TODAY, March 29, is Vietnam War Veterans Day. Sadly, too many people don't know about this opportunity to salute a generation of veterans who served with honor.
About 7 million living Americans who served in the U.S. armed forces from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975, are considered Vietnam War veterans, regardless of where they served. According to the U.S. Defense Department, about 2.7 million service members were in Vietnam during some part of the war. The names of 58,318 veterans who died during the war are etched on the Vietnam War Memorial's black granite wall in the nation's capital.
Another 304,000 were wounded in action, 1,253 were missing in action and about 2,500 were held as prisoners of war.
Those numbers tell a tiny part of the story but lack the personal experiences of those who served.
Bob Reinsertsen of Quincy was a lieutenant in the Marine Corps while serving in Vietnam in 1965 to 1966. He and many other veterans faced negative attitudes by fellow Americans when he returned to civilian life.
"Once I got my teaching degrees and was looking for a job, I wasn't getting any offers. Someone suggested I should take the part about being a Vietnam veteran off my resume, and I did get a job offer not too long after that," Reinsertsen said.
"There was a negative atmosphere about anything to do with Vietnam for years after the war ended."
And veterans were often ignored or ridiculed.
Dale Hill, commander of American Legion Post 37 in Quincy, was a Navy corpsman on active duty from 1969 to 1973. Hill was an operating room technician who helped treat the wounded.
Hill also saw how stateside people struggled to come to terms with a war they opposed after seeing daily images of death and destruction.
"Vietnam was this nation's first war to have television coverage. It gave most of our citizens their first real-time glimpse into how devastating war is to a nation and its people," Hill told The Herald-Whig.
A commemorative service was scheduled today in the Keokuk, Iowa, National Cemetery. Vietnam veterans were invited to attend and receive lapel pins "from a grateful nation."
Harold Rosson, a member of the Hancock County, Ill., honor guard and the American Legion in Keokuk, told The Herald-Whig the lapel pins are part of a national effort to thank veterans for their service and sacrifice.
Vietnam War veterans now represent the largest cohort of service men and women still alive.
The war ended in May 1975, but this nation's debt of gratitude should never end.