Freedom through sacrifice: Veterans, VFW members encouraged by citizenry’s support of soldiers
September 11, 2011
On Sept. 11, 2001, Mark Wick was living outside of Sacramento, Calif. As he watched the terrorist attacks in New York City unfold on television, he decided to do something he thought he'd never do again.
He hoisted an American flag outside his home.
"It renewed my patriotism," said Wick, now commander at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265. "It really pumped me up."
Wick, now 62, enlisted in the U.S. Navy before his 19th birthday in 1968. He was assigned to a seagoing fighter squad in Vietnam in 1970.
When he returned home in 1971, Wick said he was alarmed by the controversy and protests going on stateside over the war, and he wasn't properly prepared to deal with them.
Instead of a warm welcome home, Wick said he was greeted by being called a baby killer, by being spit on.
They were strangers, the people who said and did those things, he said. They had no idea of the ever-present danger in Vietnam or the constant struggles young soldiers endured while serving there.
For a time, the negative reception he and other Vietnam veterans received upon coming home clouded his feelings about country.
But, that changed Sept. 11, 2001, as he searched his home for the family flag. At one point, the flag had flown over the California State Capitol in Sacramento, but for decades it had lived stuffed in the back of a closet.
"I unfolded my flag and laid it out on the sidewalk with the stars on the left and the stripes on the right," he said. "As I looked at it, I could tell something wasn't right. I looked over at my neighbor's flag and realized mine only had 48 stars.
"That's how long it had been since I flew a flag."
Wick went out and purchased a new flag, and a flag has flown outside his home since that day.
Larry Neu, 64, is the VFW's quartermaster and owner of Northwest Diesel Sales and Service, LLC, in Craig.
He was at work on 9/11 and received news of the terrorist attacks from his brother.
"I turned on my computer and watched the live streaming," Neu said. "As we (Neu and his brother) were talking, we watched the second plane hit the tower.
"It felt like Pearl Harbor all over again. We were attacked on our own soil and I felt like it needed the same reaction."
Like Wick, Neu is a Vietnam veteran. He served as a Special Forces Combat Medic with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Although it's difficult to compare conflicts like Vietnam and the war on terror, Neu said he finds it interesting the two most controversial conflicts in American history were managed then and now by politicians rather than officers on the ground.
"I think Vietnam was very poorly handled because we didn't let the generals do things — we let politicians make all of the decisions," he said. "Politicians with no military experience have no business making decisions for field troops. All it does is jeopardize their lives."
Neu believes he and his comrades were handcuffed in Vietnam, and likewise, he has a lukewarm opinion of how the war against terrorism has been handled.
"Do I think the war on terror has been handled correctly? Not completely," Neu said. "Some of it's been good, some of it's been bad. But again, when you have politicians preventing people from doing their own jobs and protecting themselves, you're just sacrificing them."
But, Neu and Wick agree there is a stark difference between being in the military today as opposed to the 1960s and early 1970s — the way the U.S. citizenry has embraced its military veterans.
"It may have something to do with our generation growing up and realizing the mistakes we made during Vietnam," Wick said. "It's important for the public to support the troops because the vast majority have no idea the sacrifices they make for our freedom."
Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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