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Reflections on National Vietnam War Veterans Day: 'Welcome home (to) all my Vietnam veteran brothers and sisters'

Fred Robinson. Photo: Courtesy of Fred Robinson
Fred Robinson. Photo: Courtesy of Fred Robinson

Today is National Vietnam War Veterans Day. It marks 49 years since the last U.S. troops left South Vietnam.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says there are 523,000 Florida veterans who served during that period. One of them, Fred Robinson, was a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Now he helps lead the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council. He spoke  about the experience of those veterans.

'Welcome home'

Robinson wants to send a message.

My name is Fred Robinson, and I'm the co-chair of Mayor Jerry Demings' Orange County Veterans Advisory Council. Today is  national Vietnam (War) Veterans Day. I want to welcome home all my Vietnam veteran brothers and sisters. May God bless you. And God bless and peace.

'They fought two wars'

He looks back on the poor welcome they received in the U.S. after service in Vietnam.

Looking back, I look at how so many of our troops that served, how they got treated when they came home. They fought two wars. They fought a war in Vietnam, and they came home and actually it was a war against our own country and their service to our country. They got spat upon. A lot of them got beaten up.

A lot of them didn't get the resources and services and benefits that they were eligible for. So there's a lot of things that have happened to the Vietnam veterans that had never happened to any other soldiers that ever defended our country. ...

Over the years, things have changed and due to the advocacy of Vietnam veterans by standing up for our rights and challenging the VA every possible opportunity we could. ... Let's bury how our nation treated us when we came home and not let it ever again rear its ugly head to ostracize our all volunteer military now, all the young men and women who have volunteered to serve this nation.

Let them speak

Robinson has worked in hospice care. He brings that perspective to his understanding of fellow veterans.

I come from a hospice background. And there are a lot of things that are challenges for Vietnam veterans. There's a lot of veterans who have never spoken about what they did. And their family doesn't even know what they've done.

That's why I strongly tell anyone. if a veteran opens up to you and tells you what he did, to not interrupt them. No matter how bad it may sound -- you may even cry -- because he may be embarrassed or she may be embarrassed to tell their family what they did, because they may look at them differently. But in war, it's about survival.

So we don't want them to have to keep that in. If they do take the opportunity to tell someone, we want them to release that so they don't carry that to the grave with them.

They'd do it again

I hear a lot of Vietnam veterans say that even though the outcome of when they came home was unfavorable, that they would still do it over again. They would still serve their country.

And it's just a shame that my generation had to suffer that, but we still stood strong and we defended our country.

 

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.