COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | TIMOTHY LICKNESS

A veteran’s experience of coming home

It is wonderful this time of year to participate in Veterans Day celebrations. I love seeing our newest veterans being honored for their service and sacrifice of our nation. There is such a sense of pride when we see these military men and women celebrated and recognized. There is just something special about seeing them in their uniforms adorned with medals, ribbons and badges that tell their stories.

For those of us who served in the Vietnam War, there is a special feeling of not just pride, but also of having created the environment in America that these celebrations take place. It was not always like that. When we returned home from our war there was a decidedly different homecoming.

I was never the subject of abuse and I am not sure I know anyone personally who was. Perhaps some of those stories are urban myths. But it can hardly be denied that at best we were under-appreciated and at times criticized for our participation in that most unpopular war.

The great majority of us simply tried to put our experience in perspective behind us. OK, we thought, maybe we do not get parades. There is no Ernie Pyle to tell our stories. No realistic hero movies like “Saving Private Ryan.” We had no Audie Murphy to be our face. But we will make the best of it and be the best citizens we can be.

It was hard service in a difficult war. We served out of a sense of duty and patriotism. And we were forever changed. We learned about service, sacrifice, courage, unbearable loss, but also the satisfaction of duty well preformed.

We were often depicted as kooks, crazies and sometimes victims. But for most of us, that is not how it turned out. We became your doctors, lawyers, neighbors, plumbers and stockbrokers. We became your children’s teachers, coaches and Scout leaders.

And we did something else. Over time and with graciousness and dignity, we let America know that our military veterans are to be honored, even when the cause the fought for seems wrong or misguided. We accepted not being welcomed home as heroes, but each in our own way started building the national conscience to never let it happen again.

First, we made sure we took care of our own. We greeted each other with “welcome home,” as that is what we missed the most. We hugged each other as only those who had gone through what we had, could. Sometimes it was just a nod and a knowing look.

And then we saw veterans of other wars coming home and we became the point men for making sure they felt welcomed. We organized celebrations and parades and encourage others to do the same.

And now we are so pleased to see this newest generation of veterans, of what’s turned out to be more unpopular wars, coming home to the hero’s welcome they deserve. There is not a hint of envy or bitterness to be found in us. We are so proud of them and so proud of how America has learned to treat its most recent returning warriors.

We dare not forget our moral obligation to them to ensure they get the benefits they so richly deserve and have earned. Let us make sure we take care of those who lost a provider and a loved one. Seek out some family and find out how if they might need help. Visit a veterans home and ask if you can be someone’s partner in a board game, read a book, take a walk and or just visit.

Veterans Day is a day to collectively gather and recognize our former and current military men and women. When you see a veteran or a man or women in uniform, thank them for his or her service. Put up your American flag. Attend one of those ceremonies or parades.

Sing the national anthem with pride and if you cannot carry a tune, sing loud anyway. Let’s be proud of our nation and what we have done for many around the world. Show the world we are still the great experiment in freedom and liberty and we learn from our mistakes only to get better and stronger.

This Veterans Day I will put out my American flag in front of my house and salute it with a special thought that on this day, and every day, I honor our veterans.


Lickness served as an infantry platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He is an attorney with Chapin Fitzgerald LLP and teaches law at Trinity School of Law.

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13 UserComments
Dan Gower 6:47am November 13, 2014

Great thoughts - spot on target too! Your service reaped great rewards that you didn't mention. On a dark day under circumstances beyond "dangerous" - you and some of your platoon went to save another Soldier - Ben Knisely. Ben went on to father children, mentor Soldiers, lead our AMEDD into the 21st century, AND, as you mentioned above, become a point man for honoring Veterans of the current unpopular war. It wasn't just one man you saved that day - it was a generation of children who walk the earth today doing great things for our nation. Welcome Home Tim God bless you - and your service does not go un-noticed. DUSTOFF! - FOLLOW ME!

Mrs, Walworth Johnson Jr. 9:30am November 12, 2014

What a beautiful tribute . it was so well written with much feeling and taste. My husband died in late march-ALS. The doctor's say it was Asian Orange that brought it on when he was in Viet Nam and went ashore looking for his men. I only know the devastation he went through everyday wondering what part of his body would not work and when he would die and in what form. thank you for your wonderful letter. Janet

Dan Lickness 12:58am November 12, 2014

Tim Lickness is my brother. After receiving his commission he was originally assigned to duty in Korea. He volunteered for Jump School knowing that he would then be deployed to Vietnam. He was deployed to Vietnam at a time when the fighting was fierce. I was in college at this time and Tim would write of his experiences, details that he would not necessarily tell our parents. Tim was known to walk point, preferring to lead from the front. He was known by his men as Lieutenant Arrow. This was because of his ethics, military bearing, and courage. There was a time when due to the loss of more senior officers, he was the most senior officer in his Company, he was 21 years old. When Tim finally came home and was at Fort Ord, he bought a baby blue Jag XKE convertible. And he let me drive it, once.

Rob Robbins 2:26pm November 11, 2014

Thanks Tim for your essay and for your Service! You're a gentleman, a scholar, and an animal on the racquetball court.

Rick Hust 12:41pm November 11, 2014

I've known you for a long time Tim and I not only appreciate your service, but for your faith in God. You are an example of what makes up a great human being.

Devon Day 7:32am November 11, 2014

My husband served with the 101st Airborne during the Vietnam War. For 43 years, he never told anyone beyond the family and close friends that he was drafted and served his country. It was just as you wrote, there was no warm welcome; you just got on with your life. We read in the local newspaper that our local Claim Jumper restaurant was giving a free dinner to Vets. We looked at each other and decided to go. What a neat experience. The place was packed with Veterans. There was a warm greeting, the waiters were clearly proud to give these men and women a good memory and dinner. Thank you for your story. It was spot on.

Jodell 7:03am November 11, 2014

Beautiful As a wife that lived through the Nam experience these are beautiful inspirational words We are proound to be Americans and appreciate our service men and women every day Thank you

john harrison 4:48am November 11, 2014

Airborne.

John Schooler 4:44am November 11, 2014

Well done and thank you Tim

Andre Hassid 10:04pm November 10, 2014

I always enjoy reading articles from my friend Tim Lickness who has taught me so much of the sacrifice our veterans have made for our country. Thank you Tim for your service and friendship.

Bill Converse 8:12pm November 10, 2014

Thank you Tim for stating the obvious and for "keeping alive" the feeling of wanting to honor those who stepped out on our behalf to defend a freedom so precious that there is no denying the importance of what these brave men and women have accomplished. Blessings.

Tom Vasilou 8:09pm November 10, 2014

Well said, my good friend and infantry brother..I only wish the sacrifice of our treasure, generation after generation, was for more than exit strategies and political expediency of the moment. Our guys define exceptionalism by their mere presence in one no-win scenario after the other. I pray for a competent captain who can navigate us away from the rocks and sandbars of our own making.

Col Ben Knisely, USA Ret 6:52pm November 10, 2014

Tim Lickness is a great patriot and someone very special to me personally. YOu see, in April of 1968, Lt Tim lickness led a special rescue mission to find my helicopter after we were shot down by an enemy missile. He succeeded in that mission and my co-pilot and I are alive today because of his leadership and the bravery of his entire 5 man rescue team. SAn Diego should be proud to have this great American as a part of your community. Thank you Tim LIckness for saving my life, and as you have so eloquently said in your article .... take time every day to thank a veteran for the sacrifices they have made for us all .....