THE REALITY: This country's all-volunteer and truly professional military insulates most of our citizenry from feeling direct impact of overseas wars.
Since the draft ended in 1973, the percentage of Americans serving in the military has dropped steadily, from about 1.8 percent at the peak of the Vietnam War to 0.5 percent in 2010, according to the Pew Research Center.
Part of that is demographics. The population grew from about 209 million when the draft ended to more than 311 million today. In 1973, 1.8 percent of the population equaled about 3.76 million people. Today, that same number of people would be about 1.2 percent of the total population.
But those numbers still confirm the fact that a much smaller percentage of us risks life and limb to protect the rest of us – which inevitably means fewer of us know someone personally in harm's way when soldiers are deployed.
As a page 1A story in Sunday's Times Leader pointed out, something else has changed substantially since Vietnam: These days, those who served rarely face anything but accolades upon their return. Many Vietnam veterans came back to scorn and criticism, a tragic consequence of conflating their noble service with the increasingly unpopular war they helped fight.
Luzerne County Vietnam Veterans memorial Committee member Albert Felker put it bluntly: We got s--t on.
The committee annually organizes a ceremony near the Vietnam memorial on the courthouse lawn in Wilkes-Barre off River Street. This year's is set for Feb. 21.
Vietnam taught America many lessons. We learned not to fight yesterday's wars, we learned the importance of constantly updating equipment and strategies, we learned the value of winning the support of residents in country.
There is one other lesson we must never forget: The risk and sacrifice of our volunteers is never degraded by our opinion of the war they fight.
In 1979, Felker wrote a poem with this stanza:
They said our hearts were full of death, our eyes were filled with fire. But that's not true; we are your sons. What else do you desire?
Nothing from you, Mr. Felker, or your fellow soldiers. What we all should desire -- what we all must strive for -- is to never again treat returning veterans the way many treated you.