Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan owe thanks to Vietnam veterans

By Chad Storlie

I was speaking to a group of small business owners a few days ago about the benefits of military service and hiring military veterans for their businesses.  As I received their still very special, “Thank you for your service,” compliments following my talk, I realized that the public displays of gratitude for military service have their origins in the failure to honor, recognize, and respect military veterans from the Vietnam War upon their return. In so many ways, my generation of military veterans owes an incredible debt of gratitude and respect to the actions that the Vietnam War military veterans took to create a world-class military.

One of the truly unappreciated themes of the Vietnam War is the quality, professionalism, and sacrifice of the U.S. military in Vietnam when the country was rife with racial, political, and societal strife.  Daily in the Vietnam War military personnel performed heroic acts, combat operations, logistical support, medical training, civilian support operations, and myriad other tasks that a deployed military force needs to operate successfully. This extreme professionalism and sacrifice by service members for each other in an unpopular war is one of my greatest areas of gratitude to Vietnam Veterans. 

The best action that can be done for a military service member and a military force is difficult, challenging, and realistic combat training. I was just joining the U.S. Army as the last generation of Vietnam War military veterans were in their final years of active service. My military training was marked by back-crushing road marches, how to render life-saving first aid, how to work with foreign military forces, and how to train to instantly assume the role of a military leader when the current leader was “injured.” These lessons all came from the truths that Vietnam War veterans experienced in their jungle battlefield. True to their service, they did not forget these lessons but ensured my generation learned them before we entered combat. 

Vietnam veterans were given so little when they returned home, but they gave so much back.  Vietnam War veterans became business people, nurses, entrepreneurs, civil rights leaders, doctors, inventors, politicians, government officials, teachers, parents, and leading members in society. What is so remarkable is that as the country turned away from their military service, they turned toward the country in terms of what more they could provide to make the country better.  The lesson for my generation of military veterans is clear, we can and need to do more to create an even better United States. 

The military technology of the Vietnam War is scarcely recognizable to today’s military. The Global Positioning System (GPS), scopes on nearly all combat rifles, 1st round accuracy on artillery systems, thermal sights on attack helicopters, armed drones, night vision devices, and scores of other improvements create a well armed, well trained, and well led military. These innovations and improvements came from thousands of Vietnam veterans who recognized that U.S. military technology needed to improve quickly and drastically.  

On Veteran’s Day, seek out, discover, and listen to the stories of service and sacrifice of Vietnam veterans. The thanks, respect, hiring programs, and post-military treatment that the military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan receive today is due in large part to the sense of gratitude for military service that was missing for military veterans of Vietnam. The United States owes more thanks and gratitude to this great generation of military veterans.

Chad Storlie is an adjunct professor of marketing at Creighton University, an Iraq combat veteran, and a retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer. 

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