Although the Vietnam War ended three decades ago, even today, it continues to evoke mixed emotions in American society. Unpopular though it may have been, the simple truth is that for the soldiers who fought in it, the Vietnam War was likely the defining experience of their generation and their lives.
As one who served in Vietnam , specifically in Phu Bai, thirty miles south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), I know firsthand how that experience affected me and thousands of other African American enlisted soldiers.
The Civil Rights Movement provided a backdrop in sharp relief to the war in Vietnam . While this might have been viewed as a classic guns versus butter conundrum for economists, or a hawks versus doves policy dispute within the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, for soldiers in the field, “war was hell” as General George Patton has reminded us in the most simplistic terms.
As is well-known, African Americans served disproportionately in the Vietnam War. Although more than 58,000 died in the war, including, 7,264 African Americans, many returned having survived major injuries thanks in large measure to superb medical evacuation procedures. At the same time, thousands of combat veterans returned home with emotional and psychological scars that caused incalculable wounds to them, their families and their communities. Many of these men – and some women – have struggled mightily to recover and get on with their lives. For far too many veterans in major cities and rural hamlets, that struggle continues. Their dedication and patriotism is unquestioned, yet we must ask ourselves as a nation and as a people, if by our deeds and public policies, we have responded in kind. The bibliographic materials in this collection bear silent witness to duty, honor and country, but also to our appreciation of their sacrifices – or the lack thereof.
Alvin J. Schexnider, Ph.D.