My grandfather was a soldier in the Italian army in WWI. My father served under General George Patton in WWII. My uncle was in the navy at the same time. A close friend was a Green Beret paratrooper in Korea. During the conflict in Vietnam, my fiancé, Kevin, was a forward observer and when in the field, Kevin’s life expectancy was fifteen minutes. My brother, Edward, was an officer in a medical unit.
Ed was stationed in a hospital in Germany, but he didn’t get off easy. He was assigned to a burn unit where he witnessed the horrible disfigurement and suffering of young men every day. Both Kevin and Ed accepted their fate when they were drafted, went without complaint, and served admirably even though they were anti-war. I, too, was against the war then, and now, and I also supported the troops then as I do now. But my definition of “support” is different from that of many of my fellow citizens. To support means to help, not destroy. To support the troops cannot mean that they be fed endlessly to an unjust, unprovoked, and un-winnable war; it should mean that they be provided with medical and financial assistance, if and when they return home.
Along with the wounds from artillery and shrapnel, many of the soldiers in the two World Wars were injured by mustard gas and other chemical weapons. Others suffered from “shell shock”, and were ridiculed by their superiors instead of helped. Many of the soldiers in Korea and Vietnam experienced the same harsh reality as their predecessors.
When the troops returned from Vietnam, the reception they received from some Americans was despicable, and so was the way they were treated by the government and military they served under. Hundreds of them presented with mysterious symptoms, ranging from chronic skin problems to severe headaches to trouble breathing to unusual forms of cancer.