National Vietnam War Veterans Day, by Andrew Joppa

 

 ” We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

George Orwell

 

Today, March 29, is National Vietnam War Veterans Day. It is a day set aside for Americans to unite and thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice.

 

Wars come in all types from the purposeful to the useless. WWI was useless, WWII was purposeful.  Vietnam was in a category of being a purposeful war badly administered …our warriors did a fantastic job… Washington failed them and the nation. The downside of Vietnam is not about the valor of our fighting men…as it was then, if America does not come out ahead, it will be because of politicians with suspect motives.

 

29 March is a fitting choice for a day to honor these Vietnam veterans. It was chosen to be observed in perpetuity as it was the day in 1973 when the United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, was disestablished and also the day the last U.S. combat troops departed Vietnam.  In addition, on and around this same day, Hanoi released the last of its acknowledged prisoners of war.

 

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that today there are more than 7 million U.S. Vietnam veterans living in America and abroad, along with ten million families of those who served during this period. This number includes anyone on active duty during the Vietnam period, regardless of where they served.

 

If we just consider those who actively served in Vietnam itself, the numbers become dramatically reduced. As one of those counted in that number, we have now become part of the same emotional countdown I witnessed as I was growing up…the decreasing number of survivors from WWII. Everyday hundreds of us move on to a ‘better place” …or so it is hoped.

 

I would note here that I was drafted into the Marines and only avoided that dangerous reality by enlisting in the Air Force with a last-minute opening. Being a Marine was dangerous…being a draftee into the Marines was a near death sentence, as they were given the most dangerous field assignments.

 

To this day, when I meet a Marine wearing a VN veterans’ hat, I always go out of my way to tell him I was Air Force.  I have never wanted to misappropriate the contributions made, and the suffering endured, by the “troops” in the field; experiencing pain and danger that I heard so much about in a countless number of phone calls that I connected as part of my duty station.

 

There is a growing camaraderie amongst us.  We know few others remember or care…we know that we do, and we seldom fail to acknowledge our brotherhood whether it’s on a golf course or at Publix. Most of us have little in common except “The Nam” …but that’s an enormous emotional link.

 

My base, Binh Thuy in the Mekong Delta, was noted for having been attacked more than any other air base in American history…twenty-six identified mortar and rocket attacks while I was there…but it wasn’t the field…it wasn’t the trenches…it wasn’t the jungle. Very few at my base went through what most Marines, Army, and Special Forces experienced daily.

 

I oversaw the MARS radio system (Military Affiliated Radio System). In that period of lesser technologies, I would hook up troops at my office by radio with a stateside facility, often Barry Goldwater’s system in Phoenix Arizona, who would then patch him into a phone system so he could talk to his loved ones.

 

Since these were keyed vox calls I had to listen in to maintain the flow of conversation. While most calls were just expressions of love some took on a more emotional connotation. One Army Captain found out his daughter had cancer (why’d they tell him?) and another found out his wife had left him when her new “squeeze” answered the phone and taunted this man who was already going through hell…this was pure evil. I often hated being a part of that process, one that happened all too often.

 

As we pause this day to remember those that were lost, and those who lived with injuries for the rest of their lives, there are some stories so remarkable…so amazing…so courageous …that if Hollywood put them on the screen they wouldn’t be believed.

 

Once again, I knew many of these stories from warriors who came into my office. These were normal men who became incredible within the pressure of battle and their need to protect their brother on their right and on their left.

 

Since I came back whole (you can judge that for yourself) I can offer that Vietnam was the turning point of my life. Although I did everything I could to avoid going, I was no hero, the experience was dramatic in what it taught me about life…what it taught me about myself.

 

While I can’t say I look back on Vietnam fondly, I can say I Iook back on it with no regrets. Others don’t have that luxury. My heart still goes out to those who paid an enormous price for, what was at the time, little gratitude.

 

The Vietnam Wall (in part)

by Andy Joppa

 

“I stared unfocused at the wall ahead,

Thought I saw shadows of the Vietnam dead,

Could see them striding so young and tall,

But now these warriors lived only on the wall.

May they rest in peace and never hear,

How few in our nation ever shed a tear.

Check Also

Giving “Never Again” a New Reality, by Andrew Joppa

  This may be the most important essay you’ve ever read. I know you’ve seen these …