Educating our youth about the sacrifices and service our military veterans provide is a part of the mission of the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade. So, the non-profit parade organizers Honoring America’s’s Veterans once again hosted the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade Essay Contest this year as part of the education effort.
Open to all high-school-age students in grades 9-12 in Maricopa County, the essay theme focus this year was the parade theme of “Welcome Home Vietnam Heroes.” A total of 113 essays were received and were judged on creative writing, grammar, originality, content and theme focus. First-, second- and third-place winners receive cash prizes courtesy of Durant’s Restaurant, a ride in the parade and several other “perks” as a way of saying thanks for their efforts.
We are pleased to present this year’s third-place-winning essay by Dillon Shipley, a 10th grade student at Seton Catholic Prep.
For a lot of soldiers in the Vietnam War, DEROS, or Date Eligible for Return from Overseas, was the most important thing that they held on to in the last few months of their time. DEROS was something that kept our troops going, especially my uncle, former 2nd Lieutenant Rick West. As an officer he knew more about what was going on than the average soldier, but that didn’t stop him from feeling excited once he got on the plane home. As his time got closer, he created a plan to take the cash that he had, $1,300, to buy a motorcycle and tour the country. Until then, his job and the job of others was, as he put it, “to keep me in one piece.” As he got onto the “Freedom Bird” – which was what the soldiers called the plane home – even though he was crammed in between as many other soldiers as could possibly fit, he could not help but think that he was happy to be there. After arriving, he decided that he just wanted to get home as soon as possible. Forget the motorcycle trip, forget the $1,300 – he just wanted to be home. After the flight home and catching a ride from some generous citizens to his parent’s house, he rang the doorbell. His dad opened the door, and before he even saw who was standing there, said, “Hi Rick.” Even though his DEROS had already passed, this was his true date of return. A week later, he was working as a lawyer in Champaign, Illinois, and remembered no more than a little discrimination against him because of his service. But what about the people who weren’t so lucky?
What about the soldiers who got spit on, shunned and discriminated against? Even though my uncle ran into some generous citizens who were proud of his service, not all people were like that. After all, as West points out, there “was no one there” to greet our troops when they stepped off the plane. Consider the people who came back broken in both the body and the mind. As my uncle said, it’s a “black mark on our country that we treated them the way we did.” The media and America in general had seen the very worst of the war, according to former Colonel Thomas Darby. Those people might feel like they never came back. They might not be proud of their service, like my uncle and Mr. Darby were. Their DEROS and official records say they made it back, but what if they never really did?
And most importantly, what about the soldiers who never lived to see their DEROS?
For the veterans, and the people who feel like they haven’t fully returned, our perception of their service has changed. As an American, I am proud and grateful for your service, and most of the people I know are as well.
Welcome home, Vietnam Veterans.
Your DEROS is today.