A Speech

"Welcome Home Viet Nam Veterans Day"

by State Sen. John Astle

March 30, 2015

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen of the senate, honored guests and my brothers in arms - I am truly honored to be speaking today on behalf of all the Vietnam vets in Maryland. I guess I got the nod because I am the only Vietnam vet in the senate. We do have some Vietnam era vets but only one who served in RVN.

Many of us were born during WW2 and others in the late 40s. We all had family members who served in the military during that war. I think we all can remember the parades honoring those men and women who had won a war on 2 fronts. It was a war that the whole country was committed to. So as we began to come of age it was assumed in many communities that we would serve. I know that was how it was in the community that I grew up in. It was considered the honorable thing to do.

We had a vision of what war was like. We had heard the stories from our older family members. Of course these were told in such a way that their activities seemed glorious. So that was the mindset that many of us had as we got off the plane and stepped onto the soil of Viet Nam. We were quickly to discover that war is not glorious. It is a very ugly thing filled with fear, death, destruction and deep emotions as we lost friends. One of the first things to go is patriotism and mom and apple pie. What replaces it is an intense loyalty to ones friends. We had a little saying, “better dead then look bad”. Letting down ones friends was just not done and often people would do very courageous things to protect friends.

While we were there engaged in what for many of us was a life and death struggle, there were changes going on back home - young men burning their draft card and mass demonstration where they chanted : hell no, we wont go”. Young men leaving to go live in Canada - it was difficult for us to understand because it wasn’t the country that we had left.  I remember hearing that students were picketing a Dow Chemical recruiter on a campus because Dow made Napalm. We knew nape was a terrible weapon but it worked to save many American lives. We also had to operate under rules of engagement. That seemed a little crazy. Here we are engaging an enemy who doesnt operate with those rules and we felt it put us at a disadvantage.

Having endured and survived, we came back to a country that blamed the war on  us. People called us baby killers and worse. In some places we were shunned. I got home feeling that I had accomplished something with my life. I had served my fellow Marines and saved lives. As I was walking in uniform along the concourse of the  LA airport I was spit on by a woman. I wanted very much to smack her in the face but that would not have looked good on the part of a Marine officer.   So for a long time we dealt with our memories, with our scars both physical and emotional. We did alone or in small groups of friends who had shared the same experience. But for the  country as a whole we were forgotten. That is what makes this recognition ceremony so special because all of us are being recognized for what we accomplished.

I want to close with this. While we were there fighting and many young men were doing their best to avoid the military there was some push back on the part of many of the vets.

There is a saying that is engraved on brass plaques that I’m sure are hanging in many homes today - I know it hangs in my home.  It goes like this---War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight; nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety; is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men that himself.

My brothers, we are those better men. Welcome Home!