Vietnam vets: We owe you our undying gratitude | In Our Opinion

April 30 is the 40th anniversary of the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War was America’s first war over ideology — capitalism vs. communism; the inherent right of people to govern vs. centrally controlled government.

It was the first televised war, and scenes from the front, broadcast daily into American homes, influenced the nation politically and socially.

The Vietnam War continues to influence our decisions to become involved in armed conflict. Before the U.S. sends troops abroad, concern is often expressed that the conflict not become “another Vietnam.”

The Vietnam War told us much about the indomitable spirit of the American soldier, sailor, airman and Marine. While political and social battles spawned by the war were being fought on America’s streets and in halls of government, it was young men and women — from Kitsap, Kalamazoo and Kansas City, from big cities to small towns, from centers of commerce to centers of agriculture — who were on the front lines. Politics and polls may have influenced a particular course of action, but it was our uniformed personnel who enforced those decisions at great risk; 58,151 enforced those decisions with their lives.

“War is hell except for the politicians,” Thom Stoddert writes in his cover story for this edition. “They never get to know, enjoy, and love the real faces of the real people that their decisions affect.”

Our military personnel served because they were asked to. That they bore the blame for the ugliness of war that we witnessed from our living rooms, and the fact that we failed to welcome them home, was a national shame. Since 2014, on March 30 of each year, the State of Washington recognizes Welcome Home, Vietnam Veterans Day. The welcome came 39 years too late. But it’s an important step toward healing.

The war continues to teach us about the human capacity to forgive. An estimated 4 million Vietnamese people on all sides were reportedly killed, wounded, or reported missing during the 1965-1975 period of the war. The Vietnam War orphaned 300,000 Vietnamese children, widowed 131,000 women, and disabled 181,000 people. One thousand square miles of South Vietnam was leveled by incendiary and high explosive bombs. Some 18 million gallons of poisonous chemical herbicides were sprayed over 6 million acres of forest and croplands in South Vietnam alone. Unexploded ordnance strewn about Indochina still kills people.

Yet despite the costs on both sides, “many veterans of that war have visited and come back with stories of the friendliness of the common people who welcomed them back,” Stoddert reports.

America’s mission in the Vietnam War was clear. To those who served, we owe undying gratitude.