I grew up during the Viet Nam War.
The war started in 1955 and I was born in 1959. The war ended in 1975 and I was 16 years old. As I grew older, watching the news every night was part of our family routine and even though I was not sure why we were fighting, I knew it was something that was a divisive subject in our country.
The politics of the war were beyond me back then and I also wasn’t aware of the toll it was taking on those not much older than me.
I certainly know a lot of the facts now, and I pause each Memorial Day to think of the men and women who gave their lives fighting for our country. I think it’s something we miss today with so many conflicts, so many causes. It’s hard for us as Americans to be united in almost anything and that includes our current battle with the COVID-19 pandemic.
I have seen people actually argue over who should be called a hero and who shouldn’t during this crisis. Is it the medical personnel who have been on the front of this pandemic or the grocery workers? Is it our first responders? Add all the titles and names you want, each has served in honorable fashion. You can debate who the real heroes are.
There is absolutely no debate that the men and women who have served our country and died doing it are heroes. It doesn’t matter the conflict or war, when a soldier gives his live for his country and family, he or she is a hero.
Over 58,000 Americans lost their lives in Viet Nam fighting in a war which they may or may not have agreed with, but, they fought and gave the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. Of the lost heroes, 39,996 were 22 years old or younger. Of that number, 8,283 were 19 years old, 33,103 were 18 years old. Twelve 17 year olds lost their lives and five 16 year olds. Also included in that number were eight nurses.
Sadly families lost 31 sets of fathers and sons in Viet Nam. Almost a thousand, lost their lives the first day in combat. Even sadder, 1,448 lost their lives on their scheduled last day of combat.
Do we need to debate these soldiers as heroes? I don’t think so.
I know I haven’t mentioned the other brave men and women who died in other conflicts our country has been involved in, but rather I focus on the events of my younger years. As an older teenager in the 1970’s I became more concerned about my involvement in the war. I was preparing to be involved when it did end. At the time the country was still very much divided on the validity of the war and any moving forward.
Today we talk about people putting their lives on the line while battling the pandemic, and rightly so, but my real fear is we forget what this Memorial Day and everyday should really be about. I believe just the numbers I mentioned before should strike a note with everyone.
One last number, 244 soldiers in the Viet Nam War received the Medal of Honor, of those, 153 of them were in the number who lost their lives and are immortalized on the Viet Nam Wall in Washington.
I think there should have been a lot more medals. Never forget.
If you see me, say “Hey!”
Dee McLelland is the Publisher of the Coastal Courier and the Bryan County News. He can be reached at dmclelland@ coastalcourier.com or 876-0156.