Tags: Facts | and | Parables: | Vietnam | Remembrance

Facts and Parables: Vietnam Remembrance

Saturday, 09 November 2002 12:00 AM

Facts are supposed to be solid and indisputable truths not subject to dispute. Facts are hard, fast and cold, which no amount of emotional or irrational analysis can manipulate into being untrue, even though some will attempt it. The facts of Vietnam are:

58,148 Americans were killed and 304,000 wounded out of 2.59 million who served.

The average age of those killed in Vietnam was 23.11 years.

50,274 were enlisted, average age 22.37.

6,598 were officers, average age 28.43.

1,276 were warrant officers (NCOs), average age 24.73 years.

11,465 were less than 20 years old.

The average infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II saw about 40 days of combat in four years. The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year, thanks to the mobility of the helicopter.

One out of every 10 Americans who served in Vietnam was a casualty. Although the percentage who died is similar to other wars, amputations or crippling wounds were 300 percent higher than in World War II. 75,000 Vietnam veterans are severely disabled.

91 percent of Vietnam veterans say they are glad they served.

74 percent said they would serve again even knowing the outcome.

From 1957 to 1973 the National Liberation Front assassinated 36,725 South Vietnamese and abducted 58,499. Death squads focused on leaders that included schoolteachers and minor officials.

The number of North Vietnamese killed was approximately 500,000 to 600,000. Casualties: 15 million.

Two-thirds of the men who served in Vietnam were volunteers, two-thirds who served in World War II were draftees.

The Tet '68 offensive was a major defeat for the VC and the NVA.

After Vietnam the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand managed to stay free of communism. The Indonesians expelled the Soviets in 1966.

During the Vietnam War the national debt increased by $146 billion (1967-1973). Adjusted for inflation, the debt in 1992 dollars was $500 billion.

From 1989-1995 the national debt increased by $2,360 billion – in a time of peace.

These are the cold, bare facts. But the parable or meaning of Vietnam isn't told by statistics, it lives in those who served. The moral of the story has to do with the young men and women who chose to serve a country that turned its back on them.

Myth says that those who obeyed the call of duty later became alcoholics and drug addicts in disproportionate numbers or that they became convicts and unproductive, suicidal losers. Others, so the myth goes, are homeless, living on the streets of big cities or holed up in the mountains of Idaho.

The facts indicate otherwise. Most vets lead productive and exemplary lives. Most have jobs and families and pay taxes. The beloved statistics and reputable studies of the number crunchers say this is so.

But what is really important in this day and age is that each man and woman who served has a unique story. Modern parables are being chronicled so that generations of young people may learn and be proud of their American heritage.

Very few documentary histories of the Vietnam era tell the story as completely as the love child of Vietnam era veterans Bob Martinez and Calvin Crane. "The Long Way Home" won the Houston Film Festival prize for best documentary. After viewing the four-part series I know that the award was well deserved.

The entire series is full of history and humanity. Including are the commentaries of major participants, with a forward by Vietnam era vet Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Commentaries by such notables as James Schlesinger are replete with information and observations seldom discussed.

Schlesinger gave an excellent overview and summed up our effort in Southeast Asia with the comments of a Russian poet, "On us the night is falling beyond which there is no dawn." His commentary on how the war should have been fought may help George W. Bush as he conducts the war on terrorism and attempts to remove the horror called Saddam Hussein.

Schlesinger's advice regarding Vietnam was that it should have been fought in phases of "little wars." That is what we did in Afghanistan and that is what we should have done in Vietnam.

Historian Mark Moyar conducts an analysis in the segment called "How We Lost the War." It reveals some startling information, which I discovered as well while going over Eisenhower-era documents. The information deals with the exchanges between Dulles and Eisenhower on a nuclear attack on China.

Then again, the startling interchange between Russian Foreign Minister Yuri Andropov and Chairman Mao are rarely discussed in the media, and they shed light on the minds of the Russians and Chinese in that era. The conclusions in the Moyar effort give clarity to the how and why we decided to fight in Vietnam based on those discussions.

My favorite part of the series is Part 4. One of the best stories is the amazing account of a Vietnamese Catholic priest who on four different occasions attempted to escape from Vietnam before finally making it. Along with 53 others he survived the great wide ocean and found freedom in America. His quiet, thorough descriptions of the slave labor and re-education camps in communist Vietnam should make the most jaded anti-war protester consider the depravity of that murderous communist regime.

Also interviewed was Dallas Cowboy linebacker Dat Nguyen. His mother was pregnant with him when she joined a group of Vietnamese that put to sea. Dat Nguyen was born shortly after they were sent to Ft. Chaffee, Ark.

A copy of the series may be found by contacting Calvin Crane:

The following story is true. It was related to me by my friend Lt. Col. Robert Keller (ret). The events took place when he was a young second lieutenant with Special Forces A Team in Vietnam:

"I was with the 5th Special Forces Operations group located in north central Vietnam between Kham Duc and Chu Lai. I was in charge of a contingent of Vietnamese soldiers called the Strikers. For 16 months I lived in their village, eating and drinking with them.

The company had consolidated its position around the hooch of two Vietnamese women. These ladies had been interred many times in the Chu Lai relocation project but always managed to run away. They claimed they farmed 40 hectares in the Phouc Chou Valley. What made the story doubtful was that one had one leg and the other one arm, making subsistence farming very difficult. The valley was the breadbasket of the 2nd NVA Division (North Vietnamese Army) and rice fields were everywhere.

Several of my CIDG [Civilian Irregular Defense Group] came to me to show the tunnel they found. The hole was about three feet in diameter. None of us had tunneling experience, as no tunnels were supposed to be in our area of operations.

I could have sent one of the Vietnamese down the hole, but there are certain times one has to be a leader and this was one of them.

I checked the sides and bottom for possible booby traps and decided I could at least get into the five-foot-deep entranceway. Whether I might get my feet shot out from under me was a different matter. I lowered myself down the hole – scared spitless. However, at least no one shot at me.

I clicked the selector of my CAR-15 to full auto and knelt down to begin the tunnel search. It seemed that the darkness in the tunnel sucked up the flashlight beam within several feet. I began to crawl forward into extreme darkness thinking of snakes, animals and the possibility I would stay down there forever. It was tomblike and hopefully would not become mine. It was so quiet I thought I could hear an air compressor running and then realized it was my breathing.

I kept crawling forward, checking the tunnel floor for booby traps and critters. I found several small rooms or chambers off to the side of the main tunnel but no side tunnels. The more I crawled forward the more confident I became.

I was down in the tunnel for about 30 minutes, taking my time and being thorough. Up ahead, I saw a light shining down from overhead. I was thrilled my ordeal was coming to an end – or was it? If I stuck my head out, would someone blow it off? Where was I? In front of our position or within it?

When I got to the tunnel entrance I waved my hands and started yelling but nothing happened. I felt nothing but relief as I pulled myself up out of the hole and no one fired at me.

I still didn't know where I was but finally determined that I had gone in a horseshoe and wasn't too far from where I had started. I looked over to the entrance hole and noticed a number of CIDG yelling excitedly down the abyss.

What an opportunity!

I came up behind them and then moved to the front of the group and began to yell down the hole too. It took about 30 seconds for the Strikers to realize what was happening and they all started laughing too. Pointing at me they thought the incident was great fun.

I don't know what happened to them after I left."

Firefights, mortar rounds, the stench of decay and human flesh torn and broken, the camaraderie and bonds of men at war were part and parcel of Bob's experience. But the truth is that some things one remembers more than others. These stories seem to make fear a laughing matter but are often remembered because that is the only way to cope.

What Bob remembers most, the memory he will carry with him forever, are the Vietnamese he left behind. These are the ones who counted on the American promise that they would never be left to themselves. That is what he remembers most – a broken promise to his comrades.

Well, Bob Keller and others like him never broke any promises. Our government in its arrogance and foolish miscalculation did. Those promises, perhaps, should never have been made.

It would be wise to be careful in the future about the promises we make. Promises to the America of post-Sept. 11. Promises to those being persecuted and killed by madmen in Iraq and Iran and elsewhere. When we make such promises and then don't keep them, we betray men like Lt. Col. Robert Keller. We betray the people who have to live with the consequences of those broken promises.

To all the vets and their families of all our wars, thank you. To those who fight in future wars: May the Lord make His face shine on you, may His justice prevail, and may you be makers of His peace.

(Compiled by Joseph Luginsland for www.ussboston.org/VietnamMyths.html)

Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler. All That We Can Be.

CACF (Combat Area Casualty File) November 1993. (The CACF is the basis for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, i.e., "The Wall"), Center for Electronic Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Testimony by Dr. Houk, Oversight on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 14 July 1988 page 17, Hearing before the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, United States Senate, 100th Congress, second session.

"Estimating the Number of Suicides Among Vietnam Veterans." Am J Psychiatry 147, 6 June 1990, pages 772-776.

Speech by Lt. Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey (reproduced in the Pentagram, June 4, 1993), assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Vietnam veterans and visitors gathered at "The Wall," Memorial Day 1993.

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Facts are supposed to be solid and indisputable truths not subject to dispute. Facts are hard, fast and cold, which no amount of emotional or irrational analysis can manipulate into being untrue, even though some will attempt it. The facts of Vietnam are: 58,148...
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Saturday, 09 November 2002 12:00 AM
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