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But, it wasn’t just Hollywood. Nearly 3,000 miles to the east, was an influence that was just as malevolent and that influence was found in the “Brahmans” of the Northeastern media establishment.
I suspect that many of the “sophisticates” of the Eastern establishment chuckled when told of the conversation that occurred between the then-Publisher and Chairman of the New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger and his son (and heir to both jobs) Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. When the elder Sulzberger asked his son who he wanted see die in a one-to-one fight; the American soldier or the North Vietnamese soldier, Junior didn’t hesitate. “I want to see the American die since it’s the North Vietnamese soldier’s country.”
At least he was being honest but I still had to wonder; if it were in 1945, would Junior have preferred the German soldier to kill the American who had crossed the Rhine into Germany? Would he have preferred the Japanese soldier to kill the Marine at Okinawa? Maybe it’s not important. However, I did suspect that the Northeastern establishment had no more use for the Vietnam Vets than Hollywood did. But, maybe their contempt was more subtle than that of Hollywood’s.
Despite all of this, the late ’80s became a watershed moment for the Vietnam vets; we were finally beginning to be portrayed in a positive light (President Reagan even referred to us as “Theirs was a noble purpose”). However, along with all those positive developments, there came a group of insidious individuals: the fake Vietnam veterans. They came in all varieties; actors, politicians, and seemingly normal individuals who wanted to mooch off the achievements that rightly belonged to the legitimate Vietnam veterans. I suppose that they all had different reasons for their behavior but many of these buffoons were totally grotesque. Showing up at public functions, with military decorations that made them look like World War II Soviet Field Marshalls, these clowns would parade through the crowds, often being asked to give speeches about their “heroism.” Unfortunately, there are still some of them around, courtesy of court rulings that have made their behavior “protected speech.”
For the vast majority of us that made it back, we made successes of our lives. We went to college, had successful careers, and raised families. To be sure, some of us had some bumps in the road, but those were just obstacles to be overcome. For the first five years or so, I had recurrent nightmares but that was something that was healed by time (and an occasional six-pack). “No biggie,” as we used to say.
Incredibly, over 10 years after I left the Army, I “re-upped” into the Air Force Reserve, where I spent 24 years serving in Combat Communications. (I had become the “Lifer” that I had previously hated!) I was recalled to active duty twice; once for Desert Storm and then again for Iraqi Freedom. I was honored to serve with some of the finest young men and women that you could possibly find today and I was tremendously pleased that none of them had to face the same kind of reception that we encountered when we returned home in the 1960s and ’70s. Perhaps America really did learn its lesson. Still, I wondered each time I heard, “I support the troops but I don’t support the war.” Just how does that work?
Perhaps one day I’ll figure that out. Until then, I’ll content myself with knowing that the generation of Americans that went to Vietnam in the ’60s and ’70s were as good a group of fighting men that this country has ever produced. (I still remember the line from Patton, “What a waste of fine infantry.”) Under the worst conditions (and some of the worst leadership imaginable), we still did our duty and we have nothing to apologize for. So, when a person extends their hand and says, “Thank you for your service,” I will always tell them that I appreciate it. (Truth be told, the first few times that a person wanted to shake my hand, I would always be ready to go on the defensive. Cynic that I became, I still imagined that the next words out of their mouths would be, “So how many babies did you kill?”)
Although I’ve become pretty philosophical about the last 50 years, occasionally something will happen that really does hearken me back to those turbulent times. My wife is the ultimate “CSI” fan; whether it’s the original or any of the spinoffs, she’s down for it. Last year we were watching a “CSI Miami” rerun and one of the characters does something to startle another cast member. “Hey man,” the first character goes, “Are you going all Vietnam on me?” I took the remote and checked the on-screen menu. The episode had been made in 2011. I could only shake my head; when will it ever end?
But, probably my most “traumatic” time was brought about three or four years ago when a local PBS station ran the documentary Fog of War, a film about Robert S. McNamara and his conduct of the Vietnam War. I really didn’t mean to watch the movie; I had found it by accident while channel surfing. However, I forced myself to watch it. McNamara really hadn’t changed much. The same oily, slicked-back hair and the same oily, arrogant personality.
Although I had previously been in a good mood, that quickly changed. I felt a little like the words in Don McLean’s American Pie, “Oh and as I watched him on the stage my hands were clenched in fists of rage.” Here was McNamara, one of the main architects of that monstrosity, calmly sitting there telling me that, “Well, we came to understand that we really couldn’t win the war but blah, blah, blah.” Oh really, then what were we doing over there? And then, McNamara went on to give his 11 “lessons” on what we should have learned. Funny, nowhere in those “lessons” did he mention his grotesque “Project 100,000”, in which 100,000 men of substandard mental and physical abilities were taken into the military each year. But then, McNamara wasn’t really interested in those men or any of those who went to their deaths. As for McNamara, after destroying thousands of lives, he went on to become President of the World Bank and died peacefully in bed at the ripe old age of 93 in his toney Washington DC mansion.
As I said, I’ve moved on from the anger that I felt in the 1960s and ’70s. I really don’t think of the war protestors. I don’t think about the 2S deferments or the guys who joined the Guard or Reserves to get out of going to Vietnam. I don’t even think a great deal about the way we were portrayed by Hollywood. However, when it comes to Robert Strange McNamara and John Forbes Kerry; well, I hope the former is rotting in h*ll and that the latter will soon join him there.
So, for all you folks who made the trip, “WELCOME HOME – WELL DONE.” For those who didn’t make the trip, well, I know this guy who was in Vietnam and he told me that…Published in