be with us forever, like it or not. We lived it, breathed it, and we remember it, regardless. As long as one Vietnam Vet lives, who we were will never die.
We are truly one, no matter what branch, or where, we served. We are a band of brothers and sisters, just like it has always been said about past Old Vets. What we are in life reflects on who we all were and what we believe in. How others see and hear us, shows we are many things they never knew about us and it represents us all, in one way or another. What they see and read speaks volumes about us. We can’t change outsiders’ opinions of us, but we can write the truth and hope they will listen to what we have to say.
We are who we are and if they only knew we would give our life to save them, they might have a different view of us and our war – a war that made us such Old Vets to begin with. Only we can know what’s inside us from where we came. Some things truly can’t be explained. Life isn’t always fair, it’s just life, and we live it every day, each in their own way.
I hope the next generations are, (and will be), learning more about the horror of war and combat, and how it changes someone from day one, for the rest of their life. Fact is, now days, society is seeing the reality of war, thanks to all the tech things out there. Real war comes face to face with them daily. They get a new look at what all wars really are, just sitting on the sidelines watching. For us, we didn’t necessarily have to be in actual combat, but we still had to show up. There were no timeouts, breaks, days off, or holidays. Combat was 24/7. There was no second place in war.
Being Old Vets, we have traveled many roads in our lives, both good and bad. We still feel we are at war, no matter what is going on. We’re still fighting for benefits that shouldn’t ever have been questioned in the first place. We paid our dues and stand to this day by the Oath we took long ago.
Through it all, the only thing we ever wanted when we survived and came back to the world was a simple “Thank You”. Money doesn’t buy what that means to us — it never will. The people we owe thanks to are fellow Vets, (past, present, and future), family, friends, our Combat Medics, Medevac’s, doctors and nurses, as well as the Donut Dollies, who also showed up to give us hope and helped us remember the world we left behind. Even Bob Hope showed up. Now that’s courage to boot.
So from one Old Vet to all my brother and sister Old Vets, I say thank you from the bottom of my Heart. It’s been a long and hard road — but if any of us could do it differently, would we? As we learned from the generation of WWII Vets, let’s hope this next generation will also learn from us …
Remember, always stand up for what you believe in. Never second guess what you believe, or do, in life. Things don’t always go as planned, but staying committed to what you believe in, is worth more than winning at something you don’t. Life doesn’t always give you a do-over or re-do, whatever you want to call it. For some of us, we have been blessed with second chances. Learn to make life better, whatever you perceive it to be.
From just one of many “Old Vets”