A Proper Welcome Home . . .

 ... After All These Years!

My brother was born on May 28, 1945, the year World War II ended.


In August of that same year, the Japanese had surrendered unconditionally. Unknown to my brother, who was less than three months old, the winds of war blew fiercely somewhere else on the far side of the earth as the Japanese occupied a spot north of the sixteenth parallel after the War had ended.


In September of that year, Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Viet Minh, declared the Democratic Republic of Vietnam before a crowd of some 500,000 in Hanoi. But the major allied victors of World War II— the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union—all agreed the area belonged to the French. As the French had not the wherewithal to retake Vietnam at the time, the major powers agreed that British troops would occupy the South and the Nationalist Chinese, the North. On September 14, 1945, Chinese forces disarmed the Japanese troops north of the sixteenth parallel and the British landed in the south to re-arm the French, who had been interned by the Japanese.


There is no long story made short here. It would not suffice Ho Chi Minh until he had what he wanted and, soon after, he made guerrilla war against the French Union forces. This started the First Indochina War. By 1949, the Communist Chinese had largely won the Chinese Civil War and they began to provide arms to their Vietnamese allies, who were also, by now, receiving crucial support from the Soviet Union. After a stunning defeat of the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, at the Geneva Conference, the French negotiated a ceasefire agreement and independence was granted to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. My brother was nine years old.


It did not end there, for in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared that North Vietnamese forces had twice attacked American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin—


This led to open war between North Vietnam and the United States with American regular combat troops commencing the fight in that same month. My brother, three years old when this conflict first began in the heart of Ho Chi Minh, had come of age. He was twenty-two years old when he left Ft. Dix, New Jersey in early June, 1967, headed for Vietnam. We knew, but by the Grace of God, odds were that we would never see him again. My daddy turned gray over night. My mother prayed her heart out every waking moment while he was away. Almost a year later, we got the word. Mike had been wounded. He would be flown to Japan for surgery via the Philippines, and if all went well, we would be seeing him in a matter of weeks. I cannot tell you what a relief that was.


The rest is history, too much history to recount. Too much heartache, sadness, death and the collateral damage is yet to be totaled. More than three million Americans served, a million and a half actually saw combat. By war’s end, 58,220 of our soldiers lay dead, more than 150,000 were wounded, including my brother, and 21,000 were permanently disabled. I cry aloud when I think that sixty-one percent of those who were killed were age twenty-one and younger.


I know. This is all in the past. But the fact remains our boys fought this War just like those who fought the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean Conflict—but I remember even Johnny got a hurrah when he came marching home again. The World Wars got ticker tape parades, as they should have, and our troops were considered heroes who fought to free the people of South Korea, and they were.


Our boys didn’t volunteer to fight the war in Vietnam. They were drafted. Yet they were demonized and denied a hero’s welcome home when the pages were closed on the Vietnam era.


Anti-war protests ended with the final withdrawal of troops after the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973. South Vietnam was left to defend itself alone when the fighting resumed. Many of them fled to the United States. You know the rest of the Saigon story.


We did our best to welcome our boy home. It has always been easy to treat this one like a hero, even before he went to War. This family hovered when he came home, and we still hover over our hero every day that we breathe free.


There is more to this story. Here it is in my brother's words.

 
Gloria and I were privileged to go to Washington, D. C. June 3-6. I have only one word for the trip: indescribable, awesome, fantastic, out of this world, an experience of a life-time, gratifying! The “Forever Young” foundation from Collierville, Tennessee sponsored the trip for Veterans. Everything was planned to a “T” from the first step on the bus at their beautiful facility called Belleview on Friday until we returned to Belleview on Monday.


When I got out of the service in 1969 I tried to melt away into society mainly because of the unpopularity of the Vietnam War and the fact that I suffered through some horrific ordeals. I hardly talked about it to anyone until I became a member of The American Legion in 1986. It became easier for me to share with those especially the WWII Veterans.


The pilot told us to be looking for the salute, so Gloria was ready with her camera. At an airport, typically an even number of vehicles will line up perpendicular on the sides of the taxiway, and the plumes of water will form a series of arches. Symbolically the procession would look similar to a bridal party walking under a wedding arch or the Arch of Sabres at a military wedding. Water salutes are also used for ships and other watercraft, with water being delivered by fireboats. Water salutes have been used to mark the retirement of a senior pilot, air traffic controller or the first or last flight of an airline to an airport, or for other notable events. I suppose they considered us one of the notable events. The pilot told us that he had been flying for 32 years and that was the first time he had been hosed down. He thanked us for being on board so he could witness it first hand.



When we entered the airports in Memphis and Washington, crowds were cheering, waving flags and applauding and bands were playing. I knew I was tagging along with the WWII Veterans. But I accepted that as my "welcome home" with tears in my eyes. That was almost as emotional as the Wall for me.






We saw many sights and monuments in Washington. At every turn we were reminded of how much history is packed into our nation's capital. Needless to say, the Wall was my focal point for the trip. As we approached it on Saturday morning, hundreds of people were parading by—most of which were groups of young people who from their actions really had no clue what the Wall means. I was doing okay until the attendant asked how many sheets of paper I needed for rubbings. When I told him 41, the emotions began to flow. The photographer with our tour took pictures of Gloria and me that I was not aware of until Sunday evening. In some of those pictures there were individuals who showed interest in what Gloria and I were doing. They gave us space to get the rubbings off the Wall. Many came up and thanked me for my service. I only wished they could have thanked the men and women on the Wall. But, it is like our tour leader, Diane Hight said: "In our getting the rubbings, we honor them."


 During the ten months I spent in Vietnam, mail call was always a special time. Sometimes one letter came or two or more. Sometimes none. But whenever my name was called out it meant news from home with words of encouragement. Sometimes it meant a package of goodies I could share with others. On our trip, we had mail call. Thank you to all who sent mail, for it brought back unexplainable memories of long ago. I received 25 letters and cards from family and friends. An elementary school in Arlington, Tennessee sent a package which contained 40 individually written notes from third and fourth graders.


All of the letters and notes were very special. However, the note that had special meaning to me was the one written by Gloria that included a personal note and also one she took from a note written by Michael on May 28, 2005. "I admire you for having the courage to serve our country in Vietnam. You fought and were wounded so that your children and grandchildren could live in freedom. You are my hero! I love you, Michael."


Mike Bennett
New Albany, Mississippi

Mike and Gloria's son, Michael, 
went to be with the Lord 
on February 27, 2009. 
He would have been thirty-nine 
yesterday, June 11, 2011.






Posted by Jane Bennett Gaddy


Comments

  1. Thank you so much dear friend for sharing this account. Tears came to my eyes as I read here today this bright afternoon in the South.

    During those Viet Nam war years I was in elementary and Junior High, I remember students had bracelets with those MIA. It was a disturbing time to grow up, I remember the song, "I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain"...I prayed for the war to end as I do now. I felt my school in junior high was much like the gates of hell as I still wore knee socks and school dresses wondering which way to turn.

    Once, when I was at the library, probably 17 years ago, my baby was in her infant seat and my other three little girls were with me there, I was holding a video documentary about Viet Nam taling with my little girls about it. A man in a tie looked at me and said he knew about Viet Nam, he paused and then quietly said..."I was there"

    A huge "God bless you!" came forth from me to him as I stood there holding the infant seat.

    So many true sobering accounts and our poor boys did not receive the honor they deserved. Not at all.

    Your poor mother and daddy, oh I cannot imagine what they went through as well as your brother.

    So glad your brother received the honor he deserved! And the letter is a treasure, oh my goodness, that is the highest honor of all as I'm sure you agree.

    Please tell your brother our family appreciates him greatly and his service to our country. I know this family loves our vets greatly. Greatly.

    May we lift up our country in prayers in this perilous time.

    With love and appreciation, thanks so much for sharing. You are a gem. There aren't many like you these days Jane. : ) Love, Amelia

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  2. Dear Amelia,

    I'm always so happy when you stop by. I take the opportunity to write hoping you will come back this way to get my reply. I can't thank you enough. Kindred spirits! That's what we are. To feel so inspired and blessed by someone I've never seen... well, you're a real friend.

    Thank you for all your thoughts about Vietnam and what our men suffered. Wish we could sit face to face and talk about it. It helps to recall and not to forget how empty our hearts and days were without our soldier boy. So thankful to God he came home.

    We do live in perilous times. Our country is in the biggest turmoil ever, imploding. We are a Nation that has forgotten God. I fear that our men are dying in vain if we don't allow God to turn this great country back to Himself. The alternative for we who know Him—come quickly, Lord Jesus! And He will!

    My best to your precious family in the Forest Cathedral, those beautiful girls, and your loving hubs.
    Jane

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  3. Thank you Jane, and yes a most kindred spirit to me too, such a sweet encouragement to me. So thankful for your sweet words, the Lord knows just what we need and when we need it.

    You are truly an instrument for the Lord Jane.

    God bless you Jane! Love, Amelia

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