The Plight of the Vietnam Veteran

This letter to the editor, written in 1986 by my dad’s friend and fellow Bravo Company “Sky Trooper,” sadly still resonates today. Below are excerpts of that letter.

“Vietnam veterans and nation still recovering”

Last week this letter came to me in the mail. And, though it was addressed to me, clearly it was written to you, too – to all of us. So I wanted you to see it:

            “I have been following [this] column on the situation of the Vietnam veteran. It is encouraging to know that there are a few who still consider his plight.

            “The Vietnam vets I’m in contact with are in one stage or another of turning their lives around. They’re trying to get on with it. These stages have been fairly common to us all. We were confused, as we tried to fit ourselves back into a world that had drastically changed for us. We denied any war-related problems as the first inklings of unusual behavior or attitudes appeared in us.

            “Ultimately we were forced to recognize the problem – and this was rough – when our images of ourselves and others could not for an instant longer be supported by our inner feelings. Then came delayed grief, depression and anxiety, intermixed with bitterness, rage and fear as each of us tried to place blame on whomever we considered the cause of our problem.

            “And then the final stage – and this one the toughest of all: forgiving those who ravaged our young lives, for they knew not what they did. And perhaps still don’t know.

            “ These stages aren’t this smooth of orderly, of course. They intermingle, collide, and a guy might regress a little if some citizen irritably calls his attention to some petty peacetime rule, while the vet remembers how he was ordered to brutally break some very major human rules to keep this same citizen safe. But the vet moves on…

            “I, myself, I think, am edging toward this last stage. I am beginning to view the Vietnam war as something other than the preconceived atrocity that I was assuming it to be. I am starting to see it as, perhaps, the social equivalent to a ‘Black Hole’ in outer space – an all-encompassing negative energy, anti-everything that sustains life, and not understandable in and of itself. Who do you blame for a “Black Hole’ in space? Nobody. Period. You accept it.

            “And, yet, something is still awry.

            “The veteran was the most obviously damaged by this ‘Black Hole’ event in American history. But the Vietnam war hurt us all.

            “The veteran feels all to acutely the emptiness of spirit this has left in him. He wonders why this burden continues to remain his alone. But it may not.

            “Perhaps, as a society, we all carry the load.”

 This letter, published Wednesday, November 12, 1986, was written by Bill Hardin to The Daily News columnist Phyllis Miletich.

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