It is well documented, and currently widely accepted, that the Vietnam Veteran generation was reviled and abandoned while serving on the battlefield and upon returning home. We were abandoned both individually and institutionally. We were unwelcome in the workplace and on the college campus. We were stigmatized in the media. We were, most painfully of all, denigrated by the major Veterans Service Organizations: American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars, to name just three. The Veterans Administration was ill prepared for us. Our families had no support systems to help them with us. Yet we built the Vietnam Veterans of America with the founding motto “never again will one generation of Veterans abandon another.” We live by this each and every day, and are on the front lines supporting our younger sisters and brothers.
It is my contention that even with the belated "welcome homes,” we are being abandoned a second time as we age into our final years and our deaths.
Having said that, I would like to share a personal and uplifting remembrance.
In mid 1972, after eight years of service in the USMC(including two tours in Vietnam), my (then) wife and two children and I decided that there would be no further re-enlistment. I requested a three month early out and was granted a transfer to serve out my time in New York City so as to begin my civilian life and start college in September. Through a series of psychological and vocational tests I was advised that I showed an aptitude for mathematics and an ability to understand and follow rules and directions. I applied to the Accountancy Program at Pace University and, after a few "admission tests,” I was accepted for the September semester as an evening student.
The GI Bill then in place was nothing like the Post 9/11 GI Bill and it was going to be tough for us. Support systems were non existent. The Class registration process was a nightmare, with several freshman and prerequisite courses already closed out. GI Bill money (that would not cover the full cost) would not flow to me for tuition until three or so months into the semester. Textbooks were an out of pocket expense. It did not look promising.
It was then that I met two women administrators at Pace: The Registrar and The Bursar. To protect their privacy, if they are still alive, I will not name them, though I remain in debt to them. The Registrar got me into every closed out class and told me to send her my selected class list every semester and she would handle it. I was never closed out for a class. The Bursar put in place for me a “no balance billing" order and accepted my GI Bill payments as tuition paid in full. She further directed that my textbooks and supplies be billed directly to a "special" fund at Pace. She then referred me to the Placement Office so I could get a job to support my family while in school.
I was referred to the New York Life Insurance Company to apply for a Junior Accountant Trainee position. I went through the interview and testing process at the Personnel Department and in a few days was called for an interview with a Department Head. I showed up at his office a bit early and he invited me in, told me to sit down and light up [a cigarette] if I chose. His name was Bud Morris and he was in his early fifties. We both lit up. He asked me when I could start. I said, “I can start tomorrow, but aren't you going to interview me?” He replied (and I recall his exact words): “Son, you served eight years in the Marine Corps with two years of combat, there is no more I need to know.” He continued “So you are beginning at Pace, which is good. I am the Senior Vice President for Accounting and Tax Research, you will start next Monday and will report to me. You will be my Staff Assistant — you are not a Junior Trainee anything — half of your day will be working on my projects, and half of your day you will study for your classes. I will review all your homework, papers and grades. When you graduate you will go out and get a job on your own.” This continued for four full years.
It is all about individuals stepping up to lend a hand and to lend support. I have been the beneficiary of the kindness of individuals up to this very day, and I give back everything I can to all of those that I can.
For me, there is no individual civilian or generational divide — there are only individuals! Raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!