Thirty-Six years ago today, RN commemorated the first anniversary of the last troop’s return home from Vietnam, now known as Vietnam Veterans Day. Below are the Thirty-Seventh President’s remarks:
Just one year ago, the last American combat serviceman returned to the United States from Vietnam, and America’s longest war came to an end. It is very appropriate on this day, then, that we honor those 2 1/2 million men who served in Vietnam, that we pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives, and that we renew our commitment to obtain a full accounting for all of those who are still missing in action.
To those who have served, I can imagine that sometimes they are discouraged as they read and hear the postmortems on this very long and very difficult war. But the verdict of history, I am sure, will be quite different from the instant analysis that we presently see and sometimes hear.
Those who served may be discouraged because it seems sometimes that more attention is directed to those who deserted America than those who chose to serve America. They may be discouraged because they read and hear that America becoming involved in Vietnam was wrong, that America’s conduct in Vietnam was wrong, that the way we ended the war was wrong.
I would say to all of those who served and to all of my fellow Americans that not only was it not wrong but I think it is well for us to put in perspective on this day why we went there, what we accomplished, and what would have happened had these men not served their country as bravely and as courageously as they did in these difficult times.
We see one result in the fact that 17 million people in South Vietnam, the Republic of Vietnam, are now governing themselves and able to defend themselves. We went to Vietnam not to destroy freedom, but to defend it. We went to Vietnam not as an aggressor, but to stop aggression. And history will record that the American effort in Vietnam was a good cause, honorably undertaken and honorably ended.
We can see what that means if we evaluate what would have happened had we followed the advice of those who said, “Bug out, regardless of what happens to the people of Vietnam and what happens to America’s standing in the world.” Because if we failed in our commitment, our allies would have lost confidence in us throughout the world, not just in Asia, the neutrals would have lost respect for America, and those who might be tempted to engage in aggression would have been encouraged to embark on that aggression not only in Asia but in other parts of the world.
But because we saw this long and difficult conflict through to an honorable conclusion, respect for America was maintained, and the possibility that America can meet its great destiny, the destiny that is seldom given to a people, to build a peace not only for itself but for the whole world that possibility has been strengthened. On this occasion then, the highest tribute we can pay to those who served, and particularly to those who died, is to go forward in building a world of peace for ourselves and for all people. And in order for that to be accomplished, it is essential that America be strong. That means, first, strong militarily.
The cost is high. But as President Eisenhower once said in thinking of that cost, “While the cost of peace may be high, the cost of war is far higher and it is paid in a different coin, the lives of our young men and the destruction of our cities.”
And so, we need to maintain a militarily strong America, an economically strong America, but most important, we need to maintain an America that is strong in its character and in its spirit and its sense of destiny and its sense of purpose in this great period in our history and in the world’s history.
And that is the most significant contribution that has been made by those who served in Vietnam, because when it was not easy, when there seemed to be so little support at home, they saw it through. And because they saw it through, because they did not quit, we were able to negotiate an honorable end to the war at the conference table, which would not have been possible had they not served with distinction and courage to the end on the battlefield.