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Lessons Learned From Vietnam Veterans

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the majority of Idaho’s veterans served during the Vietnam War.  Veterans put their lives on the line and lost friends and family during their service to our country.  They experienced great loss and personal sacrifice while being criticized for doing as they were told.  They are among the first to step forward and help fellow veterans and others in our communities.  Many lessons can be learned from these great Americans. 

As Americans, it is our duty to honor those who sacrificed so much for our country.  To do this, we must continue to seek answers for families of America’s prisoners of war (POW)s and missing in action (MIA).

Hiedi Young, an Idahoan and past-Director of the POW*MIA Awareness Rally, compiled sobering information from multiple sources about the price paid by American families during and after the Vietnam War.  These details about the more than 58,000 individuals listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., are worthy of recognition:

  • 3 sets of fathers and sons are listed on the wall;
  • 39,996 listed on the wall were 22-years-old or younger;
  • The largest age group, 8,283, were just 19-years-old;
  • 3,103 were 18-years-old;
  • 997 service members were killed on their first day in Vietnam;
  • 1,448 service members were killed on what would have been their last day in Vietnam;
  • 244 service members were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War; and 153 of them are listed on the wall.

The POW*MIA Awareness Association reports that 1,618 Americans, including eight Idahoans, remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.  I highlighted the immense service of these Idahoans in a September column.  In addition to those missing from serving in Vietnam, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency 366 veterans from Idaho remain listed as POW/MIA, leaving some families without answers for decades. 

To better enable families to find their loved ones and bring them home, I co-sponsored S. 120, the Bring Our Heroes Home Act.  This legislation would provide for an expedited and consolidated process for declassifying and collecting records of POW and MIA personnel.  The legislation is meant to address the obstacles preventing families and caseworkers from accessing the records needed for recovery efforts by putting one entity, instead of the current multitude of agencies, in charge of prioritizing and facilitating the declassification of records related to missing service members.

Additionally, late last year, Congress passed and the President signed into law H.R. 4511, the Gold Star Families Voices Act, that requires the Veterans’ Oral History Project Act to include recordings of histories by immediate family members of service members who became missing in action or died because of wartime service.  We cannot let these accounts, which shape understanding of the realities of war, be lost to time.

Finally, the U.S. Senate recently passed legislation to add March 29th, Vietnam Veterans Day, to the list of dates on which the flag should be flown to pay tribute to the servicemen and women involved in this conflict.  I am continuously impressed with Idaho veterans’ humility and willingness to serve others.  I carry their lessons of giving with me as I work to ensure all veterans are properly honored, return home and receive the services they need for the sacrifices endured.

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