Across the country, thousands of Vietnam war veterans are mobilizing once again for commemoration of the conflict’s 50th anniversary. Put on by cities in public buildings, these events have become the spotlight of recent attention in the long crusade to properly honor those who sacrificed so much during the conflict.
Most people spoken to knew nothing about this and required simple background information in order to properly respond to specific questions asked about commemoration activities.
“Not really, no,” sophomore Dylan Kunz said when asked if he knew anything about Vietnam 50th anniversaries – affirmation that these events should be more widely advertised, so as to inform the general public about them and their importance.
On the other hand, just about everyone had familial connection to the conflict. The lives of many were touched by the war, and many young people of that era are grandparents or elders today. The massive contribution that the middle-class made is still clearly present in those interviewed.
“My grandfather’s brother served as a pilot in the Vietnam War,” sophomore Thomas Babiak said. “My dad’s girlfriend has a relative who also fought in Vietnam.”
The widespread part played by these and millions of other Americans are undeniable and continue to affect people today.
Another positive thread that existed between subjects was respect for veterans, which shows a true reversal from the unfair treatment many received upon their return home five decades ago.
“The act of putting one’s life at risk in order to fight for a cause much bigger than themselves merits recognition,” sophomore Kenneth Gossett said, mirroring the opinion of many others.
The goal of these commemoration events is to pay tribute to veterans, but many people believe that the government should provide financial reparations and apologies instead. It’s a divisive issue, and opinions are often shaped by personal connections to those who served.
“I believe the government should commemorate these veterans and not pay them,” freshman Owen Craddock said. “They should only pay for war related issues that can be taken up with the VA.”
Remembering the events of that war is another big part these activities and brings up the important question of relevance; what is the point of rejuvenating the pain that Vietnam created a long time ago?
“I believe the relevance of remembering a historical event comes in the future knowledge it provides,” sophomore Christian Pundt said. “By studying every aspect of the event, we can hopefully make wiser policy-making decisions in the future.”
The U.S. military holds a similar perspective and constantly changes policy, tactics, and technology in response to lessons learned during past and current conflicts. The way American civilians perceive their armed forces could also be affected by the raised awareness of the effects of war, an important message commemorations present.
“The commemoration of veterans apart from war is important because it distinguishes those individuals from war. The Vietnam War, being as gruesome as it was, deserves respect to its veterans,” Babiak said.
Commemoration events serve to honor the service of veterans rather than the events of the war itself, something that most people believe is an important distinction. Right or wrong, it’s not soldiers that start or finish wars- they simply follow orders and fight.
“One could say it is because the war’s events are usually credited to leaders (i.e. presidents, generals, etc.) rather than the common soldier, and in commemorating their service we reach out to more people,” Gossett said. “Another point of view could be that the soldiers were the ones that allowed these events to happen.” This shows both sides of the subject, but illustrates why veterans are not to blame.
Those eligible to be honored at these events are anyone who served in the U.S. military between 1955 and 1975, the 20-year period of American support to South Vietnam. Many veterans who qualify were not directly involved with that specific conflict, however, leading many to debate whether or not they deserve the same treatment as former troops that served in the war itself.
“A lot of the people that helped with Vietnam weren’t necessarily there. They were behind the lines helping,” Kunz said. “I think they still deserve some kind of distinction for their service.”
The possibility for this raised awareness of the Vietnam War to create a resurgence of interest in the 1960s is present, but mostly depends on the popularity of these events and groups of people they reach. If the attention of students can be raised, local commemorations will enjoy much greater attention and success.
The decade will gain popularity ,“if it reaches the right demographic,” Owen Craddock said. Indeed, only time will tell the impact made by these commemorations.
The knowledge gained from discussion of the subject prompted many of those interviewed to consider attending local events, but even those unable to go were impacted by the questions asked.
“To be honest, I probably will not attend any local anniversary commemoration events. It would be extremely difficult to fit it into my schedule, but I might shoot my grandpa some texts thanking him for his service,” Pundt said.
It is the hope of organizers to gain support and success, but the veterans themselves will humbly benefit from these things above all others. Americans now have the opportunity to show their appreciation and to bestow the well-deserved honor that can heal the pain of the past.
Written by Willie Johnson