ron opinion 300MADISONVILLE, Ky. (3/2/18) – Words cannot describe the horrors of war. For the combat veteran, regardless of the conflict, the images of fellow soldiers falling to enemy fire, the fear and mindless fury of combat and the gut wrenching revulsion of taking the life of another human being are forever stained in their souls. Today, we call it PTSD and every day veterans surrender to its effects and commit suicide.

It was particularly bad for the Vietnam vet. The Vietnam veterans did not come home to ticker-tape parades and crowds cheering them home. They returned home to lost opportunities, broken families, disdain and rejection. They were sometimes called “baby killers”, animals, alcoholics and dope heads. Some companies would not hire them.

The Vietnam vets did not have a place to heal their psychological wounds; so, the lucky ones suppressed them. To the outsider, the wounds were healed with only a scar. Below the scar, the wound itself wasn’t healed. For years, the Vietnam vet could not even seek solace with other veterans at a VFW or American Legion because “they were not worthy of being called a veteran”.

russell oatesThat was not the message of Russell Oates as he spoke to the Sons of the American Revolution in Madisonville Thursday. He said that he was not a hero; he was simply telling his story of life as an infantry soldier in Vietnam. It was a story about seeing his lieutenant blown up and half his fellow soldiers wounded on his first mission. Oates told of the frustration and horror of being fired upon by a sniper with an AK-47.

Oates reflected on a chance encounter with a classmate from Graham School. Oates was processing out and the classmate was processing in. Oates said that he was so nervous that he had a cigarette in both hands.

Oates told of the importance of letters from home and his church. He believes that prayer warriors at home protected him – the warrior in the field.

Upon returning home, Oates decided to follow the tradition of his father and grandfather and be a coal miner. He said that the coal industry was booming and the mines were hiring. They were hiring anyone but Vietnam vets. It took Oates’ dad pulling some strings to get him on at the mines. He retired in 2012.

Over the past 45 years, the public attitude toward Vietnam vets has changed to acceptance. The VFW and American Legion now embrace all veterans. Vietnam veterans can now wear their hats and uniforms with pride. It is not a welcome home parade. It is just a smile and a softly spoken “thank you for your service”.

Oates said that he and his fellow Vietnam veterans are proud of their service to their country. They answered the call and served with dignity.

Oates shared that 58,000 Americans lost their lives in Vietnam and that 61 percent were 21 or younger. Thirty-three thousand of those killed were only 18 years old. Nine hundred and ninety-seven were killed on their first day in Vietnam and 1,448 were killed within 24 hours of their schedule to leave Vietnam. Tens of thousands more carry the scars to this very day.

Thank you for your service.

Ron Sanders,
SurfKY News

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