On Wednesday, thank a Vietnam veteran

Charita M. Goshay
The Repository
Stark County native Gerald Fox, 75, displays his booklet/memoir, "One Soldier's Story," which chronicles his military service in the Vietnam War. The project has been turned into a documentary with the assistance of Stark State College's digital media program.

I wouldn't have survived it.

Every movie and documentary that I've ever seen about the Vietnam War tells me so.

That moment in "Full Metal Jacket" when a soldier picks up a stuffed toy which was booby-trapped?

That would have been me.

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March 29 marks National Vietnam Veterans Day.

If you know someone who served, thank them for it.

We can debate whether Vietnam was folly and a fool's errand, and in doing so, diminish the impact it had upon those who served in good faith.

We can pretend that teenagers sent a half a world away to fight for a country they never heard of, who struggled for their very lives in jungles and rice paddies, didn't return as three-dimensional ghosts.

We can whistle past the fact that they were fighting under the long shadow of their fathers who were lionized as The Greatest Generation. It's no wonder so many came home disillusioned and feeling like they'd been set up to fail.

We can act like Vietnam wasn't a morass that took 58,000 American lives, that it wasn't fought largely by working-class whites and a disproportionate percentage of Black and brown men who couldn't afford college and the deferments that came with it.

More than 50 years later, most still haven't spoken about half of what they saw.

If any good has come from Vietnam, it is that we have appeared to have learned some lessons, such as not laying the blame on those sent to fight.

We now know how to separate the soldier from the mission.

We've learned to question and second-guess what we're told. As Sen. Hiram W. Johnson, R-California, said in 1918: "The first casualty when war comes is truth."

Vietnam forever dispatched the illusion that the government always knows what it's doing.

Though some leaders still opt to ignore the lesson, Vietnam taught us what can happen when you charge headlong into another country while being ignorant of its culture and history.

We also discovered that America uses propaganda, too. The message shared during Vietnam was that our soldiers were fighting for our freedom — which never made sense. We also were told that Vietnam was a domino that we needed to prop up to keep Southeast Asia from falling into communism, our perennial boogeyman.

Vietnam unraveled the fantasy that every military action undertaken by the U.S. means that the white hats always win.

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But offering thanks and parades to Vietnam veterans and declaring national holidays still aren't enough. Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide, Vietnam-era veterans among them. Despite being senior citizens now, too many are entangled in the throes of addiction, mental illness and homelessness.

Last fall, a group gathered in front of the Stark County Courthouse Wednesday for a "Witness Tree," ceremony to remember veterans who have lost their life by suicide or overdose, with participants hanging dog tags on branches of a tree to recognize them.

As we've seen with our own eyes, Russia's military is not the 800-pound gorilla we've dreaded all of our lives. They are a badly trained and even worse equipped mishmash of convicts and conscripts. In contrast, the United States possesses the most powerful, well-trained military force on the planet. As a country which has a military capability unmatched in human history, there should be no such thing as a waiting list for veterans' care and treatment.

We need a Marshall Plan to address the needs of all veterans, but especially for those who fought in an unpopular war whose mission they didn't always understand; who answered the call of duty because it was what their country asked of them.

They conducted themselves with honor. We ought to do the same.

Charita M. Goshay is a Canton Repository staff writer and member of the editorial board. Reach her at 330-580-8313 or On Twitter: @cgoshayREP

If you need help

If you or a veteran you know is in crisis, call the Department of Veterans Affairs crisis hotline at 988, press 1, (also 800-273-8255) or text to 838255. The line is open 24 hours a day.