Today, my good friend and fellow editor, Jim W. Dean, of Heritage TV in Atlanta; sent me an article on Vietnam by James Webb, a Marine with a Navy Cross, Silver Star and Bronze Star. I read the article. I am flabbergasted. The best thing I can say is I hope someone else wrote it. It is offensive and simply insane.
We had been told while training that Marine officers in the rifle companies had an 85 percent probability of being killed or wounded, and the experience of “Dying Delta,” as our company was known, bore that out. Of the officers in the bush when I arrived, our company commander was wounded, the weapons platoon commander wounded, the first platoon commander was killed, the second platoon commander was wounded twice, and I, commanding the third platoons fared no better. Two of my original three-squad leaders were killed, and the third shot in the stomach. My platoon sergeant was severely wounded, as was my right guide. By the time I left, my platoon I had gone through six radio operators, five of them casualties.
Another quote I don’t entirely understand.
The Greatest Generation? Think about it they fought a unpopular war, came Home were spit on, called names, their Fathers Generation had nothing to do with them and yet though it all these so called no good cry babies who could not win a war (Thanks to their Fathers and Mothers Generation) fought the biggest war of their life and is still fighting it today.
Every time I hear about “airport spitters” I think of draft dodger, Sylvester Stallone, playing Rambo, the whining cry baby of movie fame. Whoever wrote and directed that must really have hated America. Every time I hear the airport spitter myth I know I am being played. For those of you who know nothing about PTSD, spitting on a combat veteran is a form of suicide. Pointing an empty shotgun at a SWAT team is considered safe and sensible in comparison.
I was a Marine grunt in Vietnam. I served with 2nd squad, 2nd platoon of BLT 1/26, a Marine Special Landing Team. I won’t call myself a hero. In fact, no real Marine would. It is considered an insult to call a Marine a hero, always has been. Let’s talk about “Dying Delta.” That would be Delta Company, 1/26. We also had a unit called “The Walking Dead” which was 1st Bn, 9th Marines. Frankly, these were just names people made up. I can talk a bit about Delta, though. Back during the summer of ’69, Delta Company was set up on a perimeter a couple of clicks inland between Hoi An and Chu Lai. We were operating, supposedly, with the Korean Marines. In truth, they were living on ships, and we were fighting. This is how Americans buy their allies. This was war like TV, bayonet charges, death every day, continual combat.
Delta had been surrounded by a large force of North Vietnamese Army troops, maybe numbering in the thousands. This was like the movie Zulu, for those familiar with such things. The area had once been French, half destroyed villages here and there and abandoned plantations, even hedge rows like in Normandy, except temperatures well over 100 degrees with stifling humidity. Delta had sent out a patrol that had gotten past a hedge row and was ambushed. Our squad was called in to get them. We had three Amtracks, huge lumbering vehicles that picked us up and brought us to the other side of the hedge row, where we could hear the wounded on the other side. This was a wild ride, several kilometres cross country — but I am getting ahead of myself.
The night before, our unit had been attacked for hours. I had dug into the soft sand so deep that Harris and I, Lance Corporal Eddie Lee Harris, could have been accused of trying to get back home. Our position was eventually overrun, with Harris and I spending some time hiding out from the North Vietnamese, still in our hole. We pulled sand over us and waited for our guys to come back. We laughed about it in the morning. I remember it raining then. I took out my poncho, tied it between trees and filled a canteen with rain water. Water and ammunition, run out of either one, you are dead.
We got a radio message to prepare to move out immediately. We were waiting for the Amtracks to pick us up. We were told “dying Delta” was in trouble and we had to save them. We had just barely saved ourselves. It was called a “suicide mission.” Drama. Marines do a lot of drama. The unfunny part was burning our mail, our photographs, making sure we had nothing to identify us. There was an ominous feeling about this.
The “tracks” ran over trees as we careened through old buildings, through swamps. We sat on top of the tracks, old .30 caliber Browning machine-guns with sandbags holding down the tripods on each. More sand bags gave us cover. This was a fascinating run, lots to see, and we weren’t walking. We climbed off the tracks, sand, cactus, and what I will call “hedge rows” but really embankments separating fields, maybe 8 feet tall with bike paths on them.
I had Bill Eckard behind me and Ed Harris next to him when I hit the top of the berm to go across and get the wounded. I could see two or three of the Delta guys on the ground ahead maybe 30 feet. They weren’t moving. I stopped abruptly when several anti-aircraft rounds came past me. They had a big gun out there. It was like having a bus nearly hit you. A Navy corpsman ran up next to me, meaning to head over the berm and down to what we hoped were wounded. The next thing I remember was him being hit and coming apart. A couple of months ago, I went over this with Bill Eckard, who is also one of our staff writers. Bill says he was hit by an RPG, a rocket propelled grenade. I lost a little chunk of time then and remember nothing between then and several minutes later, or what I guess were “minutes.”
This wasn’t one of our corpmen but this was a Medal of Honor guy by any standards. I am still waiting for my “idiot standing next to him” award. We then drew back down along the “safe” side of the berm, spread out and talked about how to deal with this. We knew we had one heavy weapon or more in front and maybe another to the right, maybe out 80 to 200 metres and were taking small arms fire from almost everywhere. The answer? Harris took a fire team around to flank the guns, hit them from the left while we fixed bayonets, waited for Harris to get into place and went over the top, right out of World War I. This may have been America’s last bayonet charge, or at least I hope so.
After advancing successfully, we turned back to get the wounded and dead. We were under heavy fire with one man getting hit in the abdomen in the process. I picked him up and carried him back while I could see Harris continuing to advance on the gun crew from the left flank. He was a total maniac, a frightening son of a bitch. We were best friends, still are. Harris left Vietnam without any personal decorations although I saw him earn three Medals of Honor there. Eckard has a Silver Star and a handful of Purple Hearts for which he paid dearly, losing both legs and part of an arm. Eckard writes for us also and is as tough as he ever was, maybe more so. He spent 34 years fighting the VA, retiring as Director of the Prosthetics Division. I am proud of him, much more for that than Vietnam.
The guy I was carrying had stopped moving, moaning. He was dying, though his wound looked so small. Human life isn’t always appreciated as it should be, something I remember thinking at the time.
I got to the side of an Amtrack and, with some help, we got him onboard. He was a KIA as were others lined up on the ground. War is funny, anyone who tells you they remember everything is a liar. I remember seeing journalists show up, Life Magazine, taking photographs of the dead and wounded.
Then things went very wrong. We could see people, “indigenous forces” or whoever, coming out of a treeline. We flanked them, now they flanked us. Everyone, and I don’t remember who “everyone” was, pulled back except the rear guard, us. I remember turning, firing occasionally, really at nothing. I remember how hard it is to reload an M-16 or to clear a jam when being shot at in the open. Shaking hands were part of the problem.
When I got my weapon functioning, I turned around and noted that my associates had managed to put 200 meters between themselves and me in what I imagined was two seconds. I suspect I was fumbling with my “failed” experimental assault rifle a bit too long. How do you describe being shot at? It really doesn’t seem that personal. It isn’t “at” anything. It’s simply metal stuff flying around everywhere like mosquitoes but bigger, some of it very big, very fast and capable of hitting you anywhere, not like in cowboy movies. You get hit and parts come off. I had seen that. There is a feeling of vulnerability that is hard to describe, at least to someone that hasn’t “been there.”
There was a cemetery about 30 yards away, French, with large monuments, angels, weird stuff like that. Who would want to be buried in such a miserable place? By that time, I was genuinely frightened. Things weren’t looking good for me at all. The air seemed to have lost all its oxygen. Time was stopping, and I felt like I was turning into lead. I ran, though I swear it was slow motion, to the cover of the cemetery, not much cover but better than nothing.
I laid down on a grave, behind a tombstone, maybe made of aging concrete. Chunks of it were flying off as it was being hit. I remember flattening out, holding my head sideways, arms out, trying to be invisible, sink into the ground if possible. It was easy to tell they had a heavy weapon. This was a .51 caliber anti-aircraft gun. Remembering the difference, when a half pound of lead heads past you, that part is easy. We use this kind of weapons on others all the time now. They are quite devastating.
I would like to say I was firing back, changing magazines. I don’t remember doing that. Assume I was, it sounds better. What I remember next is looking up and seeing an Amtrack a few feet away, looking over me. The driver crawled out the hatch, no shirt, no helmet, just an M-14. He stood on top of the track at least 8 feet in the air above me, assumed the “off hand” position, the perfect rifle firing stance, and began putting fire on the enemy gun crew, fire I could tell was dead on. This was the day’s third Medal of Honor, another one not awarded. Years ago I actually heard from this guy.
He thought nothing of it but wondered who it was he was saving. “We did this kind of thing all the time,” not every day but often, too often. This is the job. I remember him writing, “You guys did all the hard stuff, I was just a driver.”
When reading James Webb’s story I get angry. The highest ranking person at that action died. It was the Navy corpsman killed next to me. He was an E-5. There wasn’t a single officer in that action or so many others, endless others in Vietnam. I went six months without ever seeing an officer. Our units were run by Lance Corporals and occasionally Corporals. It wasn’t always that way and it wasn’t true of all units but it was true of most units. Webb’s story is simply self-serving.
This quality of command was a discussion question from 1993 to 1999 on AOL’s Military History section. Hundreds of Vietnam veterans participated with many giving accounts of great officers, particularly early in the war and many — most — indicating that officers and staff NCO’s had become oblivious and showed poor morale, something we saw with some consistency. As Marines, we seldom went out in units larger than a squad with typical squad strength, down to as little as five men eventually. We had an officer with us once, out to get his “bronze star” patrol, the once-in-a-tour-day-in-the-field, a casual walk to the safest local village we could find. He threw up from the heat, couldn’t keep up. We made sure he couldn’t keep up, actually. Harris still laughs about this.
If you didn’t go out every day, there was no way you could stay up with a combat unit that was out 7 days a week. We didn’t enjoy dragging tourists around with us.
For us, it didn’t matter, platoon or company. Our officers and NCOs were back at our fire base, one we visited only rarely. I saw our platoon sergeant in the field once, trussed up with a helmet, flak jacket and camouflage blouse, sleeves rolled down. He had never worn any of it before and looked like a clown. These stories about brave officers leading men in combat are quite humorous. I think of the HBO series, Band of Brothers, the story of Easy Company, 505 PIR, 101st Airborne, in World War II. We never had an officer like Lt. Winter. Maybe Webb was like Winter — but if he were, I couldn’t imagine he would have written something so utterly divorced from reality. I thank Tom Hanks and Steven Spieberg for their fine effort.
We could call the problem morale or corruption. It goes further, much further. When the unit’s food was sold for drugs and sex or for cash, a routine that went on every day in Vietnam, our officers were silent. When men lost, not 20% of body weight but 40%, malnutrition, malaria or combat wounds never treated, our officers said nothing. They would simply assign patrols to areas they had never been and knew nothing of, unaware of the war, the enemy or anything relevant to their jobs. We would roll our eyes back in our heads, take off and fight the war, knowing nobody cared, nobody wanted to know and that a separate little world that involved driving back into DaNang in jeeps, visiting “the club,” taking in movies and eating specially secured food existed parallel to ours.
This was a world of polished jeeps and helicopters, fine china, sterling silver, teenage prostitutes carefully screened for “cleanliness,” a world of ignorance, corruption and incompetence. Imagine not knowing the name of your platoon commander because you never met him or her? They could have been women for all we knew. I am reminded of the scene from Apocalypse Now. Martin Sheen gets off his boat and heads ashore. A unit is under attack near a bridge. He stops a soldier, “Son, who is in command here?” The response, “I thought you were?”
French author, Bernard Fall, wrote a book called Two Vietnams. I had actually read Fall’s books before going to Vietnam, which made him one of us. Fall had no idea how far America would take the concept, though. We had two Vietnams. Real Marines, Army, and Vietnamese, the farmers, the Viet Cong, the NVA, we lived in one of them. The other Vietnam? There was a huge underworld of clubs, swimming pools, black market, visiting congressmen being treated to the perversion of the day. Medals by the thousand were given to people who hadn’t spent a minute in combat or who were removed from command for incompetence. Our rare and occasional ventures into the rear made us sick. We were looked at like freaks, walking skeletons with long hair, wearing rags and openly hostile and disrespectful to those who were used to something different. We were no longer “with the program.”
American soldiers sacrificed, gave their lives, their health, all, not just for nothing but to be dishonored by a pack of professional liars who have spent every moment of the last four decades patting themselves on the back for their heroics. There were two Vietnams. There are also two kinds of vets. A lot of us came back and never got “with the program.” It seemed like the honorable way of dealing with dishonor.
What kind of officer woudn’t notice that the turkey dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas had been sold at DaNang’s black market, called “Three Corners,” and men, even in the “rear eschelon” were fed fatty liverwurst and stale bread, not just stale but moldy? In the field, it was canned garbage, a decade over the expiration date. The officers got turkey with all the trimmings, the men got nothing. Nobody said a word. The only war our leaders were trained for was “class war.”
If you would like to know the primary concern among command personnel in Vietnam, I will tell you. It was “staying alive.” The reason? Hate. Marines hated their senior NCOs, many of them at least. Some, I admit, were exceptional people, combat vets from World War II and Korea. One of my favorites, Master Sergeant Miller W. Scott, from Tennessee, the picture perfect Marine, tough as hell. Scott would reluctantly sit with me and complain about what the Marine Corps had become. It was his job to get me to accept a commission, something I had been refusing. Scott, a combat vet from Korea, hated being surrounded by racists, drunks and some seriously fat people, our senior staff NCOs. He knew how much money they were making, selling our food, our equipment and maybe our weapons. The military in Vietnam was ruled by a Mafia of NCO’s, a group that started out running drugs through the enlisted clubs in Germany, who carried their “infrastructure” to Vietnam. Eventually Marines caught on, using the term “Marine” blasphemously.
Many Marine bases had special high security compounds for the officers and staff NCOs to live in, protected from their own troops. We will never know how many were murdered by their own men but minimally ten times more than reported. A “fragging” death quickly became a “mortar attack.” A claymore mine under a bed was called a “rocket attack.” Many bases saw more combat inside the wire than out with gunfire regularly erupting between African American troops and senior NCOs from regions of the country where virtual slavery was still practiced openly.
Undercover CID operatives were infiltrated into units, drug dogs were brought out to remote fire bases and “good ole southern boy” NCOs would creep around at night or hide in the bushes trying to catch “brothers” smoking marijuana. It had become a “juicer versus doper” war. Rear areas became a battleground of aging drunks against cooks, radio operators and clerks while combat troops were permanently kept in the field out of fear they would join the “insurrection” against “whitey.” Many officers and NCOs thought combat troops were Viet Cong sympathizers or members of terrorist groups like the White Panthers or Weathermen. They were right.
In order to feel safe, units were kept in the field 30 days a month, resupplied by jeep or helicopter with perimeter security handled by cooks, radio operators and clerks, often moving from typewriter to hand to hand combat. Combat operations had become impossible with open warfare between black and white, urban and rural, educated and “professional military” overshadowing anything else going on.
If this isn’t the way you heard it told, its time you started paying attention to different people.
The real Marines were my friends, some “grunts,” some aircraft mechanics, two good friends running a water purification facility, driving trucks, working and fighting.
In the middle of writing this, I just finished reading General Stanley McChrystal’s final report on Afghanistan, released only by anewspaper in Britain. It reports what I, and so many others, have been writing about all along — the total failure of American efforts to support Karzai. However, this detailed and intelligently written report makes no mention of the $65 billion drug business in Iraq closely tied to the Karzai regime. McChrystal talks about massive corruption — remember, this is corruption in his own command — but does so only in a passing shot. Why didn’t he jail the thousands involved when he was there? Why can’t he see an opium poppy?
Are Americans simply looking away or, as in Vietnam, are many taking part? What are we covering up?
But, compared to the stories from Vietnam, the “whitewash” and baloney, this McChrystal report is a breath of fresh air and honesty. It is also “too little, too late.”
America has abandoned troops before. Valley Forge was the start but isn’t, and won’t, be the finish. When Senators McCain and Kerry, “heroes” of Vietnam, fought to block efforts to return/recover our POWs from Vietnam, their corruption, so blatant, was never reported and only rewarded, never punished. We put medals on our trash, put it in congress or promote it to the highest levels of the Pentagon. Lying about Vietnam is part of why we are in Iraq and Afghanistan now. The scum rose to the top because we stopped valuing the truth.
If you wonder why we can fight a ten year war, one we have done so much worse in than Vietnam, spent a hundred times as much money and yet hear nothing about it, think of the heavily decorated officers building careers for themselves, perhaps even heading on to the senate. How can there be nobody at all, military, congress or the press, telling the truth about what is going on? Why is everyone telling the same lies? Who has that kind of power? Can drug money control not only our military but press as well?
I can still picture Vietnam, seeing a Marine rifle squad heading across the rice paddies in the distance, into the hills. Behind them, miles behind, lay the city of DaNang. I will always remember being a part of one of those squads. I remember sitting out in the hills, looking back toward the city in the distance. One day we sat four hours, watching the air base. Planes took off, one after another, looped around a mile off the end of the runway and dropped bombs in an empty field. This went on endlessly, with pilots flying “sorties” or “bombing missions” against “enemy targets.” We had one empty hillside burned black from constant bombing. Nothing had ever been there but thousands of tons of bombs, napalm, had been dropped on it. It was close, safe, convenient. I wonder how many generals had “made their bones” bombing that blackened rock?
If you have seen photographs of Vietnam with fields looking cratered like the moon, this field off the end of the runway was the place. The unexploded bombs left here would be picked up by the Viet Cong and used for booby traps or, as they are called now, IEDs. These bombs killed many of my friends and one nearly got me. The Air Force delivered endless tons of high explosives to our enemies like this. Naval gunfire was the same way. Aging, left over ammunition, unexploded, defective until wired as booby traps, could be found everywhere. Most American casualties came from weapons made from defective American munitions.
So much of the war was “pretend.” Army units were sent into hopeless attacks, flown into enemy strongholds because it fit a news cycle or a VIP needed entertainment. All that was needed to “sex up” any disaster was a typewriter. You could spread casualties out over weeks, add hundreds of imaginary killed enemy and a bungling coward just earned a Silver Star for killing off a dozen Americans. The lessons the military learned in Vietnam, lie often, lie big, have been generously applied to the War on Terror. Israel has built a culture out of this practice.
We had our two Vietnams. One involved a war, one we fought with no food, defective weapons, no fire support, no air support, hopelessly outnumbered while the other Vietnam partied on. Tens of thousands of our “leaders” lived in such comfort and excess in Vietnam it is a wonder they would ever leave. Keeping Max Cleland, a real soldier, out of government was important. We remember that one too.
We had two Vietnams. One involved good and decent people who fought with honor, cared for their friends, showed decency and humanity every day, soldiers who are almost all gone, killed in war or dead or dying as veterans. The others? We know who you are. You have gotten away with decades of deception. You were bunglers, cowards and thieves. You are not forgiven. You fill our golf courses, yacht basins, “bankster” investment firms.
For four decades I have run into phony veterans, guys with no military service but a wealth of war stories, gleaned from the imaginary world of movie and TV baloney. The numbers? Maybe 4-500. In 2004, during Rolling Thunder, Henry Sullivan, an Army medic, and I polled one group of “Vietnam Veterans” while on the yearly motorcycle run to Washington DC. In a room of 200, there were three Vietnam vets. Henry and I were two of them. People who were, to Henry and I, “vet groupies” were being continually thanked for their service by kind people donating food and drink to what they thought were Vietnam combat vets decked out in ribbons, medals and “biker gang” regalia.
This week, President Obama, in response to what can only be described as “bizarre” policies by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the handling of not only medical care for veterans but disability compensation processing for PTSD victims, announced he was “loosening” policy restrictions. His new “policy” is nothing new. He is, in fact, requiring Veterans Affairs, to comply with its own rules as they have existed for decades, rules they have never complied with. All of this, of course, is to give recently returning veterans, whose “meltdown” is now a national disgrace, a better chance at survival.
Mr. President, this isn’t quite good enough, not by a long shot.
A flurry of questions have come in about this new ruling, almost every one from a Vietnam veteran denied disability though diagnosed with PTSD. The stories read like so many we have seen for decades — missing files, lost documents, appeals denied for incomprehensible reasons, compensation exams that resembled inquisitions. For every recent returning vet claiming PTSD, and we have nearly 400,000, we have 3 Vietnam vets whose claims were wrongly denied and whose children were denied educational benefits, families that lived in poverty for decades.
Just because America abused and neglected Vietnam veterans for decades and got away with it, doesn’t mean we have forgotten.
Most of the children are adults. Most of the Vietnam veterans who filed claims are dead. With 711,000 “Vietnam survivors” out of 2.9 million, (2009 figure) the problem seems to be correcting itself, as members of our government would like to think. Those who could have done something about it, the senators, the highly decorated rear eschelon “Perfumed Princes of the Pentagon,” the real “heroes” of every war, were then, and continue to be, silent, almost to a one.
Never in the history of warfare have so many owed so much and done so little to deserve it. Why do you think we are holding up combat operation in Afghanistan? When we destroy our veterans, we kill our military.
In Vietnam, as with Afghanistan, we sent an army to a hopeless war led by the most corrupt leadership in America’s history.
In Vietnam, a generation of Americans was systematically destroyed, with the best and brightest of the generation “doing time” in Vietnam, combat units, while “bottom feeders” sat in Saigon and DaNang. Those shirkers and “no accounts” have given us the America we have today — broke, addicted to propaganda and fear, obsessed with safety, a generation ducking responsibility and leadership, borrowing from tomorrow to steal today.
The number of members of congress who ducked Vietnam through imaginary illness, special arrangements for “safe” National Guard units or simply deferment after deferment created a list of “chickenhawks” that became a national shame. Those that ducked service in Vietnam were the first to push for war after war for the children of those who fought. Who would have imagined this or have believed they could have gotten away with it?
There is a great national movement to forget Vietnam, pay off our current abused “volunteer army” that ten years of war has utterly destroyed and cover up the sins of the past. President Obama believes that fixing a problem 40 years late is enough. I don’t agree. Every vet who was denied 30 or 40 plus years of help, whose kids went without health care, clothing, food, college money or a stable home environment is owed. This is a debt, a real debt that we can put a price tag on. We may not be able to pay the vets, bring them back from the dead, but we can reimburse their children for the suffering our crimes have caused. We now have a generation of “collateral damage,” victims of Vietnam and government duplicity, now raising families of their own. With Vietnam, we started a chain reaction of bitterness, poverty and despair that must be addressed.
We pay for that first, before we buy another weapon, no more aircraft carriers, useless transport aircraft, unusable bombers or new military golf courses.
Only when we recognize the real cost of war will we understand how to live in peace and security.