I was a very fortunate soldier when I first enlisted. ” Why?” you ask. Well, I enlisted in ’88, and at that time there were still a number of solid Vietnam Veteran NCO’s that were preparing to retire with their 20 years of service. I was fortunate enough to serve with some senior Sergeants, who made it their mission to pass on what they learned about the reality (not the manual) of combat to those of us that would continue to carry the torch. This is one of the best essays I’ve ever read concerning their service, and I thank American Mercenary for sharing his personal emails with us.
I salute those Vietnam Veterans that continued to make Us and the US their mission, long after their war was over.
18 July, 2015
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I’ve become so cynical, that all I see is another marketeer pushing his product . . . be nice if it were true, but they ARE actors, after all. Pretense is their stock in trade.
As it was over there, Believe Nothing! Nothing is Real. The weight of this rifle, the load on my back and the stink of the unburied dead. That’s real.
“Hurtlocker” wasn’t my war, wasn’t real. Neither was “Zero dark thirty.”
I didn’t bother to see either of them.
They don’t capture the smell of the moon dust or the taste of foul meat in the air. They don’t capture the silence as the bodies are loaded on the aircraft for the final flight home.
They don’t show the tears of the loved ones. Or the stink of your sweat in dress uniform as the sun beats down on you while the shell of someone you used to know is lowered into the grave.
I’m anywhere from two to six years from being forced out of the Army depending on whether I make the next promotion.
By the time someone tries to get around to making a movie about “how it really was” I hope my boys are old enough to realize that movies are just movies. Meant to entertain people for a spell, and make a profit for the production company.
I don’t think I ever got over being so DAMNED tired . . . just plumb give out, all the time.
Sat in a shit ditch one night, holding a kid with a sucking chest wound out of the filth, tracers both ways all night, HE impacting around, and I think I cried all night. Scared shitless he was going to die, scared shitless I was gonna die,
just plain scared shitless . . . finally got him on the bird and he died on the way in, anyway. Fuck John Wayne and all the rest of them.
I ‘get’ that it’s necessary for somebody to do this shit, and if not you; if not me, who? Once we’re ‘infected’ we might as well ride it out. Can’t get worse, but it does anyway. I don’t do VFW and American Legion because you can’t talk about that shit with some Remington Raider who never once heard some guy’s rattle. All you can do is drink, and I can do that here.
We saw what the VC and NVA did, and I still say Sat Cong! Was it worth it? To fuckin’ losewhat so many guys paid for? Jesus, Mary and Joseph, help me not go off on that!!!
When you read this, realize I’m not blowing sunshine up your ass, I’m speaking what I see is the truth.
You didn’t lose, not when you look Vietnam for what it really was, one engagement in a long war for freedom.
I’ll make a damn good argument about why the cold war was won in Vietnam. The geopolitics of USSR containment doctrine don’t make much sense from a firebase in the ass end of nowhere. But when you look at Vietnam for what it was, one battle in a 50 year generational war, you’ll understand that you kept Thailand free. You kept Taiwan free. You kept South Korea from going hot again. You forced Russia into supporting pointless revolutions in Africa and not advancing west in Europe, and “expanding” into unconquerable areas like Afghanistan.
The boys in the 104th Division who fought at the Battle of the Bulge had a very different experience than the 101st. The boys who were bloodied at Kasserine pass probably didn’t see the endgame coming.
Vietnam was the Kasserine pass for the modern Army. It was the transition point where we went from relying on the draft to relying on professionals. When we began to expect our NCOs not to be just NCOs, but as well educated in the doctrine and theory of warfare as many junior grade officers in the militaries of other nations. When we started expecting our Captains to be able to not only order men into harms way, but able to think through problems and come up with answers that don’t need a Soldier with a gun as the solution.
Vietnam was not the war that broke the Army, the Army has always been a reflection of America. Right down to the racial tensions and drug use. The “hollow force” of the 70s was a product of the 70s, not Vietnam any more than the 70s were a product of Vietnam. But just like we couldn’t have won WWII without getting hit in the nose at Kasserine Pass in North Africa, we couldn’t win the war against Communism without Vietnam. Vietnam was the war that made the modern Army.
Some would argue Korea was the starting point, but it wasn’t. It was still conventional tactics, front lines, and a rehash of WWII. Vietnam was the birth of the war with no lines, the war where the political civilian endstate was more important than the tactical victories on the ground. And we as a nation had to learn that the hard way. From Vietnam came the solidification of Special Forces, the Ranger Regiment, Army airmobile tactics, and a generation of men who learned to use integrated fire support from mortars to strategic bombers to keep a smaller number of Americans alive against a larger number of communist forces pinning them down. And they did it repeatedly, and they passed that down to us.
Conventional forces that must think unconventionally to survive and win in the most complex physical environment and political terrain the US had engaged in up until that point in history.
There are countless Soldiers and Marines who are alive today because of what you did in Vietnam. The Drill instructors who trained me were Gulf War veterans. And they were trained by Vietnam Veterans (you probably trained a few of them when they were young slick sleeve privates).
We didn’t win every engagement in Iraq or Afghanistan. And our generatioanl war against Islamic terror is far from over. But don’t doubt that your service, and the sacrifices made by your brothers, has kept Americans safe fat and happy inside the big cradle of civilization we call the USA.
Next time you have a drink alone, make it a bourbon, on the rocks. Think about the guys that didn’t make it back. It’s ok to cry sometimes, I do sometimes when the memories come on thick.
In a few years the Army is going to process me out, the post war downsizing makes that inevitable. My legacy will be two wars that were political failures. But I’ve seen the change that is coming because of what we learned. Sometime some young LT is going to be on the ass end of nowhere and something you and I did is going to save his life, and his Platoon.
That’s an excellent piece, I thank you for it, and I recommend it be published widely, for the benefit of a lot of guys who are still bitter and confused. It’s true, ‘Nam was the birthing of a new Army and the labor pains were long and severe.
The activities in Central America were kind of ‘proof’ shots, testing that new Army. Honduras, Nic, and Guatamela were familiar scenes to guys who saw VN.
Intellectually, I understand that the Dungrats sold out ARVN and the ‘losing’ of that war really occurred in Congress and the American media. That betrayal, and the casting away of those Hmong peoples, those ARVNs who really did fight hard, whatever some might say, and all, ruptured that foundation of trust and confidence the Soldier needs in his head and heart. That has never been healed, in my estimation, and given the present situation, will likely never be.
Part of my family were Indian Wars Soldiers and I believe that was our first ‘irregular’ war. And the Army’s first betrayal by the ‘Rumble gut politicians’. USGOV broke every single promise and treaty with the Indians. That bitter lesson was also passed on to us, along with “If you can’t throw it across the back of a horse, you don’t own it.”
I was privileged to be part of the rebirth of the Army after VN; and to see the fruition of those efforts in GWI and the 100 hour war. Gen Meyer spoke to NCO’s all over the Army, telling us to rebuild the Army, get up, train up, mount up, and speak up. The Army belongs to the Sergeants and if the Army sucks, guess what?
I hope you can make 20 and will be grandfathered when they “reform” the retirement system. My Niece has left the active Army as a Major, and she’s in the USAR now, she was LTC temporarily but left in her permanent grade. She’s a Veterinarian.
I am a devotee of Bushmill’s Irish whiskey, and Rebel Yell Kentucky Bourbon. We REDACTED have too great a fondness for the wee dram, and so, have to be judicious in our indulgence.