Second Lieutenant Jack Rine of the U.S. Marine Corps was serving as infantry platoon commander during the Vietnam War when tragedy struck. Rine was communicating with the company commander under heavy gunfire when he felt an intense pain in his left side. Looking down, he discovered what he dreaded most—a bullet wound.
Seconds later, Rine lost consciousness and was medivaced to the spinal cord center of the VAMC. There, he was told the tragic news that he would never be able to walk again. As an avid runner and athlete, this was a devastating blow that would permanently change his life.
“I never thought I’d be a paraplegic. In fact, I didn’t know what the word meant until the day I got wounded. I spent 10 days in intensive care on a hospital ship before getting to the VA, and I guess that’s when it began to really hit me,” Rine says.
At the time of his hospitalization, the VA was inundated with injured veterans seeking claims. Amidst the chaos, Rine’s claim for full benefits was overlooked—leaving him with only partial compensation. Luckily, Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) was there to act as Rine’s representative and help him get the full benefits that the VA missed.
“When Paralyzed Veterans stepped in as my representative and went to bat for me, the claim was adjusted. That’s it in a nutshell.”
But the struggles for Rine persisted even after his hospitalization. The late 60s was a volatile period consumed by public outcry against the Vietnam War. Rine was faced daily with the animosity of many anti-war activists while trying to earn his associate’s degree.
Rine also faced campus accessibility challenges. The facilities of the campus were not upgraded to adequately meet the needs of disabled students, and he was eventually left with no other option but to transfer to a different school.
“I couldn’t get to some of the classrooms in those days because there were no elevators to the second deck and no way to get up the steps” Rine remembers.
Unfortunately, Rine’s story is not unique. Thousands of injured Vietnam veterans experienced similar challenges when they came home. In 2011, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution to provide these veterans with the chance at a proper welcome. Recognizing the final withdrawal date of all combat and combat-support troops from Vietnam, March 30th honors these veterans by its designation as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”
“When Vietnam Veterans came home 50 years ago they didn’t get the kind of welcome that veterans get today. What [we] tried to do today was to welcome home all those Veterans and make sure that they felt the thanks and appreciation that Veterans today feel,” said former VA Secretary Bob McDonald, who was instrumental in getting the commemorative day established.
Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day marked a pivotal moment in American history. It was a moment where American perceptions of military service shifted. All veterans are now more likely to be treated with honor and respect after returning home from the war.
Rine remains grateful for Paralyzed Veterans’ support. He maintains an active lifestyle and participates in several Paralyzed Veterans’ sponsored events such as the wheelchair games, bass fishing, and shooting sports. It is because of donor support, that these programs can continue to operate free-of-charge for disabled veterans. Programs such as PAVE, Mission: ABLE, and adaptive sports help disabled veterans such as Rine rebuild their lives after catastrophic injuries. By helping them to find jobs and participate in sporting events, they rediscover a sense of purpose.
We will never be able to change the animosity Vietnam veterans faced when returning home after the war. We can, however, show our appreciation and support of their service during Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day—and every day of the year. This March 30th, honor the veterans you know by giving them the thanks that they deserve.