WWI had an Armistice Day… it celebrated the end of that particular horror. WWII had VE [Victory in Europe] Day, and VJ [Victory over Japan] Days. Celebrations to the end of two more horrors. Then there was Korean Armistice Day, which nobody ever heard of, much less celebrated. And, of course, there’s Veterans Day, just acknowledging all us veterans no matter when we were in the military.
The trouble with having undeclared wars and losing them is that nobody knows why they’re there in the first place, what it takes to win it, or how to know when it ends. Maybe for Vietnam we should celebrate the day the last helicopter with people hanging off it lifted from the US Embassy in Saigon.
But now there’s this:
Honoring Vietnam Veterans Day, March 29, 2018
Ever noticed [assuming you’re old enough] you never heard a WWI vet bragging about whatever it was he did during his time in the service? Most I ever encountered never spoke of it at all.
And WWII veterans are pleased to tell you they spent the war burying bodies in the Solomon Islands, or in a Japanese POW camp, surrendered without firing a shot, or as a postal clerk in North Africa. It’s always been surprising to me just how few guys actually were on the front lines ducking bullets [or saying they were during the decades afterward].
Same with Korean War veterans. Nobody ever wants to tell you he was on a ridge with a bunch of other cold, hungry, scared GIs gunning down swaths of Chinese with a quad .50 machine gun. In fact, Korean War vets hardly say anything at all.
That’s the reason I’ve wondered many times why the same is not and has never been true of Vietnam vets. I’ve seen file clerks, supply clerks, mechanics, and one particular logistics officer all claim to have been heroes, laying ambushes in the jungle. More recently I even ran across a guy who was in Korea at the same time I was when there were few incursions and firefights on the DMZ a decade after the ceasefire. Even knowing I was THERE the silly bastard began laying BS about how he and his unit were setting up ambushes on the DMZ… he was in the 8th Cavalry, which was on the DMZ….. But nothing else he said held any water. Maybe he was jealous of all those finance clerks in DaNang who’ve now become jungle fighters by hindsight.
But I’ve digressed. My real question is this: What was it about the Vietnam War that brought out the lies and the brags? Why were WWII file clerks never tempted to pretend they were heroes, but the Vietnam War file clerks bought themselves ball caps proclaiming themselves brothers to the finance clerks, the supply clerks, and all the other rear echelon folks who discovered later they’d been combat vets. Hell hundreds happily tell one another they’ve been troubled with PTSD. Not more than two hours ago I was talking to one who was in personnel administration who is actually drawing a service-connected disability for PTSD. A personnel admin clerk.
Vietnam never had an Iwo Jima. No Guadalcanal or Midway. No Bataan Death March. When US troops landed on Guadalcanal August, 1942, they’d never seen any movies about jungle warfare. Surprise! They had no idea what they were in for.
Maybe that’s the distinguishing factor. Maybe it was all those WWII movies, John Wayne pulling the pins out of grenades with his teeth. Frank Sinatra drooling over Gina Lollobrigida between firefights in Burma. Robert Mitchum outsmarting the Japanese while protecting a nun [Deborah Kerr]. Maybe that was the missing factor, the systemic flaw in the Vietnam War that caused all those non-combatants to spend all the remaining decades of their lives trying to correct it.
After all, shooting water buffalo out the door of a helicopter with a machine gun is a story that can be embellished with a lot more vigor than stories about typing a company morning report at the motor pool.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all Vietnam veterans are lying. If a guy tells you he was a Navy engineer, and upon questioning tells you he ‘poured concrete for the Navy’, he’s telling you the truth. If he tells you he repaired field telephones, he’s telling you the truth.
And there’s always that one-out-of-ten, or one-out-of-twenty, who actually did serve in the jungle and participated in all that stuff you’ve seen in the same movies the file clerks with the Vietnam veteran caps got their stories from.
So how can you tell if a Vietnam veteran is lying to you? Well one of the ways is to listen to his claim. If he says he was a medic in a VD clinic he’s probably telling you the truth.
But if the US is going to carry on endless presidential wars without having to re-institute the draft they’re going to have to keep glorifying their warriors. And a person who spent a tour in Asia greasing and changing the oil on jeeps in Saigon loves being called a warrior. Loves the feel when he pulls a straight face and announces, “Yeah, I fought in Vietnam.”
Here’s my worthless opinion, Jack, and believe me, I try to never express it because even I know that, to have an opinion about a million things, is just like to have an asshole: everyone has one and so what? But the Vietnam war entered the radar of my generation, if I may, as a war of ambiguities, a war whose cause was either unknown or openly undignified. Despite all horrors inherent to every conflict, and not just those happening on blood-smeared fields – the most amoral part of the war is played by those who declare it without having any skin committed to it; OK with someone else’s kids, but mine I’ll keep on the company’s line of succession, thank you very much -, looking back at the WWs and the Korean campaign, there still some justification to them that survives, while there’s none for the Southeast Asia carnage. Whereas Hitler had to be stopped, and one could argue with a fair rate of success for the presence of GIs in Osan at that particularly moment – South Korea today is, after all, one of the most prosperous democracies in the world -, the Vietnam war was racist in its core, and about domination, and its takeover from the French was happily inherited by an arrogant U.S., who had been oversold the idea of a threat of Chinese domination in the area. The Vietnamese would fight to the death against any attempt of domination by anyone, no matter how long it’d take. And, like Afghanistan, history proves them right. The then Dept of War knew that full well, but shipped American kids to die there anyway, on the delusional idea that it’d send a ‘message’ to Peking. To me, the most important thing accomplished, if I can call it like that, in Nan was to restore in the public perception the notion of ambiguity and ultimate tragic vanity of war, declared for business interests and utterly oblivious to bloodshed. Then again, as I said, I’m just another asshole walking around and helping stink even more the world by just being… Cheers
Thanks Wesley and good morning to you. That’s a mouthful you’ve said. And the ugly truth is, that despite the blood and guts paid by both sides, despite the spinoff benefits of Cambodia going on a self-killing rampage too, there was a winner. Bell helicopter. Maybe what we need is a Bell Helicopter Stockholders Day to celebrate the winners of the Vietnam War. Old Jules
hahaha. Yes, we should get organized, robbed them of some cash and then buy their stock with their own money. It’s going for $56,96 today. But it may go up tomorrow, if Bolton decides to invade Venezuela, as a warmup for Iran and North Korea. Then we may get rich, but also fucked. Cheers
I think Wesley has some grip on your question. All I can add is that quite a few studies show that something truly substantial changed in the American culture right about the end of the Korean War. There’s a ton of debate about what changed, but that something changed is altogether obvious. The Boomers were a whole different kind of America.
Hi Ed. I agree with both of you. I’ve asked myself countless times what it was that changed. And under scrutiny there are hints of it everywhere.
Suddenly around 1957 the Kingston Trio was reaching the top 10 singing Folk songs. Never mind the birth of rock and roll. Folk songs. Beatniks. Poetry readings in coffee houses. Bomb shelters in back yards and a lot of confusion about the Korean war. Brink of war crises every time you turned on the radio. And then, in 1961, Kruschev’s ultimatum that we had to get out of Berlin by a deadline. [That’s when I went in the Army]. And the Berlin Wall went up.
But until Vietnam geared up they were still making lame excuses for the fact Korea was not a ‘declared’ war. A Constitutional war. And all that went away as East IndoChina became Vietnam.
Seems to me the fact Vietnam remained a ‘body-count’ war so long because there were no particular strategies, no overall objectives, just tactics. Because nobody ever had to figure out what we were supposed to be doing there, how we should do it so’s to accomplish some damned thing that made enough sense so’s the troops, the government, the enemy could understand it. No way to win an undeclared war because winning didn’t have a definition. Thanks for the comment. Maybe someone will explain it all for us now that we’re honoring the Vietnam vets, eh? Gracias, Old Jules
Maybe it was little more than establishing an ability for Americans to sell Coca Cola to Joe Gook while he sweltered in his rice paddy tending his water buffalo as well as allowing Monsanto to sell the US government millions of gallons of Roundup…….practice for invading Iraq and Afghanistan who had the temerity to put their soil over OUR resources, further on down the road. Smedley Butler figured it all out many years earlier, most of us still don’t have a clue as we buy our yellow ribbons, baseball caps, bumper stickers, high-test gas and AR-15’s……a fringe benefit, of course, was the gift of giving our tiny dicked politicians a way to compensate for their inadequacies…….
I’d be a liar if i said I don’t agree. Gracias, Old Jules
May I clarify why Korea War Veterans seldom mentioned their war?
Several times more WWII veterans populated the country than the few Korea “Police Action” veterans who dribbled home without fanfare. The WWII vets came down on us hard if we dared mention Korea.
“We fought a ‘real war’ and we won. You only served in a ‘Police Action’ and you only tied,” was the typical response.
During my working career, I remember meeting only one other Korea War veteran. They were probably out there, but they were not talking.
As for War Veteran caps, note that Congress, in its infinite wisdom, calls anyone who served in the military during periods they define as war periods, a “War Veteran”. According to the wise birds in Congress, “it’s not where you served, but when you served that makes you a War Veteran”.
How Co, 14th Inf Regiment, 25th Infantry Division