Letter to the Editor

Veterans today need to know public cares

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Dear Editor,

A bright early fall day awaited the area Veterans Honor Tour last week (Sept. 27). Thirty veterans and 20 some leaders and guardians made the three-day trip. They represented all branches of the military from Poplar Bluff and several towns in SEMO, including Greenville, Bloomfield, Malden and Wardell. The only WWII vet came from Nashville with his son as guardian. Five of the remaining 29 vets were from the Korean War, and the rest from the Vietnam era. I was privileged to be one of these.

The community send off was really something, including an escort of several police cars, fire trucks, etc., with flashing lights. As the bus passed the VA, workers waved flags and wished us well. We were escorted to Farmington where we were treated to a moving student assembly then were joined by a motorcycle group of Vietnam vets who stayed with us to Lambert Field. We were put up at the Crown Plaza in Washington, D.C., and were provided all meals and other expenses. There was no cost to the veterans with the guardians paying their own way.

Thank you Jerry and Kay Sneathern and team, the Wake Foundation, First Midwest Bank and all the other generous sponsors who made the trip possible.

The next two days were a flurry of guardians loading and unloading wheelchairs and loading and unloading from the bus. We saw every single piece of granite and marble in the city, plus had a visit to Arlington, the Capitol building and the White House. Also made a drive by at Ford’s Theater and a landmark downtown souvenir shop.

By far, the most impressive part of the trip was what happened in the airports. As we followed the banner announcing the (Veterans) Honor Tour, people came out of the restaurants and boarding areas clapping and cheering. Sometimes they were three and four deep on each side of the aisle. This happened all the way down the concourse. Many were young. For just a moment, I had a hard time swallowing.

This in stark contrast to the reception when we rotated back from Vietnam in the late ‘60s. We dressed walking through the airport in uniform. Occasionally a WWII vet would see us and buy a drink or a dinner, but that was rare. The worst part was that nobody wanted to talk about our experience. Trouble was, we needed to talk. We had to bury our feelings deep. Some of us could, some couldn’t. We’ve lost a lot of brothers to depression, alcohol, drugs and suicide because of what they saw over there or maybe what they saw here. I don’t think the silence was a lack of caring, more a matter of being worn out watching the war develop on TV for 10 years. They’d didn’t know what to say.

Today the issue remains. Veteran suicides from the Middle East wars are shameful. If you know a veteran or meet one in the airport, I can tell you exactly what to say. How about welcome home. Thanks for your service. Can I buy you dinner? I’d love to hear your story.

Allen Payne

4th Infantry Division

Plieku, Vietnam 1969