Harriet Freiberger: Welcome home, again

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— Soldier, sailor, marine and airman! Whether you have been home five days, five years or five decades, we welcome you, a veteran. We who have never been in the military service of our country cannot walk in your boots or step aboard your ship. The only part of your life we can try to imagine with any sense of reality is your return home.

When you came back, home and all it stood for had changed. Part of you will always be foreign to those who have not been in that other place. Some of you returned to parents who watched you leave childhood behind. Others came home to a sweetheart who thought about you every day while you were gone. A few of you were parents who missed months and years of your children’s lives. Most of you left as inexperienced youngsters whose absence at the Sunday dinner table represented more than visible emptiness.

Through the years of the 20th century, we have welcomed you home from wars.

Ninety-one years ago today, an armistice ended World War I. Three million of you had been drafted under the new Selective Service Act; 2 million more volunteered. Thousands served in the Red Cross. You returned aboard ships from across the Atlantic and traveled by trains to hometowns that awaited and embraced you.

In September 1945, World War II ended. You, who came home from Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, heard bands playing and saw flags waving in streets of a grateful nation, united by victory against enemies who sought to defeat and occupy our country. You had left towns where most of the people you met each day knew your parents and grandparents, where you had little fear of those around you. You have learned to stand alert every minute to possible danger.

In July 1953, a cease-fire, without victory, ended a war that lasted a little more than three years. You came home from Korea to an economic upswing — new homes, new cars and television sets, and a seeming lack of concern about 50,000 Americans who had died. You could not forget the men who had bunked next to you during bitter-cold winters, or the prisoners of war who underwent inconceivable torture.

Sometimes, not to our credit, we have wavered in the warmth of our welcome.

You, the men and women who came home from the eight-year war in Vietnam, faced an animosity that spread across the country. Protests for civil rights, racial equality and peace turned into violent, ugly outbursts against war, authority and government. Your uniform brought sneers of contempt and much worse. Those who supported you were denigrated as “flag wavers.”

By the last decade of the 20th century, attitudes began changing. When two dozen nations allied with the United States to rid Kuwait of invading forces, you came home after less than a month. Desert Storm awakened admiration for the nation’s military, if not the reason for its activation.

Today, as our armed forces return from Operation Iraqi Freedom, those who oppose military action take their opposition to Congress and cast a respectful eye toward you who wear the uniform of our country.

Two walls represent the century now past — one built to imprison people, the other to honor those who died for their freedom-loving country. One wall was torn down; the other stands, 58,000 names engraved on black granite. We remember them, and today we honor you, their living comrades from all our wars. We cannot walk in your shoes, cannot feel your scars, but we can, in all sincerity, welcome you back home.

Harriet Freiberger is a freelance writer who has lived in the Elk River Valley since 1982.

Comments

Mary Stanton 5 years, 1 month ago

Wonderful wonderful wonderful Harriet!!! I hope you don't mind but I posted this on my facebook page and of course gave proper credits to your wonderful article!!!

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kathy foos 5 years, 1 month ago

I guess I was purely a flagwaver at heart during vietnam,but dont further insult the vietmam vets by saying that everyone had anynmosity toward the vets.That is just not true,the war was protested (,not civil rights or racial equality,)that the vets were blamed for.In fact the government was blamed for the war and not the returning vets,I think people wanted to stop the war to save some lives and that is caring about the vets.To oversimpilfy it by the way you stated it makes it sound universal discrimination.My own brother was in the army then and came home to the job and benefits he had before he was drafted,and no one was personally persecuting him for the war,Im not saying that it didnt happen,but as a general rule people did appreciate them way more than you are giving them credit for now,maybe they(returnig vets now) could have the jobs back when they get home like my brother did and then they could have a better life.I wonder about our national guard that has been deployed,do they get their life back intact when they get home?,Make sure these men are given good opportunitys now when they need it as they return to civilian life if you dont want the mistakes of Vietnam war to be made ,And dont blame people that protested the war,for not caring about the vets,It had nothing to do with the wonderful job that the men did and do for our country.They had the right ot stop a war if they could,just like voters now have the right,the service is there to do their duty and that is what we do appreciate about them,only ignorant people would blame them for a war and they would be wrong!

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kathy foos 5 years, 1 month ago

I guess I was purely a flagwaver at heart during vietnam,but dont further insult the vietmam vets by saying that everyone had anynmosity toward the vets.That is just not true,the war was protested (,not civil rights or racial equality,)that the vets were blamed for.In fact the government was blamed for the war and not the returning vets,I think people wanted to stop the war to save some lives and that is caring about the vets.To oversimpilfy it by the way you stated it makes it sound universal discrimination.My own brother was in the army then and came home to the job and benefits he had before he was drafted,and no one was personally persecuting him for the war,Im not saying that it didnt happen,but as a general rule people did appreciate them way more than you are giving them credit for now,maybe they(returning vets now) could have the jobs back when they get home like my brother did and then they could have a better life.I wonder about our national guard that has been deployed,do they get their life back intact when they get home?,Make sure these men are given good opportunitys now when they need it as they return to civilian life if you dont want the mistakes of Vietnam war to be made ,And dont blame people that protested the war,for not caring about the vets,It had nothing to do with the wonderful job that the men did and do for our country.They had the right ot stop a war if they could,just like voters now have the right,the service is there to do their duty and that is what we do appreciate about them,only ignorant people would blame them for a war and they would be wrong!

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