I was about 17 when my oldest brother returned from service in the Navy during the Viet Nam war. He and my mother were talking in our small kitchen. They were discussing his attempt to bond with our father down at the local VFW. Daddy wore his green cap proudly, and spent many afternoons drinking beer down at the VFW Hall. My brother, then in his mid-20's, drank a couple of beers with Daddy and his buddies, then left. "All they wanted to do," he explained to Mama "was drink beer and talk about their war. I want someone to talk to about my war."
His lament crystallized the dichotomy in the country, at that time and still today, about Viet Nam, about every war. No one wanted to talk about this Boomer war, fought in a country nobody knew about, for so many years it was just another boring staple on the evening news. Even today, there is a romance about World War II. Books are written, and celebrated, about The Greatest Generation. From the time I was thirteen, I read everything I could about the Second World War, mesmerized by the twisted psychology of Hitler. My mother told stories of meat and tire rationing, her job in a Long Beach shipbuilding plant, and how proud everyone was of the troops and the war effort. The nation, according to her, pulled together as one during the early 40's to fight Hitler and the Germans, then Tojo and the Japanese. She was disgusted at the Berkeley and Columbia protests, at John and Yoko with their long, unkempt hair and anti-war attitude, at my sympathy to the protests and enthusiasm for Lennon's music and views.
And just as she didn't want to hear pot-smoking musicians sing give peace a chance, the nation didn't want to know about those who came home from the war. When first one, then another brother came home from service, they set about finding jobs and settling families during the inflationary times of the early 70's. Just as their father had done 20 years earlier. There were no parades. Hawks and Doves still fought over political careers. Nixon had a secret plan. Cronkite still intoned on TV every evening: over jungle fire-fights, and protests, and bloody bodies.
And nobody talked to them about their war.