Sometime back when I was a kid, my mother took my brother and me to Buckley Air Force Base outside of Denver to see my uncle. Home from Vietnam, he’d flown his F-4 Phantom to the airfield, and he’d invited us over to see it.
We climbed the stairs and waited for our turn in the cockpit. We each donned his helmet and posed for pictures. We then took home posters of the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, from which he’d flown his missions over North Vietnam.
I was too young to remember much about that war. Even so, the 1970s were branded as a strange and magical time, partly because I was a child, and partly because the nation was in transition, still dealing with the consequences of war, dirty air, the civil rights movement, political turmoil and the death of Elvis Presley.
While the years have slipped by, my interest in that decade remains strong. I would later come of age watching movies like "Apocalypse Now," "Platoon" and "Good Morning Vietnam." I watched "Born on the Fourth of July" the night before leaving for Desert Storm as a young Marine.
Over the last 15 years of my career as a reporter, the men and women who served in World War II have garnered much of Montana’s media coverage when it comes to our aging veteran population. It started with Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” and culminated last year with the Honor Flights to Washington, D.C.
Now, as time has it, the attention is turning back to Vietnam and those whose lives were changed as a result. That war seems close and yet so far away. Life has a way of racing past.
I’ve had my own debates with friends over Vietnam and the anti-war movement back home. Of course, none of us really know what it was like back then since we weren’t yet born, or were too young to remember the times.
But still, we have our opinions and opinions often change with age, wisdom and new wars. Mine have shifted for sure, though I still get miffed by extreme views on either side of the debate. Nothing is that black and white.
Over the past few months, I’ve tried to find the right people to tell their story – stories that reflect the years during and after the Vietnam War. What was it like back then, really? How did the war shape their future? What have they become, or failed to become?
The people I’ve spoken to represent all sides and views, from the veterans who bravely fought the war to those who protested the nation’s actions, doing their own patriotic part to make the world a better place.
It’s a lot of history and time to digest, though much of what we think today was set in motion way back then. Next weekend, as my stories are published in the Missoulian in honor of Memorial Day 2015, I hope you’ll share your views, regardless of what they are. The Vietnam years changed all our lives, for better or for worse.