Two extraordinary acts of kindness will have occurred in Janesville and Beloit by the time you read this.
In Janesville, a downtown mural honoring Black Hawk, a Sauk tribal elder, has been painted by Jeff Henriquez. The mural is a striking feature along Main Street.
Black Hawk led the Sauk tribe in the 1832 Black Hawk War. He was captured and died in 1838. At the time of the Black Hawk War and years after, Black Hawk was perceived as a ruthless tribal warrior who wreaked murder and mayhem on white military and civilian citizens. He was despised.
The important part of Black Hawk’s history is that after 181 years, we are now getting around to formally honoring him. As someone once said, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”
The community of Beloit has stepped up to formally welcome home those who fought in the Vietnam War. Beloit Daily News Editor Bill Barth put into words what many feel.
“Thanking and welcoming home our Vietnam vets was way overdue,” Barth said about the ceremony Thursday at Beloit’s Riverside Park.
Like Black Hawk, Vietnam veterans were despised early on. Far too many were assaulted with physical violence. They were spit upon and pelted with many forms of disgusting substances, even rocks and baseball bats. Almost all returning Vietnam vets were subjected to indifference. People were getting tired of the war and wanted nothing to do with anything connected to it, including returning vets.
Although American military personnel were in Vietnam by 1950 to assist the French, the American Vietnam War officially started in 1955 when Vietnam defeated the French, and the Geneva Accords split Vietnam into communist Vietnam to the north and non-communist Vietnam to the south to allow for a nationwide election to determine which side would rule the country.
The United States, fearing a communist “domino effect” situation, sided with the non-communist south until the north’s victory after the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.
What’s important to remember about the Vietnam War is that it was non-declared by Congress, which gave President Lyndon Johnson unlimited power to send troops and war material into Vietnam. The troops who served answered their country’s call either by enlisting, volunteering for the draft or waiting to be drafted.
For their effort, these vets were treated shabbily by people of the country they served.
It’s been 44 years since the war in Vietnam ended. Again, it’s never too late to do the right thing.
After serving there in 1968 with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, I returned from Vietnam in January 1969 with a Bronze Star and a very uncertain future. What I remember most is that people said they were glad to see me back home, but that was about it.
It was not until 2001, 32 years after my return from Vietnam, that I was formally welcomed home and thanked for my service.
During a visit in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Sen. John McCain and a group of Janesville high school students, I introduced him as an American hero. McCain walked over to me, shook my hand, thanked me for my service and said “welcome home.”
The communities of Beloit and Janesville should be thanked for their kind gestures. For tribal communities and Vietnam vets, Bill Barth is correct. The gestures are long overdue. We should remember it is never too late to do the right thing.
But for some—including Black Hawk, the 58,276 on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., and for the 2.7 million American troops who served in Vietnam—it is too late.