[November 11, 2023] I grew up in the city of Philadelphia. We lived on a long narrow street lined with small row homes attached by a party wall. There were 23 homes on each side of the street. We knew everyone on our block and all the surrounding homes on the streets that made up our neighborhood.
Our neighborhood was known for a lot of things. Love grew in our neighborhood along with respect and watching out for one another. But one of the most important things I remember most was the discipline. The discipline we got in school from the great Sisters of the Sacred Heart was second to none. Looking back on my years at St. Henry’s was the beginning of molding my life to come. Being young at St Henry’s and sitting in a small desk made me think that all the nuns were 9 Feet Tall and tough. Today, I think often of these great ladies that offered their life to God and the teaching of all the students and I mean many students over many, many years that sat in their classrooms. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart will always be in my heart and will always be 9 feet tall.
One thing is for sure is that these Ladies were great at their jobs. I am alive today on account of what they taught me. But let me be perfectly clear, that while I was in school, I always thought I was right and these great women of God were wrong. What I realized soon after arriving in Vietnam at 19 years of age was that not only the subjects they taught me, but the common sense every day they instilled in us would go on to save my life and make me the person I am today.
My training to go in the army and go to war and stay alive and help protect my buddies came from St Henry’ and not basic training in the Army. Eight weeks of basic training will never compare to eight years of teaching by the Great Nuns at 5th and Cayuga Street.
What does all this have to do with Veterans Day 2023? Well, I celebrated my 55-year home from Vietnam. I do remember coming home. Mom had a big dinner for a lot of friends and relatives welcoming me home. One week later I started my new job and life picked up where I thought I left it two years prior going in the military. Was I in for a Surprise. To be honest I really didn’t expect anything special. I just did what my Dad and many uncles did in serving my country to the best of my abilities and do my best to be a great citizen for the rest of my life.
Vietnam Veterans did not speak about the war at all. Guys I grew up with we didn’t even bring up the subject. It was as if we were never there.
Early visits to the VA whether it be the Hospital or the Regional office always left us with the same answer. You are not entitled to any benefits. Families did not speak about the war to us. I don’t know if it was intentional or just not a good subject matter or really maybe their lack of really knowing about Vietnam except from the 6:00 news or from the Philadelphia Inquire or the Bulletin newspapers.
I would feel safe to say that the news the American public got was always pertaining to the protesters. News rarely covered any of the great humanitarian jobs soldiers were doing. If I recall correctly protesters owned the news and they got plenty of coverage.
So, a few weeks ago, I woke up during the middle of the night. With the TV on I started watching C-span. It must have been 3:00 AM in the morning. To my surprise, I could not believe the horrible and I mean horrible act of war Hamas did by attacking Israel and killing so many innocent women, men. but also killing so many honest, loving, harmless children is unaccusable. This act of war took my thoughts right back to 9/11. Where I was, what I was doing. Was my wife and family safe.
Daybreak was fast approaching, and the sun was coming out. I was still focused on the TV, waiting for updates and looking for signs that this would not break out into World War III. Soon college presidents and offices of some of our higher places of education would begin to deliver protests towards the protesters in the streets. It seems that everyone was adding their comments to this terrible act of violence. Then a news flash, corporations and very large companies started stating if any of the protesters are recognized they will never be hired for jobs at these companies.
Still watching with confusion as to what was taking place, my mind went right to the protesters in the streets. The thoughts of 9/11 soon left my mind and was replaced with going right back to the protesting of my brothers and sisters that served so bravely in Vietnam. The disrespect we got from college campuses was horrendous. Where is their apology?
I immediately thought of all the 18, 19, 20-year-old brave American soldiers that went to Vietnam because our Country asked. We went because we were asked. Almost anywhere in United States you can drive to Canada in a couple of days. You can fly to Mexico in a few hours.
But we young American Vietnam Veterans decided to take the 24-hour plan ride or 24-day ship trip to fight for our country. Go to a foreign land because we were asked. To this day, a lot of us do not have a clue as to why we went. Except to fight Communism. My last check on communism tells me Russia, China, and North Korea are pretty active Communist Countries today. Fighting to stop Communism in a small country like Vietnam seems to be a pretty weak excuse on the large scale.
Over 58,700 soldiers died. 1700 still missing and not home yet. Millions have already died. Mostly from the chemical Agent Orange sprayed on us. Over 70 percent of my Vietnam veteran brothers and sisters have already taken their place in Veteran cemeteries, the other 30 percent can be found at your nearby Veteran Hospital getting treatment for heart, ears, eyes, feet, diabetes, all kind of cancers, too many to mention.
If you were to ask many of our Veterans, they will tell you they made the right decision. Going to Canada or any other place to hide was not part of their agenda.
So, 55 years later what do I think about all of this? I say that I am proud of my service. Proud of my Neighborhood. Proud of all my teachers that taught me. Proud of all my friends and neighbors who keep me on the right track in life.
In closing I only have 2 questions that I would like an answer to on this upcoming Veterans Day. The first is why are colleges upset at protesters on their campuses? The second is why are major companies coming out saying they will not hire protesters? During the 1960 and 1970 these same colleges with professors before them protested our Vietnam Veterans. They protested the very people that raised their arms to the sky to die for all your freedom. Why are major companies telling protestors they will not hire them, but when it came to Vietnam Veterans a lot of these major companies hired the protestors and would not touch our Vietnam Veterans. Why were Vietnam Veterans called baby killers, spit on, beat up on the very campus’s they provided freedom for?
Why can our Congress vote overnight to give billions and many of them to support wars in foreign land and at the same time an American Vietnam Veteran has to beg the VA for a band aid.
I guess this Veterans Day I am spending too much time in the past. But as far as that goes the future doesn’t look that rosy either.
I do hope that someone in Washington tells the people that start the wars and funds them, that Veterans Day is not a day that they take their pets to the Veterinarian for their checkup. It’s the day that gave them their jobs and their freedom.
Remember, no one and I mean no one wins in war. You do not win by killing more of them then they kill of you. Winning is not judged by blowing up more of their vehicles or buildings that they blow up yours. Everyone loses that has a love one die. We rebuild buildings, replace trucks and cars that blow up. Lives never get replaced. I guess we can safely say the only winners are the people that own cemeteries.
Happy Veterans Day
Joe Griffies, a Very Proud American and Vietnam Veteran.
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