Vietnam Remembered
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Realities:
It has only been in the last few years that Vietnam Veterans have been acknowledged for their duty rendered to this country. Many cities have built or are building memorials. There have been large parades, church services, major motion pictures, television coverage and probably most important, groups of Vets working through their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Though it be two decades late, I join in to applaud them along with the cheers of millions of Americans. I am deeply ashamed for those who turned their backs and in ignorance wrongly condemned them. Like so many others I was deceived by the media and the underlying philosophies prevalent at the time. Though there were accounts of inexcusable murders and corruption on all sides, the latest statistics prove that the majority of those who fought on the line did so with bravery and compassion. These accounts of the common soldier, under the worst of conditions, were never related to the American public. It seemed to be more of media story to focus on the rarities and corruption. I write as an act of homage towards the men and women who served in Vietnam, those who gave their lives, those who remain missing and those who returned. I honor the courage, sacrifice and devotion to duty and country.

   If we were to believe in the undermining lies our conclusion would be the war was in vain and lives were taken without purpose or reason. It is imperative that we not swallow this! I suggest there was purpose and would like to inform you of some truths. Not a moment of the Vietnam War escaped our Lord, He is always at war with evil. He will use it towards His own glory (Ps. 76:10; For the wrath of man shall praise Thee; With a remnant of wrath Thou shalt gird Thyself.). War is a result of our sin and it is not God's desire for us. He still graciously works with us, even while we wage war. Many will come to the TRUTH by the things they suffer, for even the Son Himself, learned obedience this way. (Heb. 5:8; Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.).

   To this day most people don't understand the true facts of the war and the credit due to the Vets. I have read many times that we didn't lose any battles of substance. Though many American Generals have repeated that so often as to believe themselves, I desire to be accurate and think that the answers are somewhere in the balance of it all. That is the political side and I choose mainly to focus on the human side, however there are some facts to consider.

   We are always quick to hear that 58,000 Americans died, but did you know that 600,000 Communist were killed? Our men and women did not lose the War in Vietnam. Another fact that wasn't heard was that the American Congress abandoned and betrayed our loyal South Vietnamese... watching as North Vietnamese soldiers with Russian tanks and guns invaded and overwhelmed the South.                 

   Another unknown fact is how the United States abandoned the Hmong people of Laos. The Hmong people worked with the CIA and provided valuable information for our bombing raids and fought the NVA to prevent their advancement in Laos. They were a crucial part of the war and many died courageously as our allies. They have been left with a fate of genocide much like the killing fields of Cambodia, which continues to this day. The political attitude of U.S. Congress is summed up in a quote from Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, (D-N. Y.) "to be an enemy of the United Stated can be unpleasant. But to be a friend of the United Sates can be fatal."

   The Communist forces in Vietnam lost every single battle of substance in which they engaged American combat forces! The Reds were often depressed, confused, hurt and fearful. They suffered mass defections... which were hidden from us at the time but were admitted years later. In their disastrous 1972 invasion effort from the North, the alien Communist North Vietnamese lost 50,000 men killed in just 120 days -- with another 50,000 wounded! Their troops became so terrified that Red officers had to chain them inside Russian-supplied tanks and threaten to shoot them if they tried to cut the chains and run away. Despite these threats, dozens of Communist tank-men did exactly that... abandoning their Russian tanks right on the highways with the motors still running and fleeing for their lives.

   The 1968 Tet offensive was also an absolute disaster for the Reds. They had confidently expected the People of South Vietnam to rise up in general revolution and join them. Instead the people pointed out Vietcong terrorists to American and South Vietnamese soldiers... so that an underground the Reds had spent years putting in place was wiped out in a matter of just a few days. Yet America's television and newspaper reporters lied to the american people even while the citizens of south vietnam were celebrating their total victory over the reds at tet in 1968, the American media was telling us that it was a smashing communist victory. As a result, American popular opinion turned against the war. We quit and went home. It was a war American G. I.'s and South Vietnamese ARVN actually won by early 1973 ... only to have America's Congress give it away in 1974 - 1975! (VIETNAM, fall 1988: An Overdue Tribute: Richard Philip Jennett)

   To most Americans, the Vietnam war fits almost perfectly Winston Churchill's famous description of the Soviet Union, "Riddles wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Many years after American involvement in Vietnam began, after the withdrawal of all U. S. military forces there, and after the fall of Saigon, the war there truly remains an enigma- "a perplexing, baffling or seemingly inexplicable matter." Perplexing and baffling it may be, but I do not believe that it is inexplicable. After much reading and listening to the ones that were close to it, I realize there are many complexities that made up Vietnam; it was unique. Within the individual stories and truths are the keys to unlock the enigma. To a remarkable degree the Vietnam war was time and space dependent.

   The truth of an American Army advisor in the Mekong Delta in 1958 was not the truth of a Marine rifleman on the DMZ in 1968. And neither of these truths were that of the river rats of the brown-water Navy, the pilots dodging SAMs in the skies over Hanoi, or of the nurses struggling to save lives in an Evacuation Hospital. There are literally millions of truths about the Vietnam war, for over three million American soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen have served in the Southeast Asia theater from 1964 to 1975 alone, two million five hundred and ninety four thousand within Vietnam itself. Each of these truths form a piece of the Vietnam puzzle. General Fred C. Weyand, the last American commander in Vietnam, said "the fighting abilities of the American servicemen in Vietnam were comparable to those he served with in World War II and Korea, especially in light of the Tet offensive of 1968." (VIETNAM, Premiere Issue, 1988: Editorial - Col Harry G. Summers, Jr.)

   Story after story give accounts of remarkable heroics of those who risked their lives for others. Our sons...our brothers...our friends, their lives touched us all, I would consider it almost criminal to overlook their sacrifice because of deceitful lies. "That others may live" was the motto and daily standard for the Air Force's Rescue Service. It is a heroic and noble ideal and one particularly American in character: The U.S. fighting man is a member of a team and owes his loyalty to that team. Yet, the team also owes loyalty to that single individual. No more clearly was this evident than in the mission of the Air Force's Air Rescue Service, whose mission was so succinctly summed up in this motto: "That others may live."

   Another important fact of the Vietnam war, often neglected, is that it was America's first truly integrated war. Women have fought in all of America's wars, unofficially in early wars and as official members of the Armed Services since 1901 when the Army Nurse Corps was founded. More than 265,000 women served in the military during the Vietnam era, and over 8,000 in Vietnam itself. There were 8 women killed and many wounded. The inclusion of a statue of an Army nurse as part of the Vietnam war memorial in Washington D. C., has stirred up considerable controversy. However it has come to fruition mainly through the determination of Diane Carlson Evans, an army nurse in Vietnam during 1968 and 1969.

  It was also the same for American black service members as well. There is notable recognition of outstanding black soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. However this recognition came at a high price. When the first ground combat units were deployed to Vietnam, a disproportionate number of black service members were serving in front-line Army and Marine infantry units. As a result, they at first suffered a higher percentage of combat fatalities. In 1967 the armed forces made effort to bring down the numbers of black casualties, primarily by reducing the percentage of black soldiers assigned to infantry, armor and cavalry units.

   In his book "AFTER TET" Ronald Spector says "The reasons for the high proportion of black casualties had less to do with Pentagon policies or combat in Vietnam than with the position of blacks in the United States during the mid-1960's. In a country where racial discrimination and, often, formal segregation were still widespread, the armed forces offered blacks, in the words of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, greater career opportunities than they can find in the civilian economy.'" There were other factors involved as well and I strongly recommend the reading of this book. It is probably the best and most accurate I've come across in trying to understand Vietnam and the many questions that it raises.

   The average age of the Vietnam GI was 19.2 years of age, far younger than in the previous wars, W.W.II average was 26. The Vietnam GI was also more educated; nearly one-fifth had received some college. However the ones doing the fighting and dying were never a real cross-section of American youth. It should be known that early studies of the Vietnam GI being ill-educated and at the bottom of society were proven wrong. Later studies showed them to be achievers representing the middle class.

   In an article of the premiere issue of the magazine "VIETNAM "Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. stated "One of the saddest legacies of the Vietnam War is the cruel misperception that the American fighting men there did not measure up to their predecessors in World War II and Korea. Nothing could be farther from the truth." The last comment in the interview was from General Weyand, who said "America should have been proud of them from the start, for they were a remarkable group of young men and women. Now they're finally beginning to get their due, and it's gratifying to see the increased public recognition of the dedication, bravery, and compassion the overwhelming majority of these men and women displayed while they were serving in Vietnam."

   In the Civil War it was referred to as "nostalgia," in W.W.I it was "shell shock," in W.W.II and Korea it was called "battle fatigue." No matter what you call it, the veterans have an unending link with it, unfortunately, some have committed suicide to disconnect that link.

   While talking with Cpl. Ken Davis (1/27 Marines, Co. C, 3rd Platoon), he mentioned that many things can trigger something in your mind; a smell, a sound, a taste that instantly transports you back to Vietnam and its death and destruction. At the bottom of this are angry emotions because he and his friends put their life on the line and were treated wrongly while there and then spat upon and called baby killers when they returned. He often relives the traumatic events and is susceptible to a response of being thrown back into Vietnam at any given time. This also indicates how the family is directly hurt as well.

   While communicating with Ken I was always aware that there was a certain understanding that I didn't have, it is exclusive for those who were there and did the fighting. It was difficult for Ken to try and express it to me, having to relive it and then try to tell it someone who was so distant from it. This is one of the reasons that some veterans have isolated themselves. Not only is it difficult to tell their story, but many cannot and will not understand. Having to live with enormously hard conditions, death and destruction, they shared a certain intimacy. In most cases they will never find that intimacy again, even with their families. These things are more heartfelt and often cannot even be put into words. There is a story of a soldier in the magazine VIETNAM, Dec. 1993, that tells how he remembers a friend he held dying in his hands. He was calling for his Mom, and Eddie Robinson cradled him gently and said "it's okay, Mommy is here." Robinson then said "to this day, I tell my wife, and she understands it, that I can never be close to her in an act of love the way I was holding that kid in my arm!"

   Guilt is often experienced by veterans with PTSD. To this day Ken has been tormented by my brother's death as if he were responsible. In one of his letters he asks for our family's forgiveness for not taking better care of Steve. This seems to be typical for many vets, as if they could have done something or prevented it. In other wars you went over and came back with your unit at a slow pace, in the Vietnam war you could go over alone and back by yourself, with no readjustment time. One day you're in Vietnam fighting and the next you're back home. Then you were on your own to contend with the experiences forever written in your memory. Most family members didn't know how to react, and often treated you in the same way they remembered you. They were arguing over petty things, while the vet's mind was occupied with life-altering experiences. So you can see how it would be easy just to blow-up and try to get away. Friends would ask ignorant questions that could stir much anger. It was a two way street however, the vets needed to try and cope while family and friends needed to understand and accept.

   The returning vets had a new perspective on America now, having stepped outside and then back, they had a deeper view of the American dream. The hypocrisy was now evident in many ways. They were lied to by government, the VA didn't provide for many, and they felt they were ignored. Many had built their defenses and perceived any questions as an assault, experiencing fear, suspicion and withdrawal within themselves. In his book The Grunts Charles R. Anderson says "a large number of veterans came back hating something or someone: the Vietnamese for being so unfathomable. so generally "fucked up"; American politicians for lying to them about why they had to go to Vietnam; hippies for "stabbing us in the back"; and the Joe Blows and their housewives who went about life as usual while the grunts had been counting off their hours and days in the paddies and hills."

   After the devastation of the Vietnam war, then the condemnation from his country and hearing that his buddies died for nothing the veteran desperately needed some psychological anchors to rebuild his life. Most did not find those anchors. Some fell into a period of condemnation, wandering and rage. I believe this is where the statistics of suicide and the institutionalized come from. Many are continually being helped by the love of friends, family and treatment. It will always be a continuing battle.
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Works Cited
BOOKS
Anderson, Charles R. THE GRUNTS: Presidio Press, Novato CA, 

1976 Bowman, John S. THE VIETNAM WAR, AN ALMANAC: World Almanac Publications, New York, 1985. 

Caputo, Philip. A RUMOR OF WAR: Ballantine Books, New York 1978. 

Greene, Bob. HOMECOMING: WHEN THE SOLDIERS RETURNED FROM VIETNAM. Putnam's Sons Publishers, New York, NY, 1989 

Santoli, Al. EVERYTHING WE HAD: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR:

  Ballantine, New York, 1981. Scruggs, Jan C. and Swerdlow, 

Joel L. TO HEAL A NATION, THE VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL: HarperPerennial, 1992. 

Spector, Ronald H. AFTER TET, THE BLOODIEST YEAR IN VIETNAM: The Free Press, A Division of Macmillan, Inc. New York, 1993.


PERIODICALS
Cochran, Ted. "THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE", VIETNAM., Winter 1988.

 Summers, Harry G. Jr. "TOOPS TO EQUAL ANY.", VIETNAM, Premmiere Issue, Summer 1988. _______ "RIDDLES WRAPPED UP IN A MYSTERY INSIDE AN ENIGMA." VIETNAM, Premiere Issue, Summer 1988. _______ "AMERICA'S FIRST TRULY INTERGRATED WAR." VIETNAM, Winter 1988.

 


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