The fall and rise of Vietnam vets

Vietnam revisited

Me and buddies, Christmas 1970, somewhere near Cu Chi, Vietnam

Me and buddies, Christmas 1970, somewhere near Cu Chi, Vietnam

Who alive in America today hasn’t heard of the Vietnam War or doesn’t know a family it has touched? This conflict dragged on for years and ultimately became very unpopular. Late in the war, returning soldiers like myself were despised by many.When I came back to America in 1971, we soldiers were warned not to wear our uniforms when traveling.

Well, how times have changed! Now veterans are popular once again and are often even thanked for their service. Even Vietnam veterans are now held in high esteem. In fact, we are so popular that there are many more of us than ever stood on the soil of Vietnam. Below are some figures I pulled from a veterans organization website, but similar numbers are to be found on other websites as well. These numbers are reported to have come from the Combat Area Casualty File (CACF) back in November 1993 (the CACF is the basis for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial). Although some of the numbers come directly from records, others are derived from surveys, etc., and are subject to error. (Vietnam veteran deaths since the war are one of the problem areas.) Nevertheless, the numbers speak volumes:

  • 9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the official Vietnam era from August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975
  • 2,709,918 Americans served in uniform in Vietnam
  • 58,148 died in the war
  • the number of Americans claiming to have served in Vietnam during the 1993 CACF census count was 9,492,958
  • the number of Americans claiming to have served in Vietnam had grown to 13,853,027 by the year 2000 when a follow-up census was taken. This means 4 out of 5 veterans claiming to have served in Vietnam did not actually do so

This year I had reason to think about these numbers because as a Vietnam vet, I finally did something I’d thought about for years— I returned to Vietnam. For the real vets who haven’t had this experience, or will never have the opportunity to have it, I thought I’d describe my experience and share a few thoughts about it. Several parts will follow in the coming weeks.

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