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Monday
Jun062011

The Call

As many families were united and created after World War II, the children born in those years became the soldiers of the military in Southeast Asia during America's longest war. At the time, of course, it was difficult to believe such a fate would have been bestowed upon that generation. The American society, both its cultural and industrial factions, was booming with ingenuity, success and invention. But the groundwork for future failure was laid in the "Cold War" mystique of the 1950's.

From movies and television to the family task of "bomb shelter" preparations, the sons and daughters of these soldier fathers were indoctrinated to a psychological mind-set of future wars, international skepticism and ethnic suspicion. The happy days of adolescence was abruptly interrupted by military conscription and assassinations. Despite warnings of an industrial-military complex that threatened the peace of family and country, these children entered the period of the 1960's with knowledge of the assassination of their President, a vague theory of falling dominoes and an apprehensive tension for their future. This options for their future were limited as the "call" for more troops was placed upon the young and naive. Certainly, most wanted to contribute to the needs of their country as their fathers had done. But, a concerted effort to avoid this service permeated the minds of many. School, ailments and leaving the country were choices some used for avoidance of the military. Still, nearly 10 million boys and girls (average age in VietNam was 19 years/WW II was 26) served in that war halfway around the world.

The shock of participation in the Southeast Asian war, regardless of one person's specific duty, caused each to reassess their future and the future of their families. As they returned home in single file from the sweltering jungles and burning villages of that beautiful VietNam, these military service men and women, entered an American society not unlike the one they had just left. Civil rights were questioned; civil disobedience was a course of action, "back in the world" of America. Cities were burning from Newark to Detroit to Los Angeles with fighting in the streets and on the college campus. There would be no safe reason for the soldier to abandon the state of awareness and survival that had kept them alive in Southeast Asia while the conflagration continued in America. it would be years before each soldier, now a veteran, would be able to assimilate into the community. This suppressed trauma would later be indentified .

it was a tragic and sad return. influenced by the memory of the hard work of their fathers and families after that Great War, as WW II was called, veterans attempted to "pick up the pieces" and be honest, productive members of society. Many were able to find a niche and move on with their lives satisfying the perception of their future. However, many were unable to lose the memory of that land far away and to set upon a life that would give meaning to their experiences in such a way that was payment for their visions of death and destruction they had endured.

The moment may have ended there, had it not been for the constant and consistent disclosures of the American failures and actions during the involvement in VietNam. The lack of appreciatin by American society for the sacrifices made by the veterans and the broken promises by the government to its veterans created a new initiative. Veterans were asking questions and defining the problems of the new veteran population. But they were doing more than asking questions, they were designing solutions. There were questions about the effects of war on these veterans, the potential of chemical contamination, the lack of government-led programs and assistance, the lack of information and the availability of healthcare promised but not delivered.

Veterans began to organize locally and nationally and perform hmanitarian deeds in their communities helping each other's families. During the 1980's, the veteran financed Vietnam Veterans Wall was constructed, the parade in Washington D.C. to acknowledge veterans and the acceptance of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) as a legitimate illness caused by war was recognized. Veterans had lobbied for better healthcare, assistance in housing, retraining for employment, preference in jobs, access and financial aid for education and further studies to address the effects of dioxin on humans. They read the work of Dr. Tung, countered the stereotypical portrait of VietNam and of "crazed Vietnam Veterans" and gave witness to the success to the phenomena of veterans helping veterans. Soon Vet Centers were established across the country, staffed by veterans to help veterans. "Vets Helping Vets" became a common phrase and gained strength and credibility as success followed success..

These efforts did not go unnoticed by mainstream American society. The Psychological and Psychiatric societies would benefit from the studies on PTSD. it would explain the reaction of humans to other non-war related traumas such as rape, catastrophic events of floods, earthquakes and tornadoes, singular events of losing a loved one in a horrific manner and to the brains ability to recall, re-image and reframe. The environmentalists would be notified of the synergistic effects of chemicals and the cloud fo diosin floating across the globe due to the veterans' relentless search for answers about Agent Orange and other herbicides, pesticides and defoliants..

The focus on homeless veterans sparked recognition of housing problems for several targeted population groups. The comparatively high unemployment rate among veterans caused a realization of the need for retraining programs. The inadequate financial aid for college caused a rewrite of the GI BILL. many did much, but really, only veterans who had taken a moment for introspection, saw the need for change and acted upon their instincts, were able to move the agenda. President John F. Kennedy had planted the seed when he instructed, Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Veterans grew up with that quote and embellished it with the question, "We are sons of soldier fathers, must we also be fathers to soldier sons?" The actions displayed by the veterans questioned the mettle of the country, not the courage of the soldier. Honor and loyalty was a two-way street.

The issues and concerns of Vietnam Veterans continue to be a focus of veteran groups throughout the United States. There are multiple initiatives, programs, studies, budgets and regulations that are followed and monitored by these veteran service groups..

Vietnam Veterans of Massachusetts Inc. (VVMI), incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1983, is one of these groups. With an office at the State House in Boston and nearly two decades of veteran advocacy and multiple accomplishments in varied areas of interest to veterans and their families, VVMI is still addressing the issues and concerns of Vietnam Veterans. However, as the aging veteran population develops different needs, new health care issues are identified and new laws directed at the veteran population are enacted, a mass media vehicle must be developed to inform veterans and their families. It is in this new arena, where VVMI will identify problems and pursue solutions, which will mark our change from educating legislators to informing veterans.

-William F. Martin, Founding Member

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