Thank you for your service?

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The “thank you for your service” in New Harmony, Griffin and Posey County Indiana is about 50 years late for Vietnam vets.

The past couple of weeks, I have had at least half dozen folks say to me, thank you for your service, in regard to me having been in the Vietnam war.  I always try to be polite, when this happens and assume that people mean well.

But in point of actual fact, this irks me, because ………..

 

…………………………………………………… it is about 50 years late.

When I came home, after eight years of active duty Army and 15 months in a combat unit in Vietnam, I didn’t hear any thank you’s. I hardly ever even heard, hello how are you,  from anyone. If you were a Vietnam vet, people just tried to ignore you.  It was even tough to find a decent job, if the employer knew you were fresh out of Vietnam.  Vietnam vets were tagged as crazy, prone to violence and addicted to alcohol and other drugs.  Maybe some, but no more than other wars probably. And, if some of us had bad attitudes, I would suggest, it may have been caused by how we were treated in the draft and after we came home. 

Here’s how it worked back then, young men from financially well to do families got deferments. Some got school deferments, some got phony health deferments and some got deferments, simply because they lived on a family farm. On the other hand, working class guys, like my brother and I, got drafted for Vietnam.

I could waltz you through my high school year book, if I had a copy, and show you who got drafted. None of the rich land owning families sent sons to Vietnam, all the draftees were from working class families.

Maybe we vets were treated as pariahs, because all these rich folks were afraid we would be pissed at them, when we came home. Some of us were. Maybe they were ashamed, because so many of us were slaughtered, while the rich guys skated. But for whatever reason, Vietnam vets were not welcomed home. They acted like we were contagious or leprous or something.

And, we Vietnam vets certainly didn’t get any favors from ANYONE.  I remember trying to join the VFW, and being told by some drunk old WWII guys, that Vietnam wasn’t a “real” war. We lost 52,000 plus working class soldiers there, in my mind, that’s pretty freaking real.

But, I digress, I will get back to Posey County. When I got home to Griffin, I was looking for nice places to go fishing. There was a HUGE new lake outside of Griffin, dug for the construction of I-64. It belonged to one of the rich farming families, I don’t remember which family that was now, and I’m glad I don’t. But, I remember, asking if I could go Bluegill fishing in that new lake. The owner turned me down, saying he  allowed NO ONE to fish there.

That was completely untrue. The lake was right by the edge of town, and I watched MANY of the financially more well to do guys my age, who had avoided service in Vietnam,  fishing there in his lake regularly. So I clearly got “special” treatment. And, the only difference between me and the guys he invited to fish in his lake was, that I went off to the war and they didn’t.

That wasn’t the only case. The ONLY farming family around Griffin or New Harmony, that ever made me welcome to hunt or fish on their land, after I returned from the war was the Fifer Family. They are good folks, who treat everyone with kindness and respect. I appreciate them, and think of them warmly. 

But, the other rich families, who turned their draft deferred noses up at me, and treated me like a leper, not so much.

To me, and to a lot of other Vietnam war vets, the thank you for your service cliche rings hollow. It would have meant a lot 50 years ago, and if accompanied by permission to Bluegill fish in some of the draft deferred folks’ farm lakes. 

Ron Nesler posting from New Harmony, Indiana

While here, please take time to look over the New Harmony Watch DAILY NEWS

 

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