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The last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago today. The date lives on for many who fought, protested, or otherwise lived it. The fall of Saigon two years later is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, but many had already ended their tours and seen their lives altered by 4-29-1973. Our vets leaving the country feared protesters' wrath at home, though many quickly found they had under-estimated its intensity.

Dave Simmons, an Army corporal from WVA, says he has few specific memories about his final days because it was something he was trying to block. "We were more interested in getting back, getting settled into the community, getting married and getting jobs," Simmons said. One memory has stayed with Simmons for 40 years, however. It was the stern advice to get into civilian clothes ASAP when returning to the U.S. If that meant ducking your head and buying civvies at inflated prices at airport stores and going into restroom stalls to change clothes, do it. Better that than to face profane verbal derision, spit in your face, and "Baby Killer."

Many Vietnam vets are encouraged by changes they see. The U.S. has a volunteer military these days, not a draft, and troops coming home aren't chastised. People know what PTSD means, and they're insisting that the government takes care of soldiers suffering from it and other injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan. Simmons noted that when the troops return today, they are often greeted with great fanfare in their local communities, and he's glad.

"I think that's what the general public has learned--not to treat our troops the way they treated us."

I post this admitting that I had forgotten this date's significance. To me, this is a day of reflection, not a day of celebration. 536,000 were deployed, 58,000 died, and 303,000 were wounded. Of the 58,000 who died, 11,500 were under 20 years old. Those stats--among many depressing others--are to be reflected on. They don't evoke joy.
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