My grandson, Keaton, has been in swimming lessons with a boy named Gunner for three years. It's just been the two of them in this semi-private lesson. They are three and a half years old, so it's been going on for the bulk of their little lives. Gunner's grandpa, Mike Kincade, sometimes goes to watch and so do I. Mike was in the U.S. Navy during the time of the Vietnam War. Though he wasn't actually in Vietnam, he was on a ship along the coast. After spending three years in Japan with the Naval Security Group Activity in Kamiseya, he spent one year on the USS Enterprise, CVAN 65 (the world's first nuclear powered aircraft carrier) and was deployed late '71 to early '72 to the Gulf of Tonkin along the coast of South Vietnam. From their ship, they launched aircraft to support the ground war effort. Needless to say, being a part of this war and knowing others who did the same, it had an effect on him over the years and he recently wrote this poem in honor of the vets who returned home to a less than welcoming America:
Dedicated to the 58,209 men and woman of our Armed Forces who lost their lives in the Vietnam War (1961-1976). May we never forget.
As I stepped off that airplane, just what did I see?
An angry crowd yelling and jeering and staring back at me.
They spit upon my uniform, now as I reflect,
As it was a symbol of my commitment and pride, my nation to protect.
The tarmac was cold, the air was damp on this San Francisco day,
It was so far removed from my battalion that I left back in a distant place by the name of Hue.
The jubilant homecoming that I expected would not materialize,
And it was becoming very clear to me, something I must realize.
The nation I had fought for, so many friends I had lost,
Eighteen year old warriors, willing to pay the ultimate cost.
But there were no cheers of adulation as my heart began to cry,
And suddenly I found myself asking, what had happened to the country I defended, and more importantly why?
I spent many years reflecting on this, just what was the meaning of it all?
As I watched on April 30, 1975 as Saigon did finally fall.
Did we win or lose, I guess we will never really know,
Was it really a necessary conflict or simply a political show?
Now 44 years later, our nation has finally come to grips,
That while the war was not my doing, these words are now on their lips.
“We thank you sir for your service, your willingness to fight”,
To leave your family as a very young man and defend it with all your might.
While we appreciate the gesture, maybe healing begins today,
But most of all we ask our nation to never again treat us that way.
It is an obligation of freedom, to help us remain free and strong,
Please understand I only went because I was raised to only know “my country right or wrong”.
After all, I was only 18, by most measures still just a kid,
I went when asked, the heart of a volunteer, and I am so glad I did.
As we celebrate Vietnam Veteran’s Day, I thank and remember all who served, whether conscripted or volunteered, and all of those who died.
Especially all the families left behind, receiving a neatly folded flag as they wept and unashamedly cried.
Today as we are in our seventies, we watch as the nation celebrates,
and hopefully continues to heal.
We ask only that when you thank a Veteran it be from the heart, that your gratitude is for real.
--By Michael Kincade – April 2019 San Luis Obispo, CA
Other work by Michael Kincade:
"The Military Wife", printed in Chicken Soup for the Soul, 2017
"Positively America", a book of limericks honoring our nation, published by Xlibris
"Different is the Same", a children's book, for sale on Amazon.com