It is hard for me to believe that almost 47 years ago, I was serving as a rifleman in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam. I had the honor to serve with many of America’s finest young men from July, 1968 to July, 1969, in a war that was not fully supported at home or clearly understood by the military leaders or politicians that were in charge of making the day-to-day decisions.
I went back to Vietnam with another Vietnam vet friend in 2008. We were both still very troubled by not knowing what impact the American War had on the Vietnamese people, and we needed to deal with our own unfinished business that we had struggled with for many years.
I am so glad we made that trip. South Vietnam is still much like it was in 1968, still very poor, but much larger. Over 60% of the population was born after the fall of Saigon in 1975, so most of the population has had no experience with Americans. They know only what they have learned on their own or what the government tells them.
We were welcomed and treated with great respect everywhere we traveled. The only true resentment that was expressed to us was the fact that we completely abandoned our support of the South, while the North continued to be supported by Russia and China, leading to the fall of South Vietnam in 1975.
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They didn’t blame the American soldier, who fought for them, they blamed the government leaders who didn’t follow through with their commitment once the decision was made to send American troops into their war.
I wish the American people had treated the Vietnam vets better on their return home. Let’s not make that mistake again. Even though there are only about a third of the Vietnam combat vets still alive, it is not too late.
Steve R. Weil, Fresno