It took more than a decade after the war ended for the wounds to sufficiently heal.
In 1987 – more than 12 years after the fall of Saigon – Pittsburgh unveiled its memorial to the men and women who served in the Vietnam conflict.
For those who weren’t a part of that time of civic turbulence, the ten years between of 1965 to 1975 were a low point in the way civilians treated U.S. soldiers. Men and women in uniform were cursed at, spit upon, and subjected to taunts of “Baby Killer,” “Traitor,” “War Criminal,” and worse.
Upon arrival in the U.S., many soldiers dashed to the airport rest room to change into jeans, t-shirts and ball caps. They didn’t want anyone to know they were part of the military because that would have led to arguments at best, fist fights or other forms of violence at worse.
As it often does, though, time led to a change in perspective.
Finally, as the nation took an official holiday to honor its veterans from all wars, people in Pittsburgh huddled along the Allegheny River’s North Shore to unveil its tribute to those who fought, died or retuned injured and scarred from the jungles of Vietnam.
It was no ordinary tribute, though.
The statues, by sculptor James West, show a mother waiting for her son to walk just a few more steps to her loving embrace. Another shows a man, his wife and their child tightly hugging each other. The soldiers are in full military garb; there is no need to dash into an airport bathroom and hide in a denim disguise.
A plaque at the site reads like no other military memorial.
“We begin now to complete the final process, not to make political statements, not to offer explanations, not to debate realities …. Let the historians answer the political questions. Those who served – served. Those who gave all live in our hearts. Those who are left, continue to give. As long as we remember, there is still some love left.”
In short, it conveys a simple feeling that those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan rightfully took for granted. Welcome home, we’re glad you’re here.
Photos copyright Stephen Wissink. All rights reserved.