A recent Military Times article reported that a recent survey conducted by USAA indicated that the troops were tired of hearing, “Thank you for your service” from the civilian population. However, the article seems to skew the narrative to that viewpoint whereas the overall substance of the survey indicated that troops wanted folks to:
“Go Beyond Thanks to honor our military and veterans by going beyond simple gratitude to create real, positive impacts in the community this holiday and every day.”
That’s something I can totally get behind.
Yes, I too get a little uncomfortable with being thanked for my service and I generally just reply with: “Thank you for your kind support.” I suspect most of us have a tendency to focus on the team rather than self in regard to our military service and the personal compliment makes us uneasy.
Many of our readers are Post 9-11 and unaware that the attacks of that day are what spawned the phrase that makes us so uncomfortable, and it was not commonly said before that event. We were attacked on home soil, and all civilian aircraft were forced to land at the nearest airport and grounded in place, public transportation shut down, and many buildings were closed. The civilian population was in shock, but took comfort in seeing armed military patrolling airports, mass transportation hubs, and public buildings.
A few days after 9/11 I was at a high school cross country meet. Civilian aircraft were still grounded, which was an eerie thing in itself. You don’t realize how many aircraft are overhead on a daily basis until they all stop flying. People stood around waiting for the race to start and all was quiet. The normal cacophony of people chattering was absent because people were still in shock. That was eerie too.
Then a rumble was heard as a USAF C-130 aircraft passed overhead on its way to who knows where. But here’s the amazing thing. Everyone there looked up and started clapping and cheering. Think about it. People were cheering for an ancient, unarmed cargo aircraft lumbering overhead. That’s how scared people were, and it shows how much reassurance they got from the military. From those days on, the Thank you for your service phrase became part of American culture.
But before we say, “that was then and this is now,” let’s take a little step further back to the United States of the Vietnam War era which was an internally deeply divisive conflict for our nation. The Draft was in effect, and there was a very large and powerful anti-war movement going on with numerous riots and protests. And of course, like today, the media loved fanning the flames. As public support for the war shifted to antagonism the government was the first target of the peoples’ wrath. But then it grew to include the military industrial complex who were supporting the war.
Lastly, by proxy, those serving in the military were seen as evil because they supported the war too. Yes, even those who were drafted and served as conscientious objectors. The idea at the time was that the draftees should have fled to Canada rather than supporting such an evil war. Unfortunately, because of this anti-war sentiment, many Vietnam veterans faced significant challenges and ill treatment upon their return home. Here are some examples of the ill treatment that they experienced:
Verbal Abuse: Many returning veterans were subjected to insults, slurs, and derogatory comments by anti-war protesters and even some members of the general public. They were sometimes called names like “baby killers” or accused of being complicit in war crimes.
Physical Assaults: Some veterans were physically assaulted or attacked by individuals who opposed the war or held strong anti-military sentiments. These incidents ranged from minor altercations to more serious assaults. There were reports of veterans being spat upon by protestors and I have known some of the victims personally.
Discrimination in Employment: Some Vietnam veterans faced difficulty finding employment upon their return, as employers may have been reluctant to hire them due to negative perceptions associated with the war. For example, it was a common perception of the time that Vietnam vets had been introduced to hard drugs in Southeast Asia and were addicts. Keep in mind that marijuana was viewed then as a hard and addictive drug. Nobody wanted to hire a druggie or a baby killer.
Lack of Recognition and Support: Many Vietnam vets did not receive a warm welcome home or official recognition for their service. Some felt ignored or neglected by their government and society. This was in part due to the unpopularity of the war. People, including government agencies just wanted to forget about it and move on.
Limited Access to Veterans Benefits: Some Vietnam veterans faced bureaucratic hurdles or delays in accessing the benefits and services they were entitled to, such as healthcare, education, and housing assistance.
Post-Traumatic Stress Stigma: PTSD was not widely recognized or understood during the Vietnam War era. Many veterans struggled with mental health issues but were not provided with the necessary support or treatment.
Isolation and Alienation: The hostile reception some veterans received led to a sense of isolation and alienation, with many feeling disconnected from their communities and even their families.
Agent Orange and Other Health Issues: Some veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide used during the war, faced health complications later in life. It took years for the government to acknowledge and provide support for these veterans. We have the same issue today regarding the Burn Pits, but the Agent Orange victims had to fight much harder and way longer in order to be recognized.
Delayed Vietnam Veterans Memorial: The construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., faced controversy and opposition. The memorial was eventually built, but it was not without resistance. In a sense it was an early form of cancel culture.
The impact of the anti-war movement on military members and vets extended for years beyond the official end of the war in 1975. Even into the 1980s, many military members changed out of their uniforms before going home. In fact, USAF regulations of that era prohibited members from stopping on the way home in uniform except for urgent stops like food and gas. It wasn’t until 9-11 that people were encouraged to wear their uniforms in public as a way of reassuring the civilian population. Very few people traveled on airlines in uniform. Male hair standards were relaxed to longer cuts to make them not stand out as being in the military.
Personal vehicles back then had to be registered on base and stickers were issued for display on the vehicle. Many members placed the stickers on removable holders because cars displaying base stickers were often vandalized in public places. And for sure you didn’t wear service branded clothing in public or put service related stickers on your vehicle. Military discounts at businesses were few and far between and veteran parking spots were non-existent. 9-11 changed all that.
It’s important to note that not all Vietnam veterans experienced these forms of ill treatment, and many received support and gratitude from their communities. However, the negative experiences of some Vietnam veterans have left a lasting negative impact on their lives.
Does anyone want to go back to how the military was treated during the Vietnam era? I propose that we all suck it up and be thankful that the public generally holds us in high regard. You can be honored, ignored, or reviled. For the sake of my brothers and sisters in arms, I choose honor, even though it makes me a little uncomfortable.
Dave Chamberlin served 38 years in the USAF and Air National Guard as an aircraft crew chief, where he retired as a CMSgt. He has held a wide variety of technical, instructor, consultant, and leadership positions in his more than 40 years of civilian and military aviation experience. Dave holds an FAA Airframe and Powerplant license from the FAA, as well as a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science. He currently runs his own consulting and training company and has written for numerous trade publications.
His true passion is exploring and writing about issues facing the military, and in particular, aircraft maintenance personnel.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.