Headgear is an important part of the way that I dress. I wear some form of it almost all of the time. The only exceptions are when I am eating, bathing, s
leeping or at Worship Service. Over the years, I have worn all forms of headgear from ball caps to western hats. This headgear has promoted everything from the “Oklahoma Sooners” to “Red Man Tobacco”.

One day about seven years ago, I decided to wear a cap which stated that I was a Viet Nam Veteran. I had seen other Vets wearing this type of headgear and thought it would be nice for me to have one of my own. I thought, “Who knows, I might even meet another Vietnam Vet who remembered Quan Loi”.

I ordered the merchandise from the internet and in about two weeks, the headgear arrived. The cap fit very nicely and was really comfortable. Moreover; it protected my head from the sun in the places that needed to be protected.

Prior to this purchase, during the years following my return to CONUS from Vietnam; I did not care to openly admit that I had served in Vietnam. This attitude was due primarily to the fear of the negativism associated with being a Vietnam Veteran. Whenever asked, I would always acknowledge that I was a Vietnam Veteran, then “pass it over” and change the topic of the conversation as quickly as I could.

I had been wearing the headgear a few days; when a person approached me and asked me, “Are you a Vietnam Veteran”? I stated that I was. He immediately shook my hand and said, Welcome home brother”. We then exchanged pleasantries about where we had been and what we had done; then both of us went our separate ways with big smiles on our faces and certainly a better attitude.

During the following several months, I had several more chance encounters between myself and other Vietnam Vets. Moreover, I had additional follow-up conversations with several of them. The Headgear was doing what I had wanted it to accomplish. Then one day the “rules of engagement” changed.

I was wearing the “Vietnam Veteran” headgear when I went to a Hardware store to purchase a couple of specialty bolts for a project that I was building. After I made my purchase at the store and as I was walking to my car in the parking lot; a total stranger, who was several years younger than myself, approached me. He came up to me and asked, “Are you a Vietnam Veteran”? I knew this person certainly was not a Vietnam Vet due to his age. I stated that yes, I was. He then said, “I want to thank you for your service to our great nation”. I was absolutely dumfounded. No total stranger had EVER thanked me for serving in Vietnam.

I am generally never at a loss for words in any situation; but in this instance I had absolutely no idea of how to reply. My response was something to the effect; “I just did my job and came home”. Bad answer! Still, this person accepted my retort and then stated that he considered Vietnam Vets to be “true patriots” due to the fact that with all the negative feelings toward the Vietnam War in this country at that time; we served with honor. I thanked him for his appreciation and wished him well. I could not swear to it, but I was sure that I was at least an inch taller.

After this encounter, I began to rethink my Vietnam service. I began to think that maybe people’s attitudes had changed toward Vietnam Veterans and that perhaps more than a few persons beyond the family and close friends of Veterans were proud of our service during the Vietnam War. I also began to think that maybe that I too should be proud of my service in Vietnam. The answers to the above were all positive. My attitude began to change. I was no longer hesitant to acknowledge the fact that I was a Veteran of the Vietnam War.

Since that first encounter of Vietnam Veteran appreciation; I have had several more instances of such to occur. Now my answer is; “I am proud to have served my country, and did my small part to help keep it free”. Furthermore; I mean every word of this rejoinder.

I have had several “Vietnam Veteran” caps since my purchase of that first one. The fact is not that I loose them or they wear out. On the contrary; I tend to give them to other Vietnam Veterans so my fellow comrades can also enjoy the recognition and appreciation which has been so long in coming to all of us.
Gary Graham     Now and Then
Norman, Oklahoma


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