Re: [sixties-l] Fwd: HEROES of the VIETNAM Generation

From: William M Mandel (
Date: 01/16/97

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    Never mind former Navy Secretary Webbs' gross use of the fact that 1,400,000
    anti-American Vietnamese died defending their country, while only 58,000 Americans
    died, to demonstrate the tactical superiority of the U.S. armed forces. The
    superiority was in technology: a limitless supply of bombers to drop explosives,
    fire-bombs, and everything else.
         He musters endless statistics to suggest that "average Americans" supported
    the war. Really?
        "...the eleven-week trial of my son Bob and the other Oakland Seven defendants
    who had organized the week-long roving demonstrations of some ten thousand people
    that sought to shut down the [Oakland, CA] Army Induction Center....The defendants,
    their friends, associates, and families, including myself, were convinced that the
    Seven would be convicted....
        "When the jury was selected, I thought the defendants were finished. There was
    a retired U.S. Marines colonel, who at one time had been second-in-command of the
    Corps. In his time the Marines were very sparing with the rank of general. The jury
    foreperson was a young man with top security clearance at Lawrence Livermore
    Laboratory, where nuclear bombs are designed and laboratory-tested. But [defense
    attorney Charles] Garry called a stunning array of character witnesses to present
    the defendants' motivations. Garry actually convinced that jury that assembling
    massive crowds to block access to the induction centr was a legitimate exercise of
    freedom of speech under the First Amendment! Hatred for that war certainly ran
        -- from my autobiography, Saying No To Power, p.416.
                                                    William Mandel
    radman wrote:
    >     Date: Tue, 7 Nov 2000 17:28:49 EST
    >     From:
    > Subject: HEROES of the VIETNAM Generation
    > HEROES of the VIETNAM Generation
    >   By James Webb*
    >   The rapidly disappearing cohort of Americans that endured the Great
    > Depression
    >   and then fought World War II is receiving quite a send-off from the leading
    > lights of
    >   the so-called '60s generation. Tom Brokaw has published two oral histories
    > of "The
    >   Greatest Generation" that feature ordinary people doing their duty and
    > suggest that
    >   such conduct was historically unique.
    >   Chris Matthews of "Hardball" is fond of writing columns praising the Navy
    >   service of his father while castigating his own baby boomer generation for
    >   its alleged softness and lack of struggle. William Bennett gave a
    >   startlingly condescending speech at the Naval Academy a few years ago
    >   comparing the heroism of the "D-Day Generation" to the drugs-and-sex
    >   nihilism of the "Woodstock Generation." And Steven Spielberg, in promoting
    >   his film Saving Private Ryan, was careful to justify his portrayals of
    >   soldiers in action based on the supposedly unique nature of World War II.
    >   An irony is at work here. Lest we forget, the World War II generation now
    >   being lionized also brought us the Vietnam War, a conflict which today's
    >   most conspicuous voices by and large opposed, and in which few of them
    >   served. The "best and brightest" of the Vietnam age group once made
    >   headlines by castigating their parents for bringing about the war in which
    >   they would not fight, which has become the war they refuse to remember.
    >   Pundits back then invented a term for this animus: the "generation gap."
    >   Long, plaintive articles and even books were written examining its
    >   manifestations. Campus leaders, who claimed precocious wisdom through the
    >   magical process of reading a few controversial books, urged fellow baby
    >   boomers not to trust anyone over 30. Their elders who had survived the
    >   Depression and fought the largest war in history were looked down upon as
    >   shallow, materialistic, and out of touch.
    >   Those of us who grew up on the other side of the picket line from that
    >   era's counter-culture can't help but feel a little leery of this sudden gush
    > of
    >   appreciation for our elders from the leading lights of the old
    >   counter-culture. Then and now, the national conversation has proceeded
    >   from the dubious assumption that those who came of age during Vietnam are a
    >   unified generation in the same sense as their parents were, and thus are
    >   capable of being spoken for through these fickle elites.
    >   In truth, the "Vietnam generation" is a misnomer. Those who came of age
    >   during that war are permanently divided by different reactions to a whole
    >   range of counter-cultural agendas, and nothing divides them more deeply
    >   than the personal ramifications of the war itself. The sizable portion of the
    >   Vietnam age group who declined to support the counter-cultural agenda, and
    >   especially the men and women who opted to serve in the military during the
    >   Vietnam War, are quite different from their peers who for decades have
    >   claimed to speak for them. In fact, they are much like the World War II
    >   generation itself. For them, Woodstock was a side show, college protestors
    >   were spoiled brats who would have benefited from having to work a few jobs
    >   in order to pay their tuition, and Vietnam represented not an intellectual
    >   exercise in draft avoidance or protest marches but a battlefield that was
    >   just as brutal as those their fathers faced in World War II and Korea.
    >   Few who served during Vietnam ever complained of a generation gap. The men
    >   who fought World War II were their heroes and role models. They honored
    >   their fathers' service by emulating it, and largely agreed with their
    >   fathers' wisdom in attempting to stop Communism's reach in Southeast Asia.
    >   The most accurate poll of their attitudes (Harris, 1980) showed that 91
    >   percent were glad they'd served their country, 74 percent enjoyed their
    >   time in the service, and 89 percent agreed with the statement that "our
    > troops
    >   were asked to fight in a war which our political leaders in Washington
    >   would not let them win." And most importantly, the castigation they received
    >   upon returning home was not from the World War II generation, but from the
    > very
    >   elites in their age group who supposedly spoke for them.
    >   Nine million men served in the military during the Vietnam war, three
    >   million of whom went to the Vietnam theater. Contrary to popular
    >   mythology, two-thirds of these were volunteers, and 73 percent of those who
    > died
    >   were volunteers. While some attention has been paid recently to the plight of
    >   our prisoners of war, most of whom were pilots, there has been little
    >   recognition of how brutal the war was for those who fought it on the ground.
    >   Dropped onto the enemy's terrain 12,000 miles away from home, America's
    >   citizen-soldiers performed with a tenacity and quality that may never be
    >   truly understood. Those who believe the war was fought incompetently on a
    >   tactical level should consider Hanoi's recent admission that 1.4 million
    >   of its soldiers died on the battlefield, compared to 58,000 total U.S. dead.
    >   Those who believe that it was a "dirty little war" where the bombs did all
    >   the work might contemplate that it was the most costly war the U.S. Marine
    >   Corps has ever fought-five times as many dead as World War I, three times
    >   as many dead as in Korea, and more total killed and wounded than in all of
    >   World War II.
    >   Significantly, these sacrifices were being made at a time the United
    >   States was deeply divided over our effort in Vietnam. The baby-boom
    > generation
    >   had cracked apart along class lines as America's young men were making
    >   difficult, life-or-death choices about serving. The better academic
    >   institutions became focal points for vitriolic protest against the war,
    >   with few of their graduates going into the military. Harvard College, which
    > had
    >   lost 691 alumni in World War II, lost a total of 12 men in Vietnam from
    >   the classes of 1962 through 1972 combined. Those classes at Princeton lost
    >   six, at MIT two. The media turned ever-more hostile. And frequently the
    > reward
    >   for a young man's having gone through the trauma of combat was to be
    >   greeted by his peers with studied indifference or outright hostility.
    >   What is a hero? My heroes are the young men who faced the issues of war
    >   and possible death, and then weighed those concerns against obligations to
    >   their country. Citizen-soldiers who interrupted their personal and
    > professional
    >   lives at their most formative stage, in the timeless phrase of the
    >   Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, "not for fame or
    >   reward, not for place or for rank, but in simple obedience to duty, as they
    >   understood it." Who suffered loneliness, disease, and wounds with an often
    >   contagious lan. And who deserve a far better place in history than that
    >   now offered them by the so-called spokesmen of our so-called generation.
    >   Mr. Brokaw, Mr. Matthews, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Spielberg, meet my Marines.
    >   ***
    >   1969 was an odd year to be in Vietnam. Second only to 1968 in terms of
    >   American casualties, it was the year made famous by Hamburger Hill, as
    >   well as the gut-wrenching Life cover story showing the pictures of 242
    >   Americans who had been killed in one average week of fighting. Back home, it
    > was
    >   the year of Woodstock, and of numerous anti-war rallies that culminated in
    > the
    >   Moratorium march on Washington. The My Lai massacre hit the papers and was
    >   seized upon by the anti-war movement as the emblematic moment of the war.
    >   Lyndon Johnson left Washington in utter humiliation. Richard Nixon entered
    >   the scene, destined for an even worse fate.
    >   In the An Hoa Basin southwest of Danang, the Fifth Marine Regiment was in
    >   its third year of continuous combat operations. Combat is an unpredictable
    >   and inexact environment, but we were well-led. As a rifle platoon and
    >   company commander, I served under a succession of three regimental
    >   commanders who had cut their teeth in World War II, and four different
    >   battalion commanders, three of whom had seen combat in Korea. The company
    >   commanders were typically captains on their second combat tour in Vietnam,
    >   or young first lieutenants like myself who were given companies after many
    >   months of "bush time" as platoon commanders in the Basin's tough and
    >   unforgiving environs.
    >   The Basin was one of the most heavily contested areas in Vietnam, its
    >   torn, cratered earth offering every sort of wartime possibility. In the
    >   mountains just to the west, not far from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the North
    > Vietnamese
    >   Army operated an infantry division from an area called Base Area 112. In
    >   the valleys of the Basin, main-force Viet Cong battalions whose ranks were 80
    >   percent North Vietnamese Army regulars moved against the Americans every
    >   day. Local Viet Cong units sniped and harassed. Ridge lines and paddy
    >   dikes were laced with sophisticated booby traps of every size, from a hand
    >   grenade to a 250-pound bomb. The villages sat in the rice paddies and tree
    > lines
    >   like individual fortresses, criss-crossed with trenches and spider holes,
    >   their homes sporting bunkers capable of surviving direct hits from
    >   large-caliber artillery shells. The Viet Cong infrastructure was intricate
    >   and permeating. Except for the old and the very young, villagers who did
    >   not side with the Communists had either been killed or driven out to the
    >   government-controlled enclaves near Danang.
    >   In the rifle companies we spent the endless months patrolling ridge lines
    >   and villages and mountains, far away from any notion of tents, barbed
    >   wire, hot food, or electricity. Luxuries were limited to what would fit
    > inside
    >   one's pack, which after a few "humps" usually boiled down to letter-writing
    >   material, towel, soap, toothbrush, poncho liner, and a small transistor
    > radio.
    >   We moved through the boiling heat with 60 pounds of weapons and gear,
    >   causing a typical Marine to drop 20 percent of his body weight while in
    >   the bush. When we stopped we dug chest-deep fighting holes and slit trenches
    >   for toilets. We slept on the ground under makeshift poncho hootches, and when
    >   it rained we usually took our hootches down because wet ponchos shined under
    >   illumination flares, making great targets. Sleep itself was fitful, never
    >   more than an hour or two at a stretch for months at a time as we mixed
    >   daytime patrolling with night-time ambushes, listening posts, foxhole
    >   duty, and radio watches. Ringworm, hookworm, malaria, and dysentery were
    >   common, as was trench foot when the monsoons came. Respite was rotating back
    >   to the mud-filled regimental combat base at An Hoa for four or five days,
    > where
    >   rocket and mortar attacks were frequent and our troops manned defensive
    >   bunkers at night.
    >   Which makes it kind of hard to get excited about tales of Woodstock, or
    >   camping at the Vineyard during summer break.
    >   We had been told while in training that Marine officers in the rifle
    >   companies had an 85 percent probability of being killed or wounded, and
    >   the experience of "Dying Delta," as our company was known, bore that out. Of
    >   the officers in the bush when I arrived, our company commander was wounded,
    >   the weapons platoon commander was wounded, the first platoon commander was
    >   killed, the second platoon commander was wounded twice, and I, commanding
    >   the third platoon, was wounded twice. The enlisted troops in the rifle
    >   platoons fared no better. Two of my original three squad leaders were
    >   killed, the third shot in the stomach. My platoon sergeant was severely
    >   wounded, as was my right guide. By the time I left my platoon I had gone
    >   through six radio operators, five of them casualties.
    >   These figures were hardly unique; in fact, they were typical. Many other
    >   units-for instance, those who fought the hill battles around Khe Sanh, or
    >   were with the famed Walking Dead of the Ninth Marine Regiment, or were in
    >   the battle for Hue City or at Dai Do-had it far worse.
    >   When I remember those days and the very young men who spent them with me,
    >   I am continually amazed, for these were mostly recent civilians barely out
    >   of high school, called up from the cities and the farms to do their year in
    >   Hell and then return. Visions haunt me every day, not of the nightmares of
    >   war but of the steady consistency with which my Marines faced their
    >   responsibilities, and of how uncomplaining most of them were in the face
    >   of constant danger. The salty, battle-hardened 20-year-olds teaching green
    >   19-year-olds the intricate lessons of that hostile battlefield. The
    >   unerring skill of the young squad leaders as we moved through unfamiliar
    > villages
    >   and weed-choked trails in the black of night. The quick certainty with which
    >   they moved when coming under enemy fire. Their sudden tenderness when a
    >   fellow Marine was wounded and needed help. Their willingness to risk their
    >   lives to save other Marines in peril. To this day it stuns me that their
    >   own countrymen have so completely missed the story of their service, lost in
    >   the bitter confusion of the war itself.
    >   Like every military unit throughout history we had occasional laggards,
    >   cowards, and complainers. But in the aggregate these Marines were the
    >   finest people I have ever been around. It has been my privilege to keep up
    > with
    >   many of them over the years since we all came home. One finds in them very
    >   little bitterness about the war in which they fought. The most common
    >   regret, almost to a man, is that they were not able to do more-for each
    >   other and for the people they came to help.
    >   It would be redundant to say that I would trust my life to these men.
    >   Because I already have, in more ways than I can ever recount. I am alive
    >   today because of their quiet, unaffected heroism. Such valor epitomizes
    >   the conduct of Americans at war from the first days of our existence. That
    > the
    >   boomer elites can canonize this sort of conduct in our fathers' generation
    >   while ignoring it in our own is more than simple oversight. It is a
    >   conscious, continuing travesty.
    > * Former Secretary of the Navy James Webb was awarded the Navy Cross, Silver
    >   Star, and Bronze Star medals for heroism as a Marine in Vietnam. His
    >   novels include The Emperor's General and Fields of Fire.

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