Mr. Ted Anderson (Albany Journal, Nov. 17), a recent country music hit declared, “You should have seen it in color.” We Vietnam veterans did — in cinemascope, wide-screen, bright and bold Technicolor. What you got from that Military Channel program you referenced was only a snapshot of incidences, not the whole story. Your recounting of it insulted the crap out of me and, as far as I am concerned, my fellow Nam vets, both living and dead.
First, as for Lyndon Johnson — and Robert McNamara, too, for that matter — there’s no tears from me if they are fuel for the furnaces of Hades. I offer no defense for them. Okay, Johnson was a politician, but McNamara, ——- **!
Of the just over 2.7 million men sent to South Vietnam (less of than 1/3 of us still survive, by the way), very few — less than 10 percent — ever even saw the enemy and less than half of those ever killed or wounded anyone, much less cut off ears, killed “anything that moved” or played games in killing the enemy. Most Nam veterans were not even involved in combat situations where they had access to ears of any enemy.
I GREATLY RESENT the statement, “We forced our young men and women to kill without regard to the innocence of any of the people we considered our enemy and to do this killing in a ruthless manner …” I don’t have the space or time to fully respond to such a ridiculous statement. Our men in Iraq and Afghanistan get killed because they are not allowed to shoot at an enemy combatant until they are shot at first. A friend of mine said he was asked, upon returning from Nam, if he killed any babies. Actually, none; but his response was, “Only those who shot at me first.”
You wrote, “I can now see why our young boys returned home with their minds all screwed up!” That happens to some in every war, not just Vietnam. We all were affected to some extent, some more than others and a few much more than others. Several of our neighbors and friends I won’t name — you would be shocked to hear some of their names and some of their stories — were in horrible combat, but they have since done well in the business and professional world. We all have had years of nightmares and occasional flashbacks, but we accepted the unacceptable and learned to cope rather than being “all screwed up.”
I was a 24-year-old, naive south Georgia farm boy, invited to begin training in 1967 for Vietnam. I had always been taught by Mother to be nice and always treat others with respect and suddenly a drill sergeant was instructing me to yell, “kill, kill, kill” as I practiced bayonet thrusts at an imaginary enemy and into a straw-filled bag attached to a pole.
“You get into a hand-to-hand situation with Charlie (that’s what we called the bad guys in Nam), gouge out his eyeballs with your thumbs, throw dirt in his eyes, grab him by his family jewels and squeeze, hard!” I had never thought of doing such to another person.
My tour was just days short of 12 months, constantly under the threat of being shot at by a mortar, rocket or an AK-47. And I was, on several occasions; but, fortunately for me, Charlie was usually a poor shot. I had nightmares for about 15 years after returning home and occasionally still have a flashback, 40 years later. I will not go on a deer hunt nor kill any other mammal; I don’t like people coming up behind me. Nevertheless, I don’t consider myself “all screwed up.”
Nor are most of my comrades. More people in this country were “screwed up” from misinformation that veterans from Nam. That Military Channel program helped prove that.
In a nutshell, war ain’t nice. People get hurt and other people do the hurting. Always have and always will. You say you’ve “never been able to get anyone who fought in that action to talk about it.” First off, it is rather hard to just blurt out about combat experiences – it takes some time to get it out; and it is also because they know you would not understand. Many of us still talk about it among ourselves, but, having no similar experiences, you would not understand the emotional setting.
To paraphrase, out of context, Jack Nicholson’s character’s response to a young upstart officer in the movie “A Few Good Men”, “You couldn’t handle the truth!” War is kill or be killed. It is not a Sunday picnic excursion or a Boy Scout hiking trip, as too many try to make it. The bad guys don’t place nice. They are out to kill you dead, right now!
We were, and young men are still being, trained to neutralize the enemy. That often requires killing — and that done mainly to protect yourself and your fellow troops. American troops are NOT TRAINED to participate in wholesale, unwarranted killing of or cruelty to the enemy, much less innocent civilians. Treatment of an individual beyond what is required to accomplish a mission is not right, not acceptable and is specifically prohibited. Troops are subject to imprisonment and dishonorable discharge. Nevertheless, under very stressful circumstances, but in very few incidences, a few men lose control.
Your information of the conduct of 99.999 percent of us sent to Southeast Asia in the ’60s and early ’70s and how the majority of “prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay” have been treated is woefully wrong. On a percentage basis, more of you people in Albany, Chicago, Detroit, Newark and Washington D.C., commit child and spouse abuse and commit more rapes and non-combat related killings than the veterans of any war and servicemen of the United States military.
And, although it did happen a few times, we did not cut off ears to verify enemy kills. I don’t even care for an ear from Johnson, McNamara – nor even Jane Fonda.