Reflections on 9/11: Arthur H. Wilson

Eleven years ago our nation was forever changed by the cowardly acts of terrorists, attacked on our own soil. It was no surprise to me when after the attacks young men and women flocked to military recruiting stations, eager to do their part in defending our security, freedoms and way of life.

Those who were already in uniform on Sept. 11, 2001, and those who volunteered to serve since, have faced brutal, sustained combat, fighting through the Middle East’s deserts, on mountains, over rivers and house-to-house in blistering heat and numbing cold. They have and continue to make the American public proud.

Almost 40 years ago my generation wrapped up eight-plus years of combat with its own unique brutality in Southeast Asia’s rice fields, through swamps, on hilltops and house-to-house in intense heat and suffocating humidity. As most know, we were not welcomed home well. We returned to a nation unprepared for us, unwilling to keep its promises to us. Many Vietnam veterans still feel wronged.

Despite all the yellow ribbon magnets and public support for the newest veterans, many returned from Afghanistan and Iraq to an overwhelmed and underprepared military and Department of Veterans Affairs. Today’s warriors are surviving and returning home with wounds that certainly would have killed my fellow soldiers in Vietnam.

Although a few generations apart, veterans of the Vietnam War are able to relate to many of the challenges veterans and their families face as they return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know what it is like to be tangled in the Pentagon’s and VA’s red tape. We know what it is like to feel alone.

We are proud to embrace these younger veterans, even seeing it as our duty to do all we can to ensure they are treated the way we should have been in the 1960s and 1970s.

Many of DAV’s leaders are Vietnam veterans who sustained injuries or serious illnesses while on duty. We are putting to good use the lessons we learned the hard way.

With that in mind for years, DAV has been working tirelessly in Washington and around the country to provide every veteran with what they need and deserve regardless of whether the veteran left the military yesterday, 40 years ago or just after World War II. We continue to push the administrations and Congress to see and fix their shortcomings.

While we as a nation try to keep the memories of the smoke billowing from the Pentagon, the burning wreckage in Pennsylvania and that feeling we experienced as the towers collapsed in New York City from fading, also keep in mind that every veteran, regardless of when he or she served, just wants dignity and respect. And we deserve it.

Arthur H. Wilson, National Adjutant, Disabled American Veterans