I was having surgery at the VA hospital. The prep nurse spoke to me reassuringly as she got me ready. As she wrapped up her tasks and prepared to roll me into surgical holding, the nurse paused and gently placed her hand on my chest.
“Thank you for your service.”
I smiled, swallowed, and tried to acknowledge her kindness, but nothing came out. She seemed to understand, as we continued our way over to holding.
As a Vietnam vet, I am always touched whenever my service is recognized; I always will be. It stands in such sharp contrast to the reception many Vietnam veterans experienced when they returned home in the 60s and 70s. They were called murderers and baby killers. They were screamed at and spat upon.
I knew of a marine who had barely survived an explosion. He was in desperate shape. It took many months and surgeries, including, as I remember, the amputation of at least one limb, to put him back on his feet.
A few years later, he caught a cab in a large city. His injuries being obvious, the cabbie asked him about them. When he shared that he had triggered a mine while on a combat patrol in Vietnam, the cabbie became livid and threw him out at the next corner, luggage, and all.
Put it in the Closet
Nothing about my own story is that graphic, but, when I was being discharged in California, I was instructed to waste no time in getting home. I was strongly encouraged to remove my uniform, put it in the closet, and leave it there. “No need to borrow trouble,” they told me.
I was proud of that uniform and what it meant to me. To walk away from it broke my heart.
Times HAVE Changed
Times, of course, have changed. Vietnam veterans are being honored, and rightly so. As more and more of them suffer a plethora of diseases and conditions brought on by the long-term effects of Agent Orange, they are receiving support.
So, when the prep nurse said, “Thank you for your service,” it felt good. It felt VERY good. And, although I would no longer fit into the uniform, I came home in 40+ years ago, it’s still there in the closet.
I would be ever so proud to wear it again.
A semi-retired child and adolescent psychologist and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is the author of The Changing Behavior Book: A Fresh Approach to the Difficult Child, as well as other books and articles. He also founded The Changing Behavior Network, an early internet podcast and blog supporting young people and their families. You can visit his blog at Itsaboutthem.wordpress.com.