Cold War-era vets reflect as some of eldest in U.S. who have served
As World War II veterans die, people who served before 1980 reflect on becoming the eldest veterans in the country.
The average age of Korean War vets is in the late 80s, and the average age of Vietnam veterans is in the mid-70s, according to government estimates. Both wars were part of the larger Cold War — the United States' half-century struggle to prevent the spread of communism from the Soviet Union and China.
As he watched the Veteran’s Day parade in downtown Tulsa on Friday, Vietnam Air Force veteran Terry Schneider said the changing demographic is apparent to him through volunteering with Veterans' Affairs in Broken Arrow.
“There’s a lot of Vietnam vets,” he said. “It’s an honor to be a part of it — I kind of wished I had gotten to be more involved, but I served right at the tail end.”
Korean War veteran James Metcalf served with the Marines. He first served there in post-World War II efforts in 1947, and then again when the U.S. fought to curb the spread of communism into the country in 1951.
At 96, he still made it out to the parade.
“Anyplace I go, I’m close to the oldest one there, but I’m still going,” he said.
Metcalf says the public’s attitude toward serving in the military is different than it was in the 1950s.
“There seemed to be a more patriotic feeling among the young folks then than there is now,” he said. “It was just something that you should do, and felt obligated to do, for your country.”
Metcalf said he didn’t know why youth are less patriotic today, but said “it’s the way things happen.”
At the parade, Metcalf stood next to the guard rail wearing a hat that read “Korea veteran.” There, he met and talked to other veterans standing nearby.
One of them was Lisa Elliott, who served in the Navy in the years after the Vietnam War. She said her time in the military — especially serving in Japan — taught her how to respect people of all cultures and walks of life.
Like Metcalf, Elliott says the military has changed from when she served. She talks about this often with her son-in-law, who also serves in the Navy.
But Elliott says some differences make for better soldiers.
“Back in the Vietnam day, I hate to say it, a lot of people went in so they didn’t get drafted, so they could pick and choose where they wanted to go. Nowadays, people go into it because they want to serve their country. So that in itself is a big difference,” she said. “They’re not made to do it — they’re doing it because they want to do it, and so therefore, they pay a lot more attention to what they’re doing. They’re proud of what they do. Not that we weren’t, but I mean, I think that’s probably the major difference.”
“If you’re called to serve, do it proudly, because that’s what we do,” Schneider said.