Were We the Greatest Generation?

When America Destroyed Vietnam Veterans, Did It Seal Their Doom?

Vietnam veterans were taught to hate themselves. When most of us came home, we didn’t know we had lost a war, for some the blame came a decade later, kind of like an Easter surprise and Christmas present rolled into one. One of the first things we knew, the game was stacked against us. I will insert some nasty honesty here. The military we entered was inferior. It was a fat and lazy peacetime service. I joined the “Gomer Pyle Marine Corps,” an elite service capable of training janitors, dishwashers and seaborne waiters. There were “grungy” real Marines floating around, but as with any organization, the hard fighting, hard drinking, OK, boozing, womanizing fighting drunks the corps was famous for didn’t do well in peacetime.

2nd Platoon, 2nd Squad, A Co. 1/26 Marines, Ed Harris doing the camera and Bill Eckard goofing off somewhere with a head wound


We were an odd bunch, college “burn outs” or high school athletes, kids who had been bullied too much, mental defectives (me) and more than a few who served at the convenience of law enforcement, “sentenced” to death in Vietnam. The idea of the death sentence was quite real, Marine casualties in Vietnam were 4 times higher than those in World War II (real numbers), with “grunts” often not lasting 30 days and others being worked to death at every imaginable occupation. I was an engineer, which qualified me as an infantryman. Thus, when I arrived in Vietnam, I joined a rifle squad, in some ways a family, perhaps a dysfunctional one, but the only one of its type I would ever have, maybe the only one of any type I would ever have.

Opting out of a commission, I served as a fire team leader. I am still not sure what that was as our squads were so small, often as few as 5 members, we tended to lack any command structure at all. I still have two guys from my squad around, Ed Harris and Bill Eckard. Bill is a writer at Veterans Today after a 34 year career with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ed fishes and drives a pick-up truck. Ed is the smartest of the group.

With a little bit of room, we are now between 60 and 70 years old. I spent several years helping Vietnam vets write about their experiences and almost two decades counseling veterans. Mostly I learned I knew little about a war I fought. Everyone’s experiences were different, almost as though everyone were in a different war, even a different era. You


could study Vietnam for a century and never really know what the war was like or what it did, good or bad, to those involved.

Good and bad. If I want to remember the bad, I call up Ed or Bill. They remember it all. I block as much out as I can. They also love telling me all the stupid things I did. I hope they are making them up. I am not sure.

Mostly I remember being outside continually, rain, endless walking, opening cans, C-Rations. They weren’t that bad. Sleeping on the ground wasn’t that bad either. We call it “backpacking” now. Vietnam was beautiful but it was deadly also, in a strange way. Things could seem safe, seem normal and then, before you knew something had happened, things had gone awry. Everything I thought I knew about war came from TV. They didn’t have the endless cable channels that do nothing but show war footage. We grew up on movies. About a minute after ending up in the Marine Corps I figured out the movie version was fiction, that and the idea that I may have made a serious mistake.

There is nowhere to go with this. I was one person but now I have to speak for more simply because people read this. It isn’t fair but it is reality. I thought the people I served with would make the world into something amazing. Instead, I am not entirely pleased with how things are. Is it because we were failures in some way or is it because the best of us died?

I know this for sure. We never wanted the wars that are going on now. We don’t like the idea that the volunteer army, whatever they call it, is trained continually, paid more, by our standards overfed, but, if possible, actually treated worse than we were.


That is saying a lot. We were treated like shit.

I was going thru my closet and came on some old photos, poor quality, cheap camera. I shot, at best, two rolls of film in Vietnam, sent them back to the states to be processed. There were people who took thousands of photos, bought the best cameras from PACEX (mail order). Those photos are long lost, nobody cares, same as with the few I have. I will stick one or two up here, I cleaned the nasty white spots off as best I could using PICASA but they are all I have.

Maybe we can do this for others also.

Gordon Duff is the senior editor of Veterans Today. Read other articles by Gordon, or visit Gordon's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on October 16th, 2010 at 7:47am #

    Only an american god and a devil wld approve of calling US invasion/occupation, of a previously divided country by asocialists, “war”.

    Add torture, killing of captives/civilians, use of napalm and u have a good picture of what went on in s.e.asia.
    Of course, 99.99% of americans evaluated as true that a war was going on in vietnam, laos, and cambodia.
    And they haven’t learned anything from butchery in vietnam as they keep believing [or dissemble belief?] that US wages wars in afgh’n and iraq and not murderous raids, occupation, torture, murder, killing civilians, puppetizing yet another divided country.

    In order that ruling class can wage such raids, torture, wmd, etc., it must, in add’n to waging ignorance, also carry out a thorough belittlement and individualization of young men. And the rest is easy.

    But usage of the word “god” is so soothing. Eh, it’s a war out there, and unfortunately, civilians get killed. And we punish our soldiers for excesses! See, we are not as bad as people say! tnx

  2. kalidas said on October 16th, 2010 at 11:54am #

    In every generation of every culture there are great men and women. Individuals who truly are great.
    Great to me means humane, first and foremost.
    I’m not aware of any generation which is or has been “great as a whole.”

  3. Rehmat said on October 17th, 2010 at 5:57pm #

    “Americans know their borders only when they’re under attack,” a 19th century American philosopher.