The following was Editor/Co-Publisher's Kathy's Kolumn in the Feb. 16, 2010, of the Tomahawk Leader:
I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like putting your life on the line – often against your will – and then being shunned and spat upon.
Such was the case for two Vietnam veterans who stopped by our office recently. Tim “Shortcut” Iding, Tomahawk, served two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy, and Wayne Staszak, Harshaw, was with the Special Operations Group (SOG). They dropped off an email they had received that said something important they felt needed to be shared. The “thank you” originated from Major Brian P. Bresnahan, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The powerful message is printed below.
These two local veterans, who like many of their comrades suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, have made it a personal mission to make sure today’s vets are not treated like they were. When they returned from Vietnam, they say they were “looked down at; couldn’t even wear our uniform.” For example, Staszak recalled one time when he was minding his own business and a 10-year-old boy walked up to him and spit on him. The explanation: “My dad is sitting at the bar over there and said to do it.”
The pair now work locally and through the Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club honoring today’s newest veterans and attending funerals when the ultimate sacrifice has been made. They stress that they are not whining, but merely showing the respect that is due. “We wanted to make sure they weren’t treated like we were treated. … The younger generation has no clue,” they say of the past. The two see a welcome change among the folks back home, but, in their case, they say it comes “40 years too late.”
Major Bresnahan’s thoughts follows:
A guy gets time to think over here and I was thinking about all the support we get from home. Sometimes it's overwhelming. We get care packages at times faster than we can use them. There are boxes and boxes of toiletries and snacks lining the center of every tent; the generosity has been amazing. So, I was pondering the question: "Why do we have so much support?"
In my opinion, it came down to one thing: Vietnam. I think we learned a lesson, as a nation, that no matter what, you have to support the troops who are on the line, who are risking everything. We treated them so poorly back then. When they returned was even worse. The stories are nightmarish of what our returning warriors were subjected to. It is a national scar, a blemish on our country, an embarrassment to all of us. After Vietnam , it had time to sink in. The guilt in our collective consciousness grew. It shamed us. However, we learned from our mistake.
Somewhere during the late 1970's and into the 80's, we realized that we can't treat our warriors that way. So, starting during the Gulf War, when the first real opportunity arose to stand up and support the troops, we did. We did it to support our friends and family going off to war. But we also did it to right the wrongs from the Vietnam era. We treated our troops like the heroes they were, acknowledged and celebrated their sacrifice, and rejoiced at their homecoming instead of spitting on them.
And that support continues today for those of us in Iraq . Our country knows that it must support us and it does. The lesson was learned in Vietnam and we are better because of it.
Everyone who has gone before is a hero. They are celebrated in my heart. I think admirably of all those who have gone before me. From those who fought to establish this country in the late 1770's to those I serve with here in Iraq . They have all sacrificed to ensure our freedom.
But when I get back, I'm going to make it a personal mission to specifically thank every Vietnam vet I encounter for their sacrifice. Because if nothing else good came from that terrible war, one thing did. It was the lesson learned on how we treat our warriors. We as a country learned from our mistake and now treat our warriors as heroes, as we should.
I am the beneficiary of their sacrifice. Not only for the freedom they, like veterans from other wars, ensured, but for how well our country now treats my fellow Marines and I. We are the beneficiaries of their sacrifice.
Semper Fidelis (Latin for “Always Faithful,” the motto of the U.S. Marines)
Major Brian P. Bresnahan
United States Marine Corps