Opinion: Band of brothers
I found the article to be somewhat bewildering (not Mr. Woog's fault), not surprising as I have not observed a war in which there were greater misconceptions, even among some veterans.
I spent one year in Vietnam in C Company 5th of the 60th Mechanized Infantry (later renamed Bandido Charlie) and C company 3rd of the 39th Infantry of the 9th Infantry Division, stationed in the Mekong Delta. When I returned, my brother went over as a medic for a one year tour.
I would like to offer my experience and observations of that conflict:
Two-thirds of the soldiers who served in Vietnam were volunteers. The other third, like my myself were drafted. Of those drafted, there was always some way out. My brother ended his student deferment in sympathy for me. My father, like many others, could have gotten both of us out from going overseas.
My own personal feeling is that anyone who really felt it was not worth going, should not have. I hold nothing against those who found a way out, as long as they do not degrade those who served.
During my tour I did not observe anyone being raped. Generally, Vietnamese civilians were treated with respect and enemy prisoners taken were treated decently in the two units I served with. If there was massive destruction in Vietnam, it was mainly because the enemy chose to fight it out in crowded cities or in a civilian area.
Of the 3,000,000 U.S. soldiers who served in Vietnam, only some 300 ground personnel came back as released prisoners of war. That would tell you what my fellow soldiers and I already were aware of -- the enemy we fought took no prisoners. On the body recovery missions I went out on, none of the GIs recovered showed signs of torture or disfigurement, but none of us were taken prisoner.
Many of my close friends are Vietnam veterans. All of them were gainfully employed and none psychotic. If any of us were living in a cardboard box, we would blame it on ourselves, and not for having served our country. When I first returned home I was a bit naïve at first, but then found a good number of people claiming to have been in Vietnam were never any closer to it than having watched a "Jungle Jim" movie. I am especially suspicious of any of those dressed in ragged clothing and acting weird. I would invite anyone to the Veterans Administration Hospital in New Haven and point out one veteran, Vietnam or otherwise in such a condition.
Of course there certainly are exceptions to the manner in which I have portrayed U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. To find them you need only to turn to Hollywood. The more craven their depiction, the greater the acclaim.
I would tell you, as a Vietnam veteran, that having been degraded and demonized on stage, screen and television for a period of 20 years after that war was very painful. However, I have nothing but praise for the men and women of our armed forces who fought and are still engaged in the fighting in the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. They have brought dignity and honor to our armed forces and nation. I am grateful to the people of this nation and the media for having finally learned that whatever their feeling about government policy, they should never take it out on the young men and women whose blood, sweat and tears have to pay for it.
If any veteran feels a lack of sympathy for their service, I would point to my father, who having sailed in frightful peril for four years in the Merchant Marine during WWII was only recently recognized, along with his fellow Mariners, as a Veteran of Foreign Wars by a grateful U.S. Congress. Only this year at age 90, 60years after World War 11, was he awarded five medals by a grateful government for his service.
If it were taken in context of the victory of the free world in the Cold War, it is my firm conviction that no soldier died in vain in Vietnam or Korea.
If anyone wishes to justify the North Vietnamese takeover, then they would have to justify to me the concentration camps in which South Vietnamese officers perished after the war, the half million dead boat people, and the last free election in Vietnam.
As for Vietnam today, I have the utmost faith in the Vietnamese people. Intelligent and industrious, I believe one day they will cast off the yoke of dictatorship. One day they will determine their own form of government and will elect the people they want to govern them.
On that day the Vietnam war will be over.
It was the worst of tragedies that so many young men and women, 60,000 Americans and allies, 200,000 South Viets, 1,000,000 Viet Cong and North Viets and allies all died, and for the same reason: to free Vietnam.
Yes, there are many people screwed up from that war, so many sad, hopeless cases around the country. But with a small exception, they are not Vietnam veterans.
If you attend the Memorial Day Parade you may see the Vietnam veterans, in whatever uniform they choose, marching proud and proper, not for themselves, but for their fallen friends and comrades. You may be assured, they will continue to do so, proud and proper.
They have nothing to be ashamed of.
Lawrence B. Tirreno is a Westport resident.