It’s Time for More Than a Parade

Headlines over the past few days, including an AP article picked up by many of the nation’s newspapers, are lamenting that there is no national parade being planned for veterans returning from Iraq. Parades are nice. However, the truth is, they deserve far more. These these brave women and men have done superbly for the nation and they deserve our admiration and respect…and more. The latest unemployment statistics for returning vets tell us about the most common immediate need.

I know a lot about this. In 1979, I began the effort to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial here in Washington, DC. The goal was to create a Memorial and provide well-deserved national recognition for the veterans. As part of the original dedication on November 13, 1982, my staff and I organized a parade down Constitution Avenue and ending at The Wall. Veterans from every state marched, and within a year or two, there were massive Vietnam veteran parades in New York and Chicago, to commemorate and dedicate additional memorials in those cities.

The promotional effort for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was always to “separate the war from the warrior.” As with Vietnam, when the public looks at Iraq and Afghanistan, they are unconvinced about the wisdom of both wars. But, and this is the important point, the returning veterans are not being shunned and castigated, as were the veterans of Vietnam.

During Vietnam, many were unable to separate the war from the warrior. Some people looked down upon those of us who served and questioned our personal morality for going to Vietnam. Many called us “baby killers” and turned their anger on returning veterans at airports. I recently spoke to a veteran who was spat upon at an airport by a woman angry at the Americans who were serving in Vietnam. Some protesters, in their own view, held the high moral ground. “Hell No! We won’t go!” was the refrain. As one person said to me, “I would not serve in Vietnam since doing so goes against every word on morality and theology ever published in the history of civilization.”

So, many Vietnam Vets sadly took off their uniforms, and many never again mentioned their service to anyone, even though there was extraordinary valor on a daily basis. In the war zone, you could always count on one thing – your fellow soldiers would do anything to keep you alive – even if it required risking their own lives. I witnessed two Army medics, both draftees, get shot on May 27, 1969 while rescuing wounded soldiers.

The support for the Vietnam War, and lack thereof, was actually about the same for veterans as it was for the general public. Vietnam veterans believed, generally, that our duty as citizens included an obligation to serve. I know many who shared my attitude, which was: “I may as well go. At least I am taking someone else’s place.”

After the tragedies of 9/11, many volunteered for the combat arms of the military. In 2002, American Special Forces led an effort, using Afghan fighters, to successfully oust the Taliban. Next, our military invaded Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein. The wisdom of the war in Iraq is, like Vietnam, not exactly high in public support. Yet, no one is attacking returning veterans at airports or questioning their moral character.

What few know is that a parade for the returning veterans is actually being planned. As in 1982, this parade will once again travel down Constitution Avenue and end at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Why a parade?  Will there be something to celebrate?  Actually, there will be something very important for the veterans…and the nation…to celebrate.

In 2014, The Education Center at The Wall will be dedicated. This will be a place where those who have risked their lives for our nation, beginning in 1775, will be remembered. The Center will house some extraordinary exhibits, including some of the many items left at The Wall since 1982. Additionally, a permanent display of individual photographs of the fallen from Vietnam, shown on the birthday of the casualty, will be astounding in it emotional power.

But why would the vets of Iraq and Afghanistan be excited about this?

Well, many don’t know it yet, but I can disclose for the first time today, that plans are underway to display the photographs of the approximately 6,000 American casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well. There are plenty of details to be worked out, but the decision has been made. One way to accomplish this is to include the casualties every day using the same scheduling methods as with Vietnam casualties – on their birthdays.

Fallen heroes from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be displayed on the two story "Wall of Faces" in the soon to be built Education Center at The Wall

Returning vets should also be excited and get behind this effort because VVMF plans to put as many veterans as possible to work building The Education Center at The Wall.

One day, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will get their own memorial – and even the timing for this will be filled with complexities. Until that day, they will be honored by us at The Education Center at The Wall.

As you are reading this, there are Marines being pinned down somewhere in Afghanistan by sniper fire. There are wounded soldiers in a helicopter, maybe from the National Guard in your home town. While many Americans are at the shopping mall, others are going through hell.

Again, parades are nice…and a memorial will be a fitting tribute. But for right now, let’s remember them with more than a parade and memorials. Help them find employment and to begin living the American dream!

See VVMF’s recent press release:
Happy 2012!
All the best,
 Jan C. Scruggs