I am highly honored to pay tribute to the gallant veterans who served their country and for a worthy cause -- the maintenance of freedom. As a Veteran of World War II and the Wars of Korea and in Vietnam, I presume to speak for the Veterans of all those engagements. But I am particularly proud of speaking for the Vietnam Veteran.
Few have had the anguish that has been mine for that man and woman who did in Vietnam what the leadership of the country asked them to do and did it well. But in return these men and women have been ignored and often abused by their fellow countrymen and neglected by their nation. It has been an irrational and sordid period in the history of America.
But now as the people of America
and world have noted the ruthlessness and callousness of the rulers in
Hanoi - the estimated 1,000,000 boat people (only about one-half surviving
the ravages of the sea), the - still in existence concentration camps in
Vietnam, the military occupation of Laos, and the invasion of Cambodia
- most of us have reflected on the worthiness of our now defaulted commitment
to the people of the non- Communist South Vietnam. That commitment
was clearly stated from the beginning: to assist the Government of
Vietnam and its armed forces to defeat externally directed and supported
Communist subversion and aggression and attain an independent South Vietnam
functioning in a secure environment.
Historically, there are few exceptions to the rule that wars on foreign lands are fought for the purpose of acquiring those lands as part of a political or economic empire. Vietnam was one such exception.
Indeed, history may judge that American aid to South Vietnam constituted one of man's more noble crusades, one that had less to do with the domino theory and a strategic interest for the United States than with the simple equation of a strong nation helping an aspiring nation to reach a point where it had some reasonable chance to achieve and keep a degree of freedom and human dignity.
It is also a fact that America held the line in Vietnam for ten years against inevitable, rapid expansion of Communism in Southeast Asia, thus providing a shield behind which the other countries of Southeast Asia ( Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines) could politically mature and build self confidence toward the resistance of future Communist pressures.
At last, America and the world are beginning
to realize that America was not defeated militarily on the battlefield
in Vietnam, but by propaganda involving lies and exaggerations here at
home. Although in the main unwitting, such propaganda sapped the
traditional dedication to a cause, persistence and courage of America.
Ironically, the Vietnam Veteran deserves even more appreciation than his veteran grandfather of World War II. Why? Simply because in those earlier wars the country was generally unified behind those sent to the battlefield. But not so with Vietnam.
Have you ever paused to consider that during the Vietnam War there were more Americans here at home cheering on the Communist enemy and waving his flag than there were Vietnamese doing likewise in all of Vietnam? Can you imagine putting your life on the line in the combat zone when a boy who lived next door may have been visibly supporting your nearby armed enemy from some chosen campus sanctuary remote from the battlefield? Can you imagine living through that ordeal only to come home to stony silence or even hostility? And then the release of the American hostages, held by the irrational Iranian regime, and the overwhelming reception they received upon release; the mindless lack of welcome of the Vietnam Veterans stood in stark contrast. The psychological pressures on the man in uniform were overwhelming.
Nor did we fight alone in Vietnam. Thirty-four other nations contributed food, medicine, technical advisors, equipment, training, economic aid and the like. Four more - Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Republic of Korea - all furnished combat troops. A fifth - the Republic of the Philippines - provided a civic action group that had its own security force of infantry, armor, and artillery. The total of foreign troops was 68,800. This was more than had fought under the United Nations in Korea.
If only the Communists are to assist people of emerging nations, what hope is there for those who aspire to freedom? We may well be unable to afford to be the world's policeman, but neither can we afford to fail to live up to the responsibilities that the accidents of a bountiful land and a beneficent fate have placed upon us. It is fashionable today in some quarters to disparage idealism, patriotism and zeal; but if there are to be no more Vietnams, is there to be no more support of aspiring freedom, protection of the weak against the strong?
What of John F. Kennedy's stirring pledge " to assure the survival and success of liberty"? As many have observed, the price of freedom is never cheap, nor is even the survival of existing freedom. But we see from the plight of the boat people and of that of the refugees pouring into Thailand, the price of freedom's loss is greater still. Though we did not succeed in achieving our stated purpose in Vietnam, a lesser nation would never have tried at all. President Reagan said it for us: "Ours was, indeed, a noble cause.".
But despite the psychological pressures that have scarred many men, the percentage of those psychologically affected veterans is not much greater than experienced after other wars. But in the aftermath of Vietnam, we have heard so much about this percentage - wise small group that the man on the street has been given the false impression that most Vietnam Veterans are psychiatric patients. Such is not the case.
As I travel around this huge country of ours, I meet many, many Vietnam Veterans and I can tell you the overwhelming majority are doing very well indeed. They are a precious and valuable nation asset. They are moving into positions of responsibility and leadership across the spectrum of our society. America should be proud of them.
Among some of my military colleagues I nevertheless sense a lingering concern that the military served as a scapegoat for the war in Vietnam. I fail to share that concern. The military quite clearly did the job that the nation asked and expected of it, and I am convinced that history will reflect more favorably upon the performance of the military than upon other segments of society. The American military services can take pride in their accomplishments in Vietnam and assurance in the knowledge that it was not they who lost the war.
But, thank God, the worn and tried attitudes of a decade ago are now almost history. A sensible approach to the Vietnam War era and toward those involved has emerged. As truth overshadows perceptions, facts are overwhelming emotions.
Yes, the Vietnam War was an episode unique in American history. It has left scars that may be with us for years. Some say it will be recognized as a turning point for America - for bad or good. Those scars are beginning to heal. A more objective view of the period, the cooling of emotions, and constructive activities of the type we participate in today testify to a new and refreshing public attitude. This is proof that our great nation has maintained its traditional sense of values - values that have contributed in a major way to the character and success of the United States of America.
In 1918, following many bloody battles, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns fell silent on the western front of France.
Twenty five years later, Americans were fighting and sweating in the jungles of the South Pacific; and on the other side of the world soldiers of Hitler's army had been defeated in Northwest Africa and Sicily, a beachhead had been established by the U.S.Army in Italy, and buildup for the invasion of France was underway.
And fifty years later, soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were putting pressure on the Communist enemy on all fronts following the huge losses by the enemy during the battles following the Communist Tet Offensive.
Today let us pause, remember and pay tribute to the sacrifices of the Americans who gave their all for the preservation of freedom around the world throughout our nation's history. And we add to that honored assemblage the equally deserving Vietnam Veteran.
As the notes of "Taps" drift over our land and as darkness falls our eulogy is beautifully expressed by words written to those simple but melodious notes: