The Whining Veteran Myth

I recall as a youth the Saturday Evening Post and Life magazines in a box in our garage. They had pictures of war and of proud returning veterans. There were wounded men and those Rockwell paintings of the young trooper coming home to a proud family. I do not recall even one photo of an unkempt, whining returning soldier, marine, sailor or airman. I also never saw a slovenly veteran from a past war standing there crying. They were pictured with the returning warriors, standing proud and obviously adoring a new generation of American fighting men.

Somewhere along the way we experienced a collision between returning veterans and the new "sensitive American male." Numerous photos appeared of this new type veteran crying on the shoulder of a consoling female, with that pained look on her face showing the injustice of it all. I could not figure out who these people were. I went to war with no whiners and came home from multiple tours, each time with none. A couple of rowdy drunks on a trip or two, but no darned whiners.... not even on the return flight from POW camp and a couple of them had been in the jungle for nearly seven years. I felt and saw pride among my war-making brethren.

I never disembarked from an aircraft at Travis AFB and heard a fellow warrior ask, "Where's the parade like Daddy got?" It was many years before I heard the now common refrain: "I never got a parade." I was never spit at in the San Francisco airport in all the years of passing through there from 1965 to73. Every one of those years I came or left for Vietnam through that much maligned airport. A pretty little hippie girl gave me a flower once and I tried to pick her up in good soldierly fashion. She was with a dirty, long-haired type and he did not spit either. He just stood with this forlorn look on his face and appeared totally dejected. I asked if she'd like to try and change her luck and she just smiled and said she was kind of committed to the long haired young man. He just seemed more hurt than hostile during the flirtation. I do not recall ever expecting to be spit on at that airport or down town for that matter. I guess what so many claim as their defining moment of that war kind of passed me on by.

The only times I recall being embarrassed in an airport, a sloppy soldier was the culprit and not some Hippie. I made the on-the-spot correction and the only looks from civilians were more along the line of "Just let the kid get on home to mom," rather than hostility. No spitting involved and the slovenly soldier never said he looked like a bum because he never got a parade.

On all those plane rides I never met a warrior who bragged of raping Vietnamese girls or murdering their families. I guess they were holding back for those "Winter Soldier" hearings with Kerry. Oliver Stone and John must have been on flights reserved for those who had been in the army commanded by "Ghengis Khan." That is John's description and not mine of the military he served with in Vietnam.

During all the years of the Vietnam War I never had a confrontation with the anti-war crowd. I did once go to my father's office and they had an anti-war march in the street outside. We, along with a navy recruiter from down stairs, went out to watch. We saw Doctor Spock roll by and a couple folk singers. Though we were in uniform, no catcalls or spit came our way. As a matter of fact, most marchers seemed a little embarrassed and maybe even a tad intimidated by our being there. I did not scream and cry asking why the parade was not for me and neither did the navy chief.

Long after the wall was erected, I finally got down there to honor my fallen fellow warriors. I also attended a number of veterans gatherings in1985. Suddenly, everone is crying and saying "Wecome home, Brother. We never got a parade." Actually, a huge parade took place when the wall opened officially. I guess all these guys did not get the word. My comments were less than kind. A guy who had been a lawyer in Vietnam came up wearing a green beret with his civilian suit. He asked where my beret was and I told him it was home in my bag where it belonged. I was about to ask why he had one on when a fellow walked up in full camouflage gear with a beard and weighing about two-eighty, so I knew he was no hungry "homeless vet." He said, "It's all right if you cry, just let it out." I wanted to puke. Who in God's name were these guys? I had come to honor my fallen comrades and to remember those still missing. None of my dead friends would expect me to stand in front of that wall and cry. They were prouder than that and so am I.

In recent years, I have been approached on the street by those claiming to be "homeless veterans." I questioned all and not even one ever appeared legit. With the exception of that feminist Gloria at her friend Jane's press conference, these were the only people who became hostile when challenged. I look at John Kerry and his cohorts from the VVAW and I see the birthplace of the "poor Vietnam Veteran" myth in the public's eye. Millions of honorable veterans and the media tries to make that ragtag bunch of bums into "us"? Not on my watch, Dan and Walter. Those are your veterans, not mine! They are the genesis of every bad impression of Vietnam Veterans. They started the myth, along with the media left, that we were all dope addicts and most of us ended up in prison. It was this crew of real and imaginary veterans, along with the left handed media who hate the military, which created the myth of the whining veteran and they are doing their best to do it to a new generation of American warriors. They had no military pride in their day and have not one ounce of national pride today. They are not us and never were.

We veterans have made our voices heard on everything from POWs left behind to the terrible consequences from the use of chemicals in our war. We kept John Kerry and his VVAW "band of brothers" out of the White House. But, even the VA seems intent on tagging us, rather than treating us. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has become almost a buzz word for veterans of any war. I do not begrudge anyone treatment, but I am offended by the myth that none of us could cope with the rigors of combat and it's aftermath. As a former POW, the first words out of the VA Rep's mouth were "Of course, you will get compensated for PTSD." My response? "Just rate me on the bullets and shrapnel." I want them to treat that quiet vet in the corner, who never whines, but dreams terrible things at night. Then I want them to go down to the shopping mall and snatch up that camouflage-wearing goon, bothering the old ladies and find out if he ever actually went to war.

Copyright 2005, by
Mark A. Smith - DSC, Major, USA, Retired

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