Reaction to the national trauma called Vietnam has come in stages. First, 10 years ago, was the period of welcomed but uneasy quiet. The nation's long anguish had come to an end, or so it seemed. Scattered sniper chatter continued about how right and how wrong it had been for the United States to have become involved there, and there were assorted appraisals of military and diplomatic strategy. But the war had ended, and there was relief from its powerfully divisive social and political tensions.
The first indication that the uneasy quiet would not hold came in cinematic and episodic literary form. The next stage of interpretation occurred when clinical components were coupled to the narrative accounts. As had happened before, Robert Jay Lifton got there early, this time with his "Home From the War: Vietnam Veterans--Neither Victims nor Executioners" (1973). But the specifics were supplied by less public writers--Charles Figley, Art Blank, Steven Sonneberg, John Wilson, John Smith--who were exploring the dynamics of post-traumatic stress disorders. Their findings helped establish the rehabilitational work of the vet centers, which agencies assisted Vietnam veterans, too, to attain effective collective postures.
The period following was one of expanded public awareness, each segment of which was catalyzed and nurtured by the veterans themselves. The vets organized their own national homecoming in November, 1982, capped by the dedication of the memorial on the Washington Mall. On Memorial Day, 1984, the Unknown Soldier from the Vietnam War was given an official funeral, preceded by a hero's parade. Veterans Day, 1984, witnessed the dedication of the three sculptured figures, the concluding segment of the memorial. And events surrounding the 1985 10th anniversary of the fall of Saigon included a homecoming parade in the nation's largest city, together with salutes and ceremonies in cities and towns large and small throughout the country. The United States may have lost the war, but the nation still possesses the spiritual ability to transform a negative into a demonstrable positive.