December of 2006 my plane landed at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia. I and two of my battle-tested buddies, dressed in desert cammies, were finally home after spending the last 400 days fighting in Iraq. The moment was surreal, and I can vividly remember experiencing the life that I had known since birth as if it were for the first time. The smell of burning trash was replaced with the stewardess’s perfume – Clinique Happy – the essence of choice for an old high school girlfriend. The sight of fast food, signs written in English, friendly faces – all seemed familiar, yet curiously new.
As we walked through to the baggage claim we were met by a middle-aged lady who motioned for us to gather together as if she were waiting for us to arrive. After we and a few others in uniform had gathered the lady announced in a voice much louder than expected, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome home our American Heroes!” Immediately everyone around stood and began to clap and cheer and pat us on our back as we walked to the baggage claim to see our families for the first time in over a year.
The more I work with the Liberty University’s Student Veterans Association (SVA) here on campus the more I realize just how much our country honors and appreciates its veterans. And as we work to fulfill SVA's mission of serving veterans in the community, I realize just how much of a role Vietnam Veterans have played in shaping American culture to better appreciate those who serve in uniform. You see, our Vietnam Veterans did not receive the homecoming that I and my comrades received. In fact, it was quite the opposite. They were ridiculed, called names and even spit on, and when they transitioned into civilian life there was little to no support other than what they found in each other.
They owed America nothing, and yet, banding together they have created organizations all around the country that raises the support and appreciation they never received themselves. They invest in their community, they treasure and honor the Flag like no other, and as a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, I can say with certainty that I owe every thank you, every meal paid for by a good American, every pat on the back, to a Vietnam Veteran. I truly believe that they are the best of us.
As we celebrate Vietnam Veterans Day on March 29, I felt pressed to write the lines below as a small token of the love and appreciation that we all owe our heroes of the Vietnam War.
I was a senior in high school when those planes hit that tower.
A year later I drop my duffel to hold my family near.
It was you, Vietnam Vet, who paved the way.
I pray our nation has forever turned from its unthankful ways.
Jon Norman served in the United States Army Reserves for twelve years, two of which he spent deployed to Iraq. He currently serves as the Supervisor of the Liberty University Veterans Center where he enjoys working with Liberty University student veterans as they transition from the military to civilian students pursuing their education.