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Legion to host program honoring Vietnam veterans

Annette Keanu of the Duluth Vet Center welcomes all to a recognition of Vietnam veterans Tuesday at the Legion. Discussion on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will be held Tuesday evening. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Tuesday Park Rapids area veterans of the Vietnam War will receive an official "welcome home," a commemoration 50-plus years after the controversial war came to an end.

"It’s a celebration they never got," explained Annette Keanu of the Duluth Vet Center.

The ceremony for Vietnam vets will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 29 at the Park Rapids American Legion, "a first in Park Rapids."

That evening, all veterans and families are invited to a dinner and an information session on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – "when the war comes home with the soldier."

This will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at Riverside United Methodist Church. (Seating is limited; call Hubbard County Veterans Services at 732-3561 for reservations.)

"This comes at the request of spouses," said Keanu. "So many of them didn’t understand PTSD," which may occur after a traumatic event, such as combat exposure.

"Both suffer," she said of families and the person experiencing PTSD. "This program puts it out in the open. We can’t change the past, but we can open communication, make each day moving forward better," Keanu said.

She speaks from experience. "I’ve been in their shoes," said the Gulf War veteran who served in the Navy 23 years.

Common stress reactions after trauma are fear or anxiety, sadness or depression, guilt and shame, anger and irritability and behavior changes - such as drinking, drug use or neglect of health.

The evening presentation will be interactive. "PTSD doesn’t go away," she said. "The problem is, pride gets in the way."

PTSD is nothing new, Keanu points out. Homer wrote of it in the Iliad. Charles Dickens alluded to it.

And it’s had several names. During the Civil War, it was referred to as nostalgia or soldier’s heart.

In World War I it was called shell shock, war neurosis and battle fatigue, she said.

It was not until 1980, after research was conducted with Vietnam War veterans, Holocaust survivors and those who’d experienced sexual trauma, that the syndrome was put in a diagnostic context, Keanu said.

The process of dealing with PTSD calls for understanding and facing it, she advises.

"This is a place where vets can reach out to others, to learn to say, ‘accept me for who I am,’" she said.

Vets often keep "emotions in a box. They avoid conflict, migrate to other vets and self-medicate. "They want to be normal, but there is no normal.

"This brings it to the forefront. It’s no one’s fault. It happened because of military service," Keanu said.

An abysmal return

According to a study by the RAND Corporation, at least 20 percent of the 2.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have PTSD. But military counselors estimate the percentage with PTSD is much higher, and that number climbs when combined with TBI (traumatic brain injury).

A study of Vietnam veterans has found a large majority of them struggled with the syndrome, four out of five reporting recent symptoms when interviewed 20 to 25 years after serving.

"Vietnam vets were treated like dirt," Keanu said candidly. "Even World War II vets" made denigrating comments to them, determining "they hadn’t gone to war."

Traditionally, America has supported its armed forces and has shown respect for those in uniform. In 1919, at the end of World War I, the Doughboys returned home from Europe to ticker-tape victory parades, marching bands, speeches and the good will of all Americans.

Additionally, when the soldiers returned home from World War II and the Korean War, they were treated as heroes.

This was not the case when the soldiers returned home from Vietnam. As a result of America’s loss in Vietnam, there was a misperception that the men who fought there did not measure up to their predecessors in World War II and Korea.

Soldiers that served in Vietnam were portrayed as baby killers, psychos, drug addicts and war mongers. It was not an uncommon scene for returning soldiers to be confronted by protesters carrying signs with anti-war slogans. In some instances, soldiers were refused service in restaurants.

Movies and television shows portrayed them as deranged monsters.

 

Recognized at last

In 2008, the National Defense Authorization Act initiated a program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. 

By subsequent presidential proclamation in 2012, the commemoration was extended from Memorial Day in 2012 to 2025.

Congress has articulated five objectives for the commemoration:

n To thank and honor Vietnam veterans, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war, or listed as missing in action;

n To highlight the service of the Armed Forces during the Vietnam War and the contributions of federal agencies and governmental and non-government;

n To pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front by the people of the United States during the Vietnam War;

n To highlight the advances in technology, science and medicine related to military research conducted during the Vietnam War;

n And to recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by the allies of the U.S. during the war.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, nine million Americans served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War; approximately seven million are living today.

The "welcome home" initiatives are now being hosted across Minnesota, Keanu said.

"Bring pictures or stories to share," she advises of the event at the Legion Club. "Meet and greet other veterans. And find out about veterans’ benefits."

For more information, contact Keanu at 612-760-2744.

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