“I am Jan Scruggs, the founder of the Vietnam War Memorial. My life has been devoted to healing the effects of war. There is currently an enormous amount of press related to the plight of the Afghanis, along with the wasted years and treasure. But I am writing to one intended audience – those who fought in the Global War on Terror and those who love you.
Flash back nearly fifty years. Seemingly without exception, I along with every other veteran I knew, was caught flat-footed on April 30, 1975. We believed we had put our Vietnam war experiences behind us as we began building our post war lives. But seeing the evacuation of Saigon in real time, with North Vietnamese Army troops swarming the city, created feelings that overwhelmed any attempt to move on from the war. It brought it all back. Just as the images coming out of Kabul are bringing it all back to you – the GWOT veterans.
Many Vietnam vets felt that our sacrifices were wasted as I am sure you do. But those of us who have fought know that there is no glory in war. It is a dramatic and haunting experience. All wars are the result of government failures to find non-violent other solutions. While the Vietnam and Afghan wars ended with our flag being lowered as we evacuate the battle field, the Korean War ended in fraught stalemate, WWII ended in Europe and much of Asia reduced to ruins and half of Europe under the grip of the Soviet Union. The end of WWI was so unstable that it led to a second world war only two decades later. Our country’s civil war was followed by a hundred years of Jim Crow laws and Lost Cause reckoning. Wars are inherently failures.
You served your country. Our government may, or may not, have had any choice other than to engage in hostilities. But once that decision was made, you answered your nation’s call and fought. You fought often in the place of others who wouldn’t or couldn’t. This is no different than any other armed conflict that governments engage in. Now is not the time to regret lost time and treasure. It is the time to reflect. It is the time to honor those of you who fought and those of you who love and supported our fighting forces. It is the time to honor and memorialize those finest among us, those who gave their lives wearing the uniform of our country’s fighting forces.
A quote from a statement made by President Ford on April 30, 1975 sends a poignant message as American veterans of the Global War on Terror watch disturbing footage and photographs of desperate Afghans. Each is trying to escape to freedom and safety from the brutality of Afghanistan. These are the words of President Ford from 1975.
‘This action closes a chapter in the American experience. I ask all Americans to close ranks, to avoid recrimination about the past, to look ahead to the many goals we share and to work together on the great tasks that remain to be accomplished.’
Now, my message to my combat brethren nearly fifty years later is that this is the time to heal the wounds. It is the time to reach out to each other. This is the time to serve again and show your devotion to our great country. Let us get through this just as we got through war – by relying on one another. Another president, the great Abraham Lincoln, said in 1864, ‘Let us Strive to Heal the Nation’s Wounds . . . and to achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and among all others.’
The wise words of Presidents Ford and Lincoln may not have met with full fruition but this is another day and another chance.
Going to war is a dramatic and often haunting experience for combatants. In 1975 I actually began work on researching the effects of combat on American vets. I published my research in The Washington Post and Military Medicine and testified to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. This brought about the still functioning Vet Center Program that is helping the more recent veterans. I suspect many vets of Afghanistan are now experiencing pain. I am sure that President Biden and the First Lady will reach out to them as this crisis continues to unfold.
I will be available at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Tuesday at noon for media interviews. I can also be reached at