More than a few times I’ve found myself in a crowd of Vietnam veterans, and more than a few times at least one of them was wearing a curious blue or yellow t-shirt. Once that shirt undoubtedly fit a lean physique of the late 1970s or early 1980s, but by the time I saw it modeled, in the 2000s, it was getting mighty snug. Still, they refused to part with it. On it was some variation of the outline of a map of Vietnam with bit of grim humor superimposed: “Participant, Southeast Asia War Games, 1961-1975: Second Place.”
I was always struck by it. These men of the “Me Generation” had come home to the sneers and backhanded comments of the men of the “Greatest Generation,” their fathers’ era. They had supposedly been the first Americans to lose a war. However, instead of the defensive apparel donned by some vets (“We were winning when I left”), they wore their loss for all to see, pride mingling with a sardonic sense of humor.