Dear Hero,

        I was in my twenties during the Vietnam era. I was a single
mother and, I'm sad to say, I was probably one of the most self-centered people
on the planet. To be perfectly honest, I didn't care one way or the other
about the war. All I cared about was me-how I looked, what I wore, and where
was going. I worked and I played. I was never politically involved in
anything, but I allowed my opinions to be formed by the media.  It happened
without my ever being aware. I listened to the protest songs and I watch the six
o'clock news and I listened to all the people who were talking.  After
awhile, I began to repeat their words and, if you were to ask me, I'd
have told you I was against the war. It was very popular. Everyone was doing
it, and we never saw what it was doing to our men. All we were shown was
what they were doing to the people of Vietnam.

       My brother joined the Navy and then he was sent to Vietnam.  When
he came home, I repeated the words to him. It surprised me at how angry he
became. I hurt him very deeply and there were years of separation-not
only of miles, but also of character. I didn't understand.  In fact, I didn't
understand anything until one day I opened my newspaper and saw the
anguished face of a Vietnam veteran. The picture was taken at the
opening of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. His countenance
revealed the terrible burden of his soul. As I looked at his picture and his
tears, I finally understood a tiny portion of what you had given for us and what
we had done to you. I understood that I had been manipulated, but I also
knew that I had failed to think for myself.  It was like waking up out  of a
nightmare, except that the nightmare was real. I didn't know what to do.

       One day about three years ago, I went to a member of the church I
attended at that time, because he had served in Vietnam. I asked him if
he had been in Vietnam, and he got a look on his face and said,"Yes."
Then, I took his hand, looked him square in the face, and said, "Thank you for
going." His jaw dropped, he got an amazed look on his face, and then he
said, "No one has ever said that to me." He hugged me and I could see
that he was about to get tears in his eyes. It gave me an idea, because there
is much more that needs to be said. How do we put into words.all the regret
of so many years?  I don't know, but when I have an opportunity, I take it.
So here goes:

        Have you been to Vietnam? If so, I have something I want to say
to you-Thank you for going! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Please
forgive me for my insensitivity. I don't know how I could have been so
blind, but I was.  When I woke up, you were wounded and the damage was
done, and I don't know how to fix it. I will never stop regretting my actions,
and I will never let it happen again.
        Please understand that I am speaking for the general public
also. We know we blew it and we don't know how to make it up to you. We wish we
had been there for you when you came home from Vietnam because you were a
hero and you deserved better.  Inside of you there is a pain that will never
completely go away.  And you know what? It's inside of us, too; because
when we let you down, we hurt ourselves, too.  We all know it.and we suffer
guilt and we don't know what to do.  So we cheer for our troops and write
letters to "any soldier" and we hang out the yellow ribbons and fly the flag and
we love America. We love you too, even if it doesn't feel like it to you. I
know in my heart that, when we cheer wildly for our troops, part of the
reason is trying to make up for Vietnam. And while it may work for us, it
does nothing for you. We failed you. You didn't fail us, but we failed
you and we lost our only chance to be grateful to you at the time when you
needed and deserved it. We have disgraced ourselves and brought shame to
our country. We did it and we need your forgiveness. Please say you will
forgive us and please take your rightful place as heroes of our country.  We
have learned a terribly painful lesson at your expense and we don't know how
to fix it.

(name withheld)