I expected the article “Haunted by the nightmare of Vietnam” (Forum, April 26) to resonate among veterans of that ruinous war. But I was stunned and humbled by the flood of responses, some of them with intensely personal stories that deserve to be shared.
▪ A Marine colonel and Naval Academy graduate who was shot through the head at close range with an AK-47 assault rifle in 1969, resulting in the loss of an eye. He set a USMC precedent by returning to full duty in 1972 as an infantry officer. He commanded infantry units until his retirement in 1999.
▪ The lady who spoke of her older brother whose traumatic tours with the U.S. Army in Vietnam drove him to drink and an early death. He was one of the more than 100,000 veterans of that war who died prematurely after coming home.
▪ The Marine who joined at 19 and is still haunted by “my friends that have died or will die from complications from Agent Orange … including me.” He and his fellow casualties were chalked up as collateral damage after being saturated with a chemical defoliant that the government initially denied was dangerous and then delayed infected vets from claiming benefits.
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▪ The Air Force enlistee still haunted by the memory of waiting at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to board the Freedom Bird back home and seeing stacked coffins of another 50 men “who paid the ultimate price.”
▪ The B-52 lead navigator who flew many Arc Light bombing missions that dropped a record amount of tonnage on Vietnam. He remembers the chaplain’s preflight briefing prayers for the crews’ safety and for them to do a good job for God and country. The navigator wondered why a supreme being would want any part of this senseless war.
▪ An Air Force colonel attending a postwar conference at the Air War College in Montgomery, Ala., disgustedly recalls being told by a retired diplomat: “We didn’t expect to win; we just didn’t want to lose.”
Nearly all of the respondents deplored the deceptions that cost so many lives in Vietnam. Some likened President Lyndon Johnson misleading Congress to widen that war with President George W. Bush’s cynical campaign to justify invading Iraq.
Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush would have us believe that discussing his brother’s lethal blundering in the Mideast does a disservice to our troops. The real disservice to those who put their lives on the line is refusing to take responsibility for recklessly placing them in harm’s way – and then compounding the deceit by trying to change the subject.
Alan Miller is a former editorial writer and columnist for The Detroit News and the San Diego Union-Tribune. He currently teaches at American River College, and has read and lectured extensively on Vietnam. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.