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John Blankenship: With Vietnam, American Gets 2nd Chance to Separate War from the Warrior

Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation, Channel City Club team up for 50-year symposium on divisive conflict

A door gunner remains at the ready while his helicopter patrols the coast of Vietnam. This photo and many other will be on display as part of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation-Channel City Club symposium on the Vietnam War, which is scheduled for Sept. 9 at The Fess Parker in Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
A door gunner remains at the ready while his helicopter patrols the coast of Vietnam. This photo and many other will be on display as part of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation-Channel City Club symposium on the Vietnam War, which is scheduled for Sept. 9 at The Fess Parker in Santa Barbara. (Joe Danely)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

TEN-Hut! is a column for and about veterans, active-duty military, and families of both. Presented by the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation, the column includes news of interest to all and a listing of upcoming events honoring veterans.

We also profile local veterans and active-duty military. And there are tips and information for veterans on how to deal with the Veterans Affairs Department.

Vietnam: On Separating the War from the Warrior

Over the last 40 years, I have had a lot of time to reflect about Vietnam, its meaning and the impact on society so many years after the end of that tragic war.

Along with most of the men and women who wore the uniform in the 1960s and ’70s, I feel like I am starting — finally — to discover one good thing that came out of more than 10 years of torturous conflict and the loss of 58,267 of our brothers and sisters.

I believe the one good thing is that the American public has finally learned to separate the war from the warrior.

Today, most Americans strongly support our troops and our veterans of Grenada, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. These soldiers and sailors — men and women — are showered with mail and care packages. They are welcomed home with parades and long weekends of celebration to acknowledge their return and pay tribute to their bravery and sacrifice.

It’s been a very long time since most of us were brought back from our tours in Vietnam, in the middle of the night, so we would have the least amount of exposure to the hostile public at airports, train and bus stations.

We Vietnam vets were denied a day honoring the end of the war or even an acknowledgement of victory of any kind.

As a boy of 10, I will never forget watching on TV as the ticker-tape parade in New York welcomed the troops home from the end of the Korean War.

As a young man of 28, having just returned from my five years of service, I could not forget each night’s televised images of our soldiers being shipped home in body bags and the flag-draped caskets, lined up, row upon row upon row, on the tarmacs of so many airports.

These images had a profound effect on the lives of several generations of Americans. Whether you wore the uniform, were a protester, a family member or simply a bystander to history, that war truly affected all of our lives.

However, we do have The Wall — the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. — and its meaning and impact will forever be our Normandy, our D-Day, our Iwo Jima and our Chosin.

Everyone who wore the uniform has earned this recognition. It is ours alone and it is our only real lasting legacy.

I personally experienced a first sign of this change in December 2010 on a ski trip to Colorado. I was wearing a battered baseball cap that says “Navy Pilot” above the bill. A thirty-something attendant on the plane walked up to me and said: “Welcome home, sir, and thank you for your service. My dad was a Marine in Vietnam and everything on this aircraft is at your beck and call.”

It was the first and only time that happened to me since I finished my service in 1971, when I took off my uniform and never looked back.

Until now.

I hear over and over again from today’s soldiers, sailors and Marines. They are so grateful for the support and the gratitude they receive from the public. And they all believe it’s because of how we Vietnam veterans were treated.

It makes what we did “back in the day” feel honorable and worthwhile now. We did what we were told to do, and tried to do the best job possible under the circumstances. The guiding principle was our faith in each other above all else and our willingness to serve our country even when we questioned the cause.

So, allow me to say to all our Vietnam veterans: Welcome home, and thank you for your service.

Vietnam: The War and Its Veterans 50 Years On

I’d like to invite you to attend the upcoming “Vietnam: The War and Its Veterans 50 Years On” luncheon and symposium presented by the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation and the Channel City Club on Sept. 9 at The Fess Parker, 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd. in Santa Barbara.

On stage to share the history and tell some personal stories will be my wife, Hazel Blankenship, and our colleagues: Peter Bie, Fred Clough, Phil Conran, Joe Danely, Carol Fritz, Fred Lopez, Steve Penner, Dennis Peterson, Jose Ramirez, Patricia Rumpza.

The program will have personal photos of the veterans combined with historical photos and videos. Among the photos on display will be many from Danely’s personal collection.

Yours truly will be there to introduce the event, along with the Channel City Club president Carol Kallman.

These luncheons sell out tickets will not be available at the door. RSVP to the Channel City Club by Friday, Sept. 4, by calling 805.564.6223 or emailing [email protected].

Home Depot, Lowe’s Offer Every Day Military Discount

Home Depot and Lowe’s have long offered a 10 percent holiday discount to military members and veterans. Now it’s every day.

Lowe's Hardware and Home Depot recommend you contact your local store to check if they have the Every Day Veterans Discount. An identification card is necessary to show current military service or that you are a veteran, such as a V.A. ID.

— Lt. John W. Blankenship (retired) graduated from UC Santa Barbara and the naval flight school in Pensacola, Fla., in 1965. He flew T-34sT-28s, S-2s and finally the P-3C Orion Aircraft with VP-19. Blankenship was stationed in Iwakuni, Japan, and then in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. In 1970, he returned to Santa Barbara to start his career in building and construction, retiring in 2008. He became the founding director of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation in 2004. Ten-HUT is a biweekly column for veterans, active duty and families presented by the PCVF. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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