Last Wednesday, we marked the 50th Anniversary of the final U.S. combat troops leaving Vietnam.
To a gathering of Vietnam veterans at the State House, and at a breakfast earlier, hosted by retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, I was honored to say two words – words that tragically, too many Vietnam veterans never heard upon their return to the United States: Welcome Home.
Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills, and thank you for listening.
More than half a century ago, among tall reeds in flooded rice paddies, with ankles deep in mud and bodies drenched by heavy, humid air, 48,000 Maine men and women in the United States military served our country in the Vietnam War.
My brother, Peter, among others, spent several tours of duty off the shores of Vietnam in the United States Navy.
Thankfully, my brother came home and went on to lead a distinguished career in law and public service.
But three hundred and forty-three Mainers never returned.
Their names are etched in stone on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington – but that is small comfort for their families.
And twelve of Maine’s young men are still missing in Southeast Asia.
The servicemembers who did come home often came home alone to the scorn—and even spit—of strangers.
There were no ticker tape parades or “welcome home” celebrations for the men and women who came home from an endless war.
As Ed Harmon, a U.S. Navy veteran from Boothbay, told the Portland Press Herald this week, “It was 40 years later before someone extended their hand to say thank you. That was the biggest hurt.”
We can never fully repay our debts to these veterans, but we can start by remembering and honoring and expressing our gratitude for their service.
Major General Doug Farnham, the Adjutant General of the Maine National Guard, graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1984 and has served in the Maine National Guard since 1991.
During the Vietnam War Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at the State House, General Farnham remarked that throughout his military career, he has never thought twice about wearing his uniform in public. When General Farnham runs an errand on his way home, Maine people often thank him for his service and even offer to buy him a cup of coffee. He said he’s been applauded at Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades throughout his entire career.
To the Vietnam veterans assembled, General Farnham said “There were many lessons learned from Vietnam—some learned better than others. A lesson we did learn is the fact that we must support our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen, whether we support the war or not. We learned that lesson at your expense,” he said. “My generation and those that are following cannot thank you enough for the sacrifice you made for the nation to learn that lesson.”
The service and sacrifice of Vietnam veterans taught our nation many powerful lessons: most importantly, that we have to care for those who serve, and for those who have served.
As Governor, I’ve worked hard to stand by those who have stood by us, including reinvigorating Maine’s Aides-de-Camp positions, to bring together the advisory council of veterans to advise me as I weigh decisions that will impact Maine veterans.
And I’ll continue to work hard to do right by all veterans, especially those who served during the Vietnam Era, until my last day in office.
To all of those who served our nation in Vietnam, whether you have never heard it, or whether you have heard it many times – I say, on behalf of the 1.3 million people of Maine, “Welcome Home.”
We are proud of you. We thank you for your service to our country and the state of Maine.
This is Governor Janet Mills, and thank you for listening.