March 5, 2015
Sunday marks 50 years since the first brigade-strength U.S. Marine unit arrived in Vietnam. On March 8, 1965, around 5,000 Marines from the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade landed to defend the American air base at Da Nang. It’s an anniversary that will be met with little fanfare. However, the impact of that day and the years that followed during the Vietnam War, still affect our country in ways large and small.
The Vietnam War was arguably the most divisive event in our nation during the 20th Century. When 9 million Americans served, and more than 58,000 made the ultimate sacrifice, not just those service members were forever changed. Their families, their buddies, and the country as a whole also were impacted socially, politically, and militarily.
What Vietnam veterans faced when they came back home, a divided America and at times little to no respect for their service, has now generated a new legacy - a proud legacy of service in America in which people stand and shake the hands of service members and say, “Thank you and welcome home.” It was Vietnam veterans who vowed to never again let a generation of Americans go to war without the support and respect they deserve. As current wars rage on, Vietnam veterans are the first to recognize our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for their service.
The health care of veterans has been a front-burner issue lately. It’s not only Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the backlog of the health care system. There are Vietnam veterans still dying today of causes related to their service. The long-term care of all our nation’s veterans is a priority.
Since Vietnam, every time our service members have been put in harm’s way, the aftermath of Vietnam has been present. Recent debates about authority for U.S. involvement against ISIS trace back directly to the War Powers Resolution put in place in 1973 to limit presidential authority without Congressional involvement.
Dedicated in 1982, The Wall has helped heal a generation and a nation. It is a tangible symbol of national dialogue regarding this divisive time in our nation's history. Through The Wall, we remember those who sacrificed all, those who served, those who waited, and those who continue to serve today. In keeping with the spirit through which The Wall was created, we teach all generations about military service so they can show their appreciation for those who serve.
The anticipated Education Center at the Wall, for which the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is raising money to build, will be the place to put faces to names, to see some of the 400,000 items left at The Wall, and learn about the Vietnam era. Just as important, it will help current and future generations understand the enduring lessons of the Vietnam era and the legacy of service shared by those who continue to serve today.
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, we remember those 5,000 Marines who landed on March 8, 1965, as the beginning of something much larger. That day was the start of something that not only affected those men and their families, but each and every one of us today.
Their service and sacrifice still matters . . .
To our Marines, we simply say, “Thank you, and Semper Fi.”
Jim Knotts is CEO of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, a Persian Gulf War veteran, and a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.