2018-03-29 / Editorial

Legislator proposes resolution for Vietnam vets

Legislative Lowdown
by Rep. Martin Grohman

In Vietnam, it was the 29th of March. Here in the United States, on the other side of the international date line, it was March 30. On that day in 1973, the last combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. The number of U.S. troops there peaked at 543,000 in April 1969, including many hundreds from Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach and the surrounding area. More than 9 million Americans in total served in Vietnam in some capacity, including many women, often as combat nurses.

As a legislator, I have made it a priority to work with Vietnam veterans. In fact, one of the finest honors of my legislative career was being awarded an honorary life membership in the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Here’s what I’ve learned. Many Vietnam veterans still feel un-thanked for their service to the country. There were no Bangor troop greeters back then. Instead, when they arrived home, returning troops were advised to throw their uniforms away to avoid negative comments and worse. Many still struggle with their exposure to the surreal environment of a tropical war of attrition. Plus, at that time, there was not much understanding of Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and its enduring effects, and some have lived for decades with this burden, leading to poor health, homelessness and many other problems. Vietnam vets in particular have among the highest rates of adult suicide.

Local veterans also served in Thailand and Laos, including after 1973 – not technically part of the official war at that time – and their sacrifices are especially at risk of being forgotten. Also, many thousands of women served in Vietnam, on hospital ships, fire bases and very much in the hot zone. Women veterans often do not wear their veteran’s pride in the same way that men do and can be especially unlikely to be included in recognition ceremonies.

Vietnam remains one of the most painful chapters in our history – most particularly, how we treated our troops who served there. We are fortunate that the only Maine chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America is located right here in Biddeford, housed together with the American Legion Hall at 508 Elm St. It is an active group with several fundraisers coming up, including a roast beef dinner from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 21. Visit vva1044maine.org to learn more.

Here’s what I would say to every veteran who served in the Vietnam era in any capacity if I could: you were often blamed for a war you didn’t start, when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor. You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few, when the honorable service of the many should have been praised. You came home and were sometimes treated disrespectfully, when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened. Instead, now, we say thank you for your service, and welcome home.

As a small step toward making this right, together with Gov. Paul LePage and legislative leaders, on Thursday March 29 I am presenting to the House of Representatives a resolution honoring all veterans of the Vietnam era and their families. Please join me in thanking a Vietnam veteran on this day of remembrance.

And as always, I encourage you to get in touch with me at 283-1476 or martin.grohman@legislature.maine.gov regarding veterans affairs or any other matter.

Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford is an Independent State Representative serving his second term in the Maine Legislature and is a member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Outside the legislature, he hosts a podcast for Maine entrepreneurs called The Grow Maine Show – available on Apple Podcasts – and is chair of the Biddeford Solid Waste & Recycling Commission. Sign up for legislative updates at www.growmaine.com or at facebook.com/repgrohman.

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