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.”