Remembering Vietnam

by H. Thomas Hayden on February 25, 2013

For some reason around the end of February each year I think of the time I was serving in the Republic of Vietnam and the TET Offensive. That would be 45 years ago this month. It seems like just last year.

Part of the reason I remember this month in 1968 is that I received two Purple Hearts and other assorted decoration – Vietnamese and American. But most of all I remember the men we lost and the friends who survived and the Vietnamese counterpart friend for life. My lifelong Vietnamese friend and I just happened to have lunch in Los Angeles just a couple weeks ago. He is the only person I’m still regularly in touched with whom I served with.

What is there to remember about Vietnam?

Senator James Webb (D-VA) and former USMC Vietnam vet wrote this in 2000:

“The most accurate poll of their (Vietnam vets) attitudes (Harris, 1980) showed that 91 percent were glad they’d served their country, 74 percent enjoyed their time in the service, and 89 percent agreed with the statement that “our troops were asked to fight in a war which our political leaders in Washington would not let them win.” And most importantly, the castigation they received upon returning home was not from the World War II generation, but from the very elites in their age group who supposedly spoke for them.

“Nine million men served in the military during Vietnam War, three million of whom went to the Vietnam Theater. Contrary to popular mythology, two-thirds of these were volunteers, and 73 percent of those who died were volunteers.

“Those who believe the war was fought incompletely on a tactical level should consider Hanoi’s recent admission that 1.4 million of its soldiers died on the battlefield, compared to 58,000 total U.S. dead.”

It was the most costly war the U.S. Marine Corps has ever fought: five times as many dead as World War I, three times as many dead as in Korea, and more total killed and wounded than in all of World War II.

Then there were the returning POWs: According to the Air Force, Operation Homecoming returned 591 POWs: 325 Air Force personnel, 77 Army, 138 Navy, 26 Marines and 25 civilians. The number unaccounted for and still missing are approximately 1200.

No I do not believe that our 1970 political leaders were totally responsible for causing the Republic of Vietnam to lose the conventional war with the North (notice I did not say caused us to lose the war – I don’t believe we lost the war but we sure let our Vietnamese allies down and then we probably both lost everything).

I am one who totally agrees with Lewis Sorely who wrote Westmorland: The General Who Lost Vietnam, who clearly and precisely enunciates the principle reason the US campaign was flawed and set the stage for the ultimate failure of us all. Westmoreland’s strategy was one of attrition and it was the wrong strategy from the start. Gen Creighton Abrams, USA, tried to correct this when he replaced Westmoreland but then it was too late.

The icon and legendary TV reporter Walter Cronkite, CBS TV, certainly had a hand in turning many against the war. But how can you blame him after he had been fed false or inaccurate reports on the war until the TET Offensive bust the Westmoreland bubble that held that we were winning it all.

So now we are mired in another war in a far off Afghanistan with our military leaders bouncing from one strategy to another almost yearly and our political leaders haven’t got a clue as to what should be done.

To top all this off the Administration has removed our greatest general of this decade, Gen Jim Mattis, USMC, currently US Central Command Commander.

So at the end of February each year I think of Vietnam and now I dread the same end will come to our wasted treasure and lives – lost and/or broken – in the far off Afghanistan.

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