To generations that man-on-the-street interviews show can't name the two countries that border the United States, don't know whether the U.S. has ever had a female vice president and can't name what percent 11 is of 100, the Vietnam War may well have been fought in the 19th century and resulted in the Declaration of Independence.
But for all but the tail end of baby boomers, once the country's largest generation, they either served in the war, could have served in the war or were afraid they would have to serve in the war.
It was not just a blip in the history books. It was reality.
How that reality must have come flooding back on Tuesday to Larry Taylor, the Signal Mountain man who was awarded the Medal of Honor, the military's highest distinction, by President Joe Biden in a White House ceremony, for his heroics in the war on June 18, 1968.
On that day, the then-Army helicopter pilot, disobeying orders and with no room inside his aircraft, extracted four U.S. soldiers who were running out of ammunition and were surrounded by North Vietnamese troops. Two of the soldiers had to grab onto the Cobra's skids and two onto its rocket pads before the aircraft — taking fire from the ground — lifted off and flew to safety.
Taylor was duly awarded the Silver Star for his actions, but one of the men who was rescued — with the help of many others through the years — thought the effort deserved the military's top distinction. After two turndowns, and with the right type of information finally getting to the right people, the retroactive decision was made to upgrade the award to Taylor.
The Chattanooga native was 26 at the time of his actions, the soldiers he rescued all about 19. Many of today's 19-year-olds seek out the enemy only in their video games, while others seek out college safe rooms because they learned someone who doesn't share their humanistic values has been invited to speak on their campus.
We can all say today in perfect candor that we hope we don't have any more Vietnams, or Iraqs or Afghanistans. With 24-hour news and ubiquitous social media, we often learn far more than we want about what really happens in wars that are initially pitched as the good guys vs. the bad guys. In reality, there's often a lot of gray and a lot we'd just as soon not know about.
But in all conflicts, we are thankful there are Larry Taylors, the individuals who see beyond the victors in battle to their fellow human beings and run (or fly) toward danger instead of away from it. On Tuesday, one of those individuals was recognized for what he claimed was just doing his job but what we now know was putting a premium value on his fellow man.