I want to thank Suzanne for inviting me to share some thoughts about some unsung American heroes here on Veterans Day. This was, in part, my motivation in writing my newest novel, The Reunion. While entirely a work of fiction, as with several of my books, my inspiration was drawn from real-life events. As I researched my first two novels, I came across two stories involving World War II vets that astounded me. Both men had fought in horrific battles and had won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
After the war, they came home to live quiet lives in obscurity, working as janitors. I began thinking about all the people we pass by every day, who work in menial jobs, and wondered how many might have accomplished amazing things or had fascinating stories to tell…if we only took the time to listen. I also began to think of Jesus’ example. He routinely stopped to take an interest in ordinary people. A woman at a well, a blind beggar, a nameless leper.
I decided to make my hero, Aaron Miller, a Vietnam vet. This satisfied a strong desire I’ve had to honor these once young men whose lives had been plunged into a dark hour in our nation’s history, an hour from which my own life had been spared.
I am not a vet. I have never served in the military. None of us can control the timing or circumstances of their birth. That decision is always left in God’s hands. I happened to be born in a month and year that spared me from the draft.
My Leave-it-to-Beaver childhood of the late fifties and early sixties was brought to an abrupt halt by a number of national events, starting with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Then I watched the Civil Rights Movement unfold on the network news. A few years later, came the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. It seemed like the nation was spinning out of control.
But nothing affected me as much as the Vietnam War.
I was terribly afraid of the draft. Year after year, it hung like a Big Clock over my head, clicking down to the moment when I would be forced to join all the other unfortunate young men who’d been thrown into this terrible war. I didn’t understand it. The whole nation seemed to turn against it. There were riots about it on the news, seemed like every night (along with constant reports on how many US soldiers had been killed that day in Vietnam).
Then when the war finally ended, it was obvious…after all those years of bloodshed and dying, America had lost. But to me, the way we had treated the Vietnam veterans at home, during the war and after, was another national tragedy.
For the next fifteen years or so, until the first Gulf War in Iraq, people rarely talked about Vietnam in a positive light. The veterans of that war continued to suffer neglect, mistreatment and humiliation, as if they were somehow responsible for what happened.
I’m so glad that has all changed, so grateful the men and women who fought and suffered through this time can now hold their heads up high, and be properly honored for the sacrifices they have made.
So…to all the Aaron Miller’s out there, the unsung warriors whose actions have made it possible for the rest of us to live free, not just in the Vietnam War, but in all the wars our country has been engaged, please accept this author’s heartfelt thanks and unending gratitude.
Dan Walsh is the award-winning author of several books, including The Discovery and The Reunion. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Dan served as a pastor for 25 years. He lives with his wife in the Daytona Beach area, where he’s busy researching and writing his next novel. Find out more about Dan at www.danwalsh.com.