On Nov. 11 the nation will celebrate Veterans Day by honoring our nation’s soldiers. It’s a national holiday to remember the sacrifice of our past and current men and women who wear the uniform to defend and protect our country.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, over 42 million Americans have served our nation in uniform during wartime and of that number there are over 16 million living wartime veterans. There are another 5 million living veterans who served in the military during peacetime. 

Throughout the years, I have met and talked to many veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their stories are captivating and humbling. What struck me the most was their humbleness and how they talked about their fellow soldiers — not about themselves. 

My dad and uncle both served during the Vietnam War. My dad enlisted in the Navy in 1965 and my uncle received his first draft notice in 1963; but since he was married, he didn’t have to enlist in the military. However, in 1966, he received another draft notice and had to enlist because President Lyndon B. Johnson rescinded the draft deferments for married men in 1965 that President John F. Kennedy had put into place. 

My dad served in the Naval Air Reserve in Lakehurst, New Jersey near where the Hindenburg crashed and burned leaving behind my mom who was seven months pregnant with my older sister. Eventually, my mom and sister moved to New Jersey and my dad stayed on US soil as a duty driver and he was also on the Navy bowling team. He was an E-2 when he arrived and ended his six-year commitment as an E-9.

My uncle attended basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. During the next year, he was sent off to Fort Belvoir in Virginia, Fort Stewart in Georgia and finally to Fort Carson, Colorado where he was trained as a heavy equipment mechanic. After that, he set sail on a ship to Vietnam. He said he couldn’t believe how hot and muggy it was in Vietnam when he got there. He spend a year in Vietnam and at the end of his tour of duty, he was an E-5. He received a Good Conduct Medal and an Expert Marksmanship Badge. My uncle never used to talk about Vietnam when he was younger, but he started to open up about his service while he was in his 60s. He said he saw a lot of “bad stuff” and lost a dear friend in his platoon who was killed in action. 

I asked them questions about their service and the one thing they both said was how bad American soldiers were treated when they came back from Vietnam. 

Ken Moffett, an American art curator, museum director and author who passed away in 2016, wrote an article in 2001 titled, “Coming Home: A study in contrast,” which states, “Perhaps the cruelest aspect of the war was the treatment of the returning soldiers. Unlike the hero status given to the returning soldiers form World War II, the soldiers that served in Vietnam were portrayed as baby killers, psychos, drug addicts and war mongers. It was not an uncommon scene for returning soldiers to be confronted at airports by protesters carrying signs with anti-war slogans.”

My dad said the way police officers are treated now in our nation reminds him of how soldiers were treated when they came home. 

The sacrifices are great for those who have served and continue to serve in the military. These brave men and women leave their families and continue to fight for our freedom and keep us safe. 

I personally want to thank my dad, uncle and all the veterans in our nation for their sacrifices. When you see a soldier on the street or in your community or you run into a veteran at the VFW or American Legion, thank them for their service. They will appreciate it and always remember that freedom isn’t free.  

 

Noelle Olson is the staff writer of the Shoreview Press. She can be reached at 651-407-1229 or shoreviewnews@presspubs.com.

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