This letter to the editor originally appeared in the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Mississippi. We are sharing it with permission of the author’s parents. Photos by Jeff Clark, Sun Herald.

On March 29, my mom took me to the Biloxi National Cemetery’s Vietnam memorial service. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but what happened made me both sad and proud.

Biloxi National Cemetery Vietnam Veterans

Seventh grader Charles Fink hugs a Vietnam Veteran at Biloxi National Cemetery. Photo by Jeff Clark, Sun Herald.

When we arrived at the service, we took our seats. As the Vietnam Veterans started to arrive, I introduced myself and shook each one’s hand. I thanked each Veteran for their service. Several of these Veterans got tears in their eyes.

I was kind of sad that they thought kids like me didn’t know anything about Vietnam. One 80-year-old colonel asked me to take a picture with him.

When the first Vietnam Veteran speaker began, I kind of got upset. How could people treat Veterans the way that these Veterans were treated after the war? I felt mad when I heard about the role the media played during the war and the things they said the American troops did.

The speaker told us about a chemical called Agent Orange, and I felt bad that so many Veterans had to endure that. The speaker also told us how many Veterans served in the war and how many died.

I was sad that the Veterans were not respected or recognized when they came home from war. I am upset that the Veterans’ physical and mental illnesses were not taken care of.

My mom and dad are both Marine Corps Veterans, and I would’ve been upset if my parents had been treated that way. My dad works at the Biloxi VA hospital, so he teaches me how to respect and talk to Veterans.

As the speaker talked, I began crying. I have been to the National Vietnam Memorial. I have seen my cousins’ names on the wall. I have seen how this war caused PTSD in two of my uncles. After the ceremony and after taps was played, I gave the speaker a hug, and I cried.

I learned more today about the Vietnam War than I ever have before. I am glad these Veterans are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

CHARLES FINK
St. Patrick High School, 7th grade

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26 Comments

  1. Aroy Crowell April 10, 2016 at 12:08 am

    I still feel the ”guilt”of Vietnam,the Vietnamese people treated me better then,than the Americans treat ”US”NOW.I think that most us woke up to a ”VERY RUDE AWAKENING”.

  2. Jesse T. Quinata April 9, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    Your sentiments truly reflect a quality that only youngsters like you have Charles and is a testament for the fine parents you have.As a young boy the Vietnam Veterans were my heroes during the Vietnam War and will be until the day I die. Along with you I share the feeling every time I reminisce about the good times in life and remember we are FREE because our VETERANS were there and it is gratifying to know that you recognize the selfless service and sacrifices of the vietnam era.

  3. Ronald Drinks April 9, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    To have a child like Charles make a profound statement like this gives
    me hope that more will be like him .This young man was born 40 years after
    I came bac,k home and has made me feel good again about the American
    spirit . I know your parents are very proud of you as I am also .

  4. Mike Gillhoolley April 9, 2016 at 5:42 am

    Charles, your experience and your deeply profound feelings make you a wonderful young man.

    I am a Canadian Vietnam Veteran and did not have to serve in the U.S. Army at all, but I volunteered and wound up doing 19 months in Vietnam.

    I grew up very quickly over there and I too mustered out of the military at Fort Lewis, Washington.

    I flew home to Montreal, Quebec where I used to live and did not speak about Vietnam for many years.

    I am very proud of my service and would do it all over again to have the privilege to meet the men and women that I did.

    You will surely grow up to be a wonderful adult as you are well on your way.

  5. Frank R. Castellano April 8, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Thank You.
    Papa

  6. EDDIE April 8, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    I too was a disabled Vietnam war combat veteran and I had to put up with much the same things when I came home including not being able to find a dicent job ,,,

  7. Stephen J. Mann April 8, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    Dear Charles; Many thanks to your parents for their service, but most of all, big time thanks for YOUR service, for giving such a warm hearted feeling to we Vietnam Veterans. I, as so many veterans here and everywhere from that era, have horror stories that could be told. But at age 66 years of age and failing health, I shall go to sleep tonight with a smile on my face, after knowing that someone as you are determined to prevent this kind of treatment from happening again. God bless you and your folks Charles. Steve from Florida—-

  8. Tom Burrell April 8, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    Charles,
    Thank you so much for your letter. I know that you Mom and Dad are proud of you. I served as a Combat Corpsman with the 1st Battalion, 26 Marines, in Vietnam. I am very proud with my association with the Marine Corps, and feel like I was a Marine, also. I latter became a Navy Nurse Corps Officer, and retired in 1982,
    Our Nation needs more young men like you. Men who show respect for not only their elders, but also to those men and women who have served in the armed forces.
    Tell your Mom and Dad I said “Semper Fi.”

    Keep up the good work. You will go far in your chosen career, if you keep the attitude and compassion you currently possess.

    God Bless and Keep You and Your Family.

    Tom Burrell

  9. Charles Rozier April 8, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    I always take time to thank any young person who take time to thank any veteran , but especially Vietnam Veterans… It is a very kind thing they do.

    May God Bless My Fellow Vietnam Brothers, other veterans especially those who were in combat… May God Bless The Young People who acknowledge our service not that long ago us…

  10. GERALD KELLY April 8, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Hey Charles! What a refreshing moment to meet you on this website and story. Sometimes I feel like we weren’t appreciated enough after Viet Nam; but letters like yours tend to change all that. I am proud to have been of service to you and your friends. Charles, whatever I did in Vietnam, I would gladly do again for you. Just a short story to close. I am 100% disabled due to Agent Orange, so I receive dental treatment from the VA in Bradenton, Florida. In spite of the negative press the VA often gets, they take really good care of me. And how about this. My VA Dentist is Vietnamese, and he is from the same village in Viet Nam where I served. We have become great friends. No hard feelings. Many of us have returned to Viet Nam to show our families where we once were. The Vietnamese people are very welcoming. It is a beautiful country. You should try to visit some time. Sincerely, Gerald L. “Geraldo” Kelly

  11. Angel Q April 8, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Nice letter Charles. As Veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan I can tell you that I have so much respect for the Veterans of the Vietnam war. That was a terrible war and coming back home was even more terrible. Let us never forget and give these men and women all the respect they deserve for the rest of their lives.

  12. Gerald L Wolf April 8, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    A lot of us were draftees and doing our duty. To be treated like we were was not right. My buddy was spit on in the airport in Seatlle, Washington after we got out of the Army at Ft Lewis, Washington. If people have not been in that position like the soldiers were in, then they shouldn’t have passed judgment. I only saw action one time but spent 1 year and 54 days in Vietnam where I saw every report of every casualty in our Battalion. I am glad to see that today’s soldiers are at least, for the most part, receiving respect for their service. I leave you with this poem I wrote when I got to Vietnam. May God Bless!

    THE SUN CAME OUT TODAY

    The Sun came out today
    To shed it’s radiant beams on the soil
    What a curious sight to behold
    Amid all this trouble and toil

    The Sun came out today
    But it may as well not have come out at all
    It brought along blue skies and great white clouds
    What nerve, what gall

    Yes, the Sun came out today
    But it may as well not have come out at all
    It came not for warmth, it came not for hope
    It came to watch men fall!!

    Pvt Gerald L. Wolf
    HHC 1st Bn, 501st Infantry
    101st Airborne Division
    APO 96383
    April 1969

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  13. Jenna Slye April 8, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Great article Charles! Very well written! You have your mama’s heart of gold!

  14. tom mcdonough April 8, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    As a disabled combat vet it has taught me a greater respect for all of our veterans espescially the vietnam era, the way they were treated not only by our government but by the people they swore to protect was shameful and a darkspot on our history, as for this young man keep that was a well thought out letter, very intelligent and articulated beautifly, i hope and pray that you if you should so chose to wear the uniform proudly

  15. Ross A Peot April 8, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    The greatest lesson young children can learn about America is not in a classroom but seeing first hand the memories through are great monuments. More importantly as this young man saw at a ceremony to see those who served first hand. To learn from them, for there lies the real truth. There is a phrase at the WWII Memorial, “Freedom is Not Free” Every American should take it to heart. Visit the near by Arlington National Cemetery after and this is just a small portion of the men and women who gave their life for our freedom’s in which so many take for granted. I would also suggest that parents get their children involved in their family genealogy. I have now set out on an adventure to document all those in my family genealogy who served this country. I now live in Fredericksburg, VA where my ancestor’s fought. If it weren’t for my grandmother being a member of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) I would never have known. Interestingly, I was stationed at a base named after a General who fought in the same war.

  16. Sandra Sanchez April 8, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Charles its good when I hear from someone as young as you to learn the history behind the Viet Nam War as my kids their father was a Viet Nam veteran and he lived a tough life after coming back. He passed after struggling with PTSD and complications of Agent Orange, these guys had a tough time coming back with no support.

  17. jeff adkins April 8, 2016 at 11:50 am

    I definitely wanna thank this young man fer this post. Definitely water’d my old eye’s. OOORAH & SEMPER FI 68 – 72

  18. Charles Vida April 8, 2016 at 11:40 am

    I believe all kids should be taught about all wars, and what it means to be born here in America (FREE)!!!!!!!

  19. Robert Dashields April 8, 2016 at 11:12 am

    I am a Vietnam era Veteran and it is truly refreshing to see someone so young with such great insight . To Charles’ parents , JOB WELL DONE!!!!! I was also a Marine.

  20. Al Wood Sr. 6708 April 8, 2016 at 11:00 am

    What parents this young man has. I salute them and young Charles. Z
    America could use 10 of thousands more like him. Charles, you will go far in life.. GOD bless you…

  21. thomas gomez sr April 8, 2016 at 9:19 am

    your a good decent american kid. thank you!

  22. Jess Esparza April 5, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    Little Charles………………… I am also a Vietnam , disabled veteran…………….. A proud veteran, who. like my brothers and sisters, would stand up an do it all again for our country…………… The worst part for me was being discharged, after spending time in hospitals in Japan, coming back home to spend more time in hospitals at Fort Sam Houston………But to fly home to San Francisco was so shameful…….. to be spit on, called names, thrown objects……… I was so upset, disgraced from my own people of the united states, I ended up coming home in tears and confused……I would stay in my room for days and not come out………………………….. Our Vets come now to cheers, but a lot of us got nothing………………. I’m ok now, but still it hurts……………………. I hoped when you become an adult, you think real hard before decide to fight for our country.

    I loved your letter………….. You’re more of an adult at your age than alot of adults….. I salute you, Charles……………
    Thanks again……………………………………Proud Veteran

    • Diane Pilato April 17, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtfully written reply, Jess Esparza…I am full agreement with you about the way vets are treated after they go and fight for their country. My younger brother Danny was unfortunately one of the soldiers who DIDN’T come home from Vietnam…he was 21 when his Huey helicopter was shot down, and although others tried to rescue him, they, too, lost their lives. FOR WHAT is what I still ask…I am a peaceful warrior, believing that wars are alien to humanity, and are of benefit only to the rich elite who make decisions to go to war…that’s my feelings, anyway. Bless you for your service to the United States, and I am so sorry for the additional suffering you had to endure from thoughtless, out of touch of reality, other humans.

  23. Robin Dewolf April 5, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Bless you, young man, and your parents also, for raising you right!

  24. Richard Bee April 5, 2016 at 10:08 am

    Young Charles, thank you for your very nice letter. You will never really know most of the things we endured in Vietnam. I pray that your generation will never have to be involved in anything like Vietnam.
    Richard Bee
    Disabled Vietnam War veteran
    U.S. Navy, retired

  25. Karra April 5, 2016 at 8:50 am

    all due respect to veterans

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