Never Forget


shutterstock_146659976I had soldiers on my mind this morning as I went for a brisk walk in the cemetery across from my house. Victor Davis Hanson is partially to blame. I read his fine NRO piece this week about the upcoming 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and it stuck with me.

But that’s not the only reason my thoughts have been full of marines, sailors, and infantrymen. I’ve also been working my way through the HBO miniseries The Pacific about Raritan, New Jersey’s own John Basilone, who won both the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Battle for Henderson Field on Guadalcanal in 1942 and (posthumously) the Navy Cross for his valor at Iwo Jima in 1945. The series is not great, but Basilone is undoubtedly a true American hero and it is right and proper that somebody should make a movie about his life. (My dad would want you to know that Raritan is just 20 miles down Rt. 287 from my hometown of Morristown.)

In the cemetery this morning, I came across some yet-to-be-cleared wreaths from my town’s Memorial Day commemoration. I want to share one of them with you:


I know it says 2013—the DAR is evidently into recycling. But the year on the banner is actually instructive. How was it that last year was the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War and I somehow missed it? Probably it’s because we think of Vietnam as the bad war. It’s funny the things from our history that we choose to honor with anniversary celebrations and HBO miniseries. The Beatles on Ed Sullivan gets a week of coverage. The start of our long national nightmare goes unremarked upon.

Except—God bless ’em—by the DAR. 

When I was a kid, Vietnam was still very fresh in the national memory. They made movies about it, sure, but not in order to tell heroic stories like John Basilone’s. Did you know there were 248 Medals of Honor awarded for service in Vietnam?

Agenda-driven filmmakers such as Oliver Stone, Michael Cimino, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, and Brian De Palma really just wanted to rub our noses in it. They wanted us to understand that Americans are not so pure, so righteous, so heroic, so exceptional. We’re not John Wayne and John Basilone, they wanted us to know. We’re violent like Colonel Kurtz and Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore. We’re morally compromised like Sergeant Barnes and Private Joker. We’ve got the blood of innocents on our hands.

Later this summer, the media will notice the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin. There will surely follow an epidemic of renewed hand-wringing and calls for collective atonement for America’s supposed sins in Vietnam. Maybe some of it will be justified. But will anyone remember Father Vincent Capodanno, killed while administering last rites to the wounded and dying in the Que Son Valley and awarded the Medal of Honor for his selfless sacrifice? Will HBO make a movie about the guys who spent years being tortured for their loyalty to this country, and to each other, in the Hanoi Hilton? Will the New York Times or the Washington Post do a feature about Captain Roger Donlon, who was the first American to be awarded the Medal of Honor for service in Vietnam for his part in a defensive action at Camp Nam Dong that occurred 50 years ago this July? If you have a moment, read a bit about what he did:

Although suffering from multiple wounds, he carried the abandoned 60mm mortar weapon to a new location 30 meters away where he found 3 wounded defenders. After administering first aid and encouragement to these men, he left the weapon with them, headed toward another position, and retrieved a 57mm recoilless rifle. Then with great courage and coolness under fire, he returned to the abandoned gun pit, evacuated ammunition for the 2 weapons, and while crawling and dragging the urgently needed ammunition, received a third wound on his leg by an enemy hand grenade. Despite his critical physical condition, he again crawled 175 meters to an 81mm mortar position and directed firing operations which protected the seriously threatened east sector of the camp. He then moved to an eastern 60mm mortar position and upon determining that the vicious enemy assault had weakened, crawled back to the gun pit with the 60mm mortar, set it up for defensive operations, and turned it over to 2 defenders with minor wounds. Without hesitation, he left this sheltered position, and moved from position to position around the beleaguered perimeter while hurling hand grenades at the enemy and inspiring his men to superhuman effort. As he bravely continued to move around the perimeter, a mortar shell exploded, wounding him in the face and body.

Captain Donlon is still alive. Someone should throw him a party.

Don’t count on the media to memorialize the conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action of the fighting men we sent to Vietnam. Three cheers to the DAR for never forgetting. God help us to remember.

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  1. Roberto Inactive

    Matthew Hennessey:

    Later this summer, the media will notice the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin. There will surely follow an epidemic of renewed hand-wringing and calls for collective atonement for America’s supposed sins in Vietnam. 

    I think a case could be made that it was indeed a sin to throw away the efforts and sacrifices of our soldiers in that war and abandon South Vietnam to the communists. 

    Historians have attributed the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the cessation of American aid along with the growing disenchantment of the South Vietnamese people and the rampant corruption and incompetence of South Vietnam political leaders and ARVN general staff.

    Without the necessary funds and facing a collapse in South Vietnamese troop and civilian morale, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the ARVN to achieve a victory against the NLF. Moreover, the withdrawal of U.S. aid encouraged North Vietnam to begin a new military offensive against South Vietnam. This resolve was strengthened when the new American administration did not think itself bound to this promise Nixon made to Thieu of a “severe retaliation” if Hanoi broke the 1973 Paris Peace Accords.

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  2. Matthew Hennessey Contributor
    Matthew Hennessey

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  3. tigerlily Member

    Thanks for a fine article, Matt. It’s a subject that should be remembered every now & then. My favorite stat from the Vietnam War is  a comparison of the number of people killed by government in one form or another during the twenty years of war (1954-1975) vs the following twenty years for the Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The figures below are from Death by Government by R J Rummel published in 2002.

    War, Democide & Famine 1954-1975 = 2,932,000 Total
    Vietnam = 2,115,000
    Laos  = 70,000
    Cambodia = 777,000

    Post-Vietnam War 1975-1987 War, Democide, Famine & Boat People = 4,157,000
    Vietnam = 927,000
    Laos  = 184,000
    Cambodia = 3,185,000

    Fighting the Vietnam War was actually saving lives. And, the Domino Theory proved correct as communism spread throughout southeast Asia, Central America & Africa after the fall of South Vietnam.

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  4. user_333118 Inactive

    Thank you for a very informative and interesting article;  I learned a lot.

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  5. Devereaux Inactive

    Ah, the Vietnam War. Thank you for bringing it up; it seems an item on the American psyche that the left has thoroughly propogandized all truth from.

    The war was won by any objective standards other than the screeching of the left. Vietnam still had the will and desire to fight; they only lacked the gas and ammo. The administration of  Ford pleaded with the Democratic-controlled congress for the gas and ammo our treaty obligations said we owed them. Congress simply refused. And RVN fell.

    The Marine Corps had more casualties in Vietnam than in WWII. Yet while we rightfully hear about Basilone, we never seem to hear of all those Marines who fought and died.  And despite a screwed up strategy of Westmoreland, because of the idiocy of the NVA and VC with things like TET, we beat them, fair and square. Only now  are there finally books coming out showing the complete falicy of the left’s contentions we have accepted for so long.

    As the bumper sticker on my car says, “We Didn’t Lose – We Left”.

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  6. azborn Thatcher

    Thank you Matt, I appreciate your article. I was there, and I believe this country will not have any fair perspective on that war in my life time. And I will never expect the MSM to give it a fair evaluation. 

    Why does it seem so easy to hate this country?

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  7. user_357608 Member

    Because, as a nation, we are good; that simple.

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