Letter from Vietnam magazine – June 2011

An intergenerational brotherhood

The war in Vietnam ended nearly four decades ago, but for some veterans their war lasted much longer and for many it has never come to a close. Beyond physical wounds that have dogged so many, the Vietnam vets’ experience has greatly expanded our understanding of the emotional and psychological toll that inevitably accompanies combat. While acceptance of this fact in the military and among many veterans themselves took time, most today recognize post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a wound every bit as real as lost limbs.

The past decade has seen tens of thousands of new wounded warriors return home from other distant battlefields. While their reception, by any measure, has been warm and embracing, they still face a hard and uncertain future, just as veterans of Vietnam did. But one irreplaceable advantage they have is the cohort of Vietnam-era veterans who are stepping up to lend them a hand.

Barry Fixler, author of our grunt’s-eye-view lead story about the hell on Hill 861-A during the 77 days of Khe Sanh, has pledged the royalties from his recently published memoir, Semper Cool, to help wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, for the past eight years, Hal Koster, through the Aleethia Foundation, has provided more than 300 “Friday Night Dinners” to veterans whose serious wounds leave them hospitalized for long periods of time. As Koster, who served 25 months as a gunship crew chief in Vietnam and is a board member of the Rolling Thunder organization, says, these service members who are in their peak years don’t need pity; they need friendly nurturing of their spirits and souls. They need, if only for a few hours, a taste of normalcy, a break from the sterile confines and routines of their life in hospitals. The story of how the “Friday Night Dinners” and the Aleethia Foundation got started is told in the “Rolling Thunder XXIV Event Guide,” which we present inside this issue.

But the intergenerational veteran support isn’t just a one-way street. As Iraq War veteran Drew Cameron and fellow Iraq and Afghanistan war vets grappled with their own traumas, they developed a therapeutic artistic means of releasing and coping with tough memories and expressing their feelings. What has evolved into the Combat Paper Project (“Rags to Redemption”) has recently reached a number of Vietnam veterans, unleashing some exciting and healing synergies—not to mention some outstanding artwork—as the different generations work together on a common creative process.

And, speaking of art and expression, this month we take a look at the humble Zippo lighter in Vietnam and how, with the messages and images engraved on them, they came to be one of the war’s lasting cultural icons.

One Response

  1. grace

    Its great that people are finally saying Welcome Home to the Vietnam Veterans who gave so much and got nothing in return. I am married to one who was just terminated and disrespected by the R.I. Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association (Ch. #9) because he stood up for a brother Nam vet who was denied membership even though he was 100% qualified to join. He was not alone, 4 other Vietnam veterans were terminated by this R.I. CVMA as well. Funny thing about it is the R.I. CVMA state rep who was the instigator to have my husband and his brother Nam vets disgraced never seen combat. He spent his time in Iraq, behind the wire on a FOB but boldly claims with a large patch on his back that he is a legitimate combat veteran. Every Vietnam veteran that was shamed by this R.I. CVMA had a disability from their service in Vietnam. Two were 100% service connected disabled. Would like to thank the CVMA for going back to the 70’s and 80’s in this disgusting act they portrayed on Vietnam veterans who actually were in combat. Hope people see these posers for what they are and what they let happen to good solid Vietnam veterans.


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