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By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 1, 2010 - The military's top officer yesterday called on Vietnam Veterans to stay connected with today's servicemembers, saying their lessons learned, especially with post-traumatic stress disorder, can help veterans of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the comments as he led a Memorial Day observance at the Vietnam War Memorial here just before six names of fallen Vietnam veterans were added to the iconic, black marble wall.
"The Vietnam conflict was a life-defining experience for every American who lived during that era, and it continues to impact us all: the pain, the conflict, the healing," Mullen said, noting that Vietnam was his first war experience. "The lessons we learned in Vietnam were bought at a very great price. Acting on them is the best tribute we can pay to honor those who died."
Mullen noted that he and his wife, Deborah, came to The Wall after touring Arlington National Cemetery's Section 60 where many Vietnam veterans are buried near those fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. "As we come to this very hallowed ground, in ways it is like coming home," he said. "I, too, have friends on The Wall. I have classmates on The Wall."
When the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began after Sept. 11, 2001, Mullen said, he vowed to do everything possible to prevent the disconnect that happened between the American public and the military during the Vietnam war. To his relief, he said, Americans "are so incredibly supportive of our military men and women now."
Mullen said he attributes the changed attitudes to the lessons learned from the Vietnam war era about supporting troops unconditionally. "During that time, as a country, we were unable to separate the politics from the people," he said. "We must never allow America to become disconnected from her military. Never.
"That's why this site, this wall, is so special," he continued "Rather than separating us, this wall binds us together as nation. It has become, in the words of General [Barry] McCaffrey, a national place of healing."
The memorial on the National Mall memorializes more than three million Americans who served during the Vietnam war and more than 58,000 who died from combat-related injuries and illnesses.
The six names added yesterday are: Marine Lance Cpl. John E. Granville of Los Angeles, Marine Lance Cpl. Clayton K. Hough Jr. of Massachusetts, Army Capt. Edward F. Miles of New York, Army Sgt. Michael J. Morehouse of Kentucky, Army Lt. Col. William Taylor of Florida, and Marine Cpl. Ronald M. Vivona of New York.
"As your loved ones now join their brothers and sisters, we hope this day helps to bring you closure and peace," Mullen told the families of the six veterans' families.
Mullen asked surviving Vietnam veterans to reach out to today's veterans, especially in reducing the stigma of mental health treatment. Whether coping with anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts, he said, "having an experienced battle buddy you can turn to makes all the difference."
Mullen said his friend, former Marine Corp commandant Michael W. Hagee has said "Every Marine, every soldier he ever saw who was in combat suffered from post-traumatic stress. And I readily believe the same is true for today's ground forces."
He encouraged the veterans to share their experiences.
"We know we stand on the shoulders of the Vietnam generation as our young Americans in uniform give all they have to provide our children and grandchildren a safer world," Mullen said. "Let us honor their legacy by learning from them, listening to one another, and staying connected in the future."