The nation recently marked the tenth anniversary of the war in Iraq with little enthusiasm. Pundits condemned the war as an error. We mourned the service members who died, but also showed pity for those suffering from unemployment and PTSD. This attitude, while perhaps justified, reminds me of the return of the Vietnam War veterans many years ago. We must not repeat our mistakes.
These veterans should be praised, not pitied. Each has made our nation proud by answering the call, many joining in response to the attacks of Sept. 11 and completing multiple tours. They are the best of us. They deserve better than our pity. They deserve a real celebration.
As the troops pull out of Afghanistan in 2014, we must prepare our nation, from Main Street, U.S.A. to Constitution Avenue, for a joyous “Celebration of Service” event. There should be reunions, lectures, parades and entertainment. I organized one such event in 1982 with the theme “Marching Along Together Again.” Veterans of Vietnam marched to their new memorial.
The veterans of today, by law, will not have a memorial on the National Mall until at least the year 2024. We at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund will include photos of the fallen OIF/OEF service members in the Education Center at The Wall. We plan to begin the 30-month construction project in 2014. But that is not enough.
George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans…were treated and appreciated by our nation."
It really is not enough to heal the wounds of war; we must go further, dig deeper, and exalt those who have spent the past decade fighting for all of us here at home. It is too easy to forget the warrior amid anger for the war. The nation has made that mistake before, and we vowed to never let it happen again.
A celebration is necessary. Let us praise the courage that inspired our fellow citizens to risk their lives. Let us help them return to the job market. Let us celebrate the heroes who will raise their children with the same pride in the United States of America. Is 2014 too soon for America to show its thanks? I am gathering some leaders in Washington to explore this question.
“Our God and soldiers we alike adore ev’n at the brink of danger; not before: After deliverance, both alike requited, our God’s forgotten and our soldiers slighted,” said poet Francis Quarles.
Do not forget them. Do not slight them. While we have been safe at home they risked their lives in very dangerous places. Many thousands are doing now, as you read this article.
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About the Author: Jan Scruggs is the founder and President of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Scruggs is a wounded and decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, having served in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade of the U.S. Army. In 1979, Jan conceived the idea of building the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., as a tribute to all who served during one of the longest wars in American history. Today, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is among the most visited memorials in the nation’s capital.
Read Jan Scruggs full biography.