On this date in 1975, President Gerald Ford gave a speech at Tulane University and declared the Vietnam War was over for America. “The War in Vietnam is finished as far as America is concerned,” the President told the audience. They were words America longed to hear.
Usually, when wars end, there are celebrations in the street, big parades, and veterans who fought bravely are bestowed honors before admiring crowds. None of those things happened in the wake of the President’s words. It is the war America tries to forget, even to this day.
If there was any relief in the unilateral declaration from Ford, we did not see it expressed in America. There was a sense of grief about Vietnam which faded to numbness. America wants to forget the nightmare in Indochina that started on November 1, 1955, and raged for seventeen and a half years.
Vietnam is my generation’s war. Until recently, the war in Indochina was America’s most protracted sustained military engagement. Last year, Afghanistan passed Vietnam’s record. The two wars bear eerie similarities. I was a Republican when President Bush asked Congress for the authority to invade Afghanistan.
I opposed the war, which made me a traitor in the eyes of the Party. I speak about my decision to leave the GOP in 2016. The GOP made the decision I could go when I did not support the war. So, I departed Washington. It took a while longer for me to leave the Party.
Vietnam is why I stayed in the Republican Party. Ideologically, I have not been a Republican for all my adult life. Even though I worked for Republican Presidents, and alongside GOP Members of Congress, I was what statisticians call an outlier, something so far from the norm of the GOP that I stuck out all alone.
I stayed because of the way the left treated our soldiers during, and after the war. I did not like the War, but when I got in the sights of my local Draft Board, I enlisted. I joined the Air Force so I would not be a trigger-puller on the front lines.
Walking through the airport in San Antonio, Texas one Spring morning, catching a flight home before my next assignment, a young woman and man walked up to me. The woman looked at the young man standing before her in his dress blues with such scorn and hate in her eyes. “You’re a baby killer,” she proclaimed, and spit on me.
I had just gotten out of basic training. I had not killed anyone. It was the first time I was the object of hate by anyone. It stayed with me. I went to the bathroom and took off my uniform, and put on the civilian clothes I had worn to San Antonio when I came to Lackland Air Force Base to start basic training. I did not want to be spit on again.
I was one of many servicemen, proclaimed war criminals by a spiteful left. Jane Fonda, Abby Hoffman, and a host of antiwar activists cheered those who evaded the draft as courageous heroes. They viewed those who were trying to kill us as sympathetic victims.
Fonda has said she “regrets” going to Hanoi. For many, that is different from saying, “I was wrong to go to Hanoi, and embrace those who were killing my fellow countrymen.” Her mea culpa always contain the word “but,” which turns an apology into an excuse.
The victims of the Vietnam War are the soldiers who served, like my friend Bruce. Bruce was a Green Beret and a tunnel rat. He would go into booby-trapped underground tunnels and fight hand-to-hand. One evening, Bruce went into his bedroom and shot himself. We spoke often; he never got past the war.
Eleven years after the end of the war, Vietnam Veterans staged our own welcome home parade in Chicago. Organizers expected 125,000 marchers; 200,000 participated cheered on by half a million people along the three-mile parade route.
Today is a historic day some of us will remember. Most of the nation will not think about Vietnam. Despite the left apologizing to vets for their hate toward them in that day, Vietnam remains an unpleasant memory for America. It is doubtful it will trend on Twitter or Facebook. There is much stronger competition like “National Adopt A Shelter Pet Day” which is trending at the moment.
The 43rd Anniversary will end just as the war ended, with a whimper. I will lift a drink tonight to Bruce, Dan, Terry, Bill, and the rest of my fellow friends and Veterans to mark the end of the War. Those who served are old men now. Soon, we will belong to the ages, and so will the war.