On this Veteran’s day, I want to reflect on Vietnam. No, I did not serve in Vietnam but I might have. I enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17 so I was never subject to the draft. At 18 my Draft Number was 39, which had I been eligible, would have assured my induction in the Army.
As I was shuttled through boot camp oblivious to the process, I was assigned to submarines. I did not know that once selected there is no turning back. It was like jumping out of an airplane. Once you take that step there is no option to turn back. Only the military can be so obstinate. I volunteered for assignment to Nam; they refused. I was assigned to the USS Woodrow Wilson, SSB(N) 624 Blue crew.
I bore you with these details to let you know my perspective. Even though I rode submarines we were all lumped into one large pile of crazed killers. The disrespect shown to our military men and women was disgraceful. We were spit on, slandered, and burned in effigy. Those 18- and 19-year-olds did not want to go to Vietnam to kill or be killed. They did not volunteer. They were drafted, something our children today do not have to fear.
I did not go to Vietnam and would not presume to understand the experience. I have known Nam veterans. Some friends from home and some I met during my naval career. Some were a little crazy, and some were very near normal. Just like many of my submarine shipmates.
None were the evil, black-hearted killers described by Mr. Kerry in his testimony before the House Foreign Relations Committee.
Yes, there was My Lai, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Calley and other atrocities, as sometimes happens in war, but they were the exception, not the rule.
You should visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall in D.C. to see the 50,000 names engraved there. Men killed for reasons that have faded for some. This link says it better than I can.
I am grateful for the honor flights to Washington D.C. for Vietnam vets. A nice gesture. Thankfully, for most, it is not too little, and it is not too late.
The leaders who send men to war bear responsibility for their actions but rarely have to account, or pay for, those actions. The “powers that were” knew they were not fighting to win in Vietnam. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara knew.
The press too, as usual, was against the war. Funny how there are so few positive news stories in recent wars. Not like WWI or WWII. Those were the good wars.
Our soldiers and sailors are not some distant alien force. They are your neighbors. They share many of your experiences. Yes, many have even been to Disney World. Their portrayal as unknowable, heartless automatons who revel in killing is as inaccurate as it is unfair. They are husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers wanting the best for their kids and their nation.
They stand between you and such horror as you cannot imagine. They allow you to fashion your world as you see fit. Men and women who will fight evil are necessary in this world. They keep us safe. They allow us to live our lives free from fear and they allow protests against them, as they remain vigilant.
They serve in silence, at the pleasure of politicians, many of whom would rather not acknowledge them.
They appreciate it when you thank them, but they do not need it. They want respect and a fair treatment. They do what they do because they believe it is the right thing to do, not for thanks.
Most of us never have and never will experience combat. We will not be shot at or have to shoot someone in battle. For that, we can thank God, and the U.S. Military!
One last song – “The Eagle Cried” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ehbc1zU1BwQ