Forgotten History - Returning Home - 01/23/2001
>From time to time in the future we will be including letters
from our readers for "Forgotten History." This letter comes
from Ken Cambier. It is about returning home from Vietnam:
Let me fill you in on the real story. The returning GI was
plucked from the bush with no warning and put on a plane home.
No counseling, no debriefing, nothing. You were in the bush
one day and on the streets of home the next, wondering what
the hell had happened. Many of these guys had, and some still
have, serious emotional problems that the military simply
The term of service for a draftee was two years. Training
(for combat troops, infantry, armor etc.) was during the first
six months. The tour in Vietnam was one year. This left the
returning draftees with six months to fill. To use up the time
KP (kitchen patrol) was one of the most common with three days
on, three days off, four days on, four days off.
About two weeks before the term of service was up, you would
be drug tested. Given that as many as 40% of the returning
GI's came back with a drug problem (the government says 20%)
many would fail. You were given the option of being sent to a
VA hospital or taking a UD (undesirable discharge). Neither
was favorable option. The fear of being in a VA hospital and
the stigma of being hospitalized for a drug problem caused
many to take the UD. Because of the UD a large number were
denied their Veterans benefits.
Many combat troops were told that if they re-enlisted, they
would be given assignments in non-combat areas. Some fell
for this, only to be sent back to Vietnam after signing their
re-enlistment papers. Many went AWOL and were given UD's
with the consequences.
Some of these GI's fought back and formed the Vietnam
Veterans Against the War. They opened offices in many large
cities and counseled GI's on how to avoid being used as fodder
by the military. (editors note: the organization at one time
had 50,000 members) Most people do not know that one of the
reasons the government abandoned the draft was because of
the large number of war resisters within the military. By
1974, there were 50,000 men who had refused to take part in
Lastly, and most significantly, the majority of the combat
troops who went to Vietnam went because they were more
concerned about what the government would do to them if they
refused then what they would do if they went. Only one in my
company of 160 infantrymen wanted to go, and the military sent
him to Germany. At no time were you told what you were doing
was the right thing, only what would happen if you didn't
(military prison, dishonorable discharge, and a ruined life.)
I was told outright by my military commander, "Son, you will
do as you are told, or you will go to jail."
The real atrocity of the Vietnam war was not the way returning
GI's were treated by civilians, but the way they were treated
by the military.
Thank you, Ken
Forgotten History - Tuesday, January 23, 2001
"Little known facts and overlooked history"
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