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35 years ago today

fall_of_saigon.jpg 

Thirty-five years ago today, I was an about-to-graduate high school senior. State wrestling champ, All-state football player, with a scholarship offer from the University of Missouri. Ready to move on to the next phase.

I walked down the stairs to where my bedroom was, turned left, and the Auld Soldier was sitting on the couch, watching TV. He was four months away from retiring after 27 years, two wars, a Silver Star, BSM w/v, and seven Purple Hearts.

He never noticed me.

He was watching the news.

He was watching the fall of Saigon, streaming into the family room.

I just went to the couch, sat next to him, and took his hand and we watched. I've only one other time seen that look on his face. The morning Mom died.  The ghosts in the room watched with us.

For many of our readers, the Vietnam War is an item from the history books. For others, like me, it's a life event experienced at one degree of separation, others, at a greater remove.

And for a not insignificant number of us - zero degrees of separation. Callow youth became grizzled vets well before their 21st birthday.

It is that group I honor today. The ones among us who went there and have that t-shirt and polished the car with it many many times.

You did your best with what you had. The failure lies rather farther up the chain.

Perhaps as important - many of you made it your passion to insure that the newest group of grizzled vets didn't come home from their war to the same reception you got returning from yours. And as many if not more of you have spent many long hours, days, months, years and dollars taking care of your brothers and sisters who didn't come all the way home. Taking care of those the nation would rather have forgotten.

I've read Frances FitzGerald's paean to the Viet Cong, Fire in the Lake. I still have the Auld Soldier's copy. During the Fall of Saigon, she was interviewed for the Union College student newspaper.
FitzGerald won the Pulitzer Prize for her passionate embrace of the oppressed peasants simply striving for a better life free of imperialist hegemony, who apparently wanted nothing more than to establish a anarcho-syndicalist commune and take it upon themselves to take turns acting as a sort of executive officer for the week. She confidently predicted that the new, enlightened rulers of Vietnam would soon have free, multi-party elections.

How'd that work out for you, Ms. FitzGerald?

I'm not here to debate the ups and downs and rights and wrongs.

I'm here to honor those among who went and came back.

And, those who didn't. The ghosts on our shoulders. I have a few ghosts from that era too. This one's for you, too, Dad.

Now is the time at Castle Argghhh! when we dance: In Memoriam of the fallen of Vietnam.  And those who have since gone down the road to meet their buddies at Fiddler's Green.

Update: Jonn Lilyea and Jules Crittenden remember.

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35 years ago… from This ain't Hell, but you can see it from here on April 30, 2010 9:23 AM

The Armorer reminds us that the Vietnam War ended 35 years ago today. I was in jump school at the time, I think I graduated the following week because a week after that I was a 128 pound 5 jump chump drawing ammo at Hunter Army Airfield for our aborte... Read More

37 Comments

I can only nod in agreement, John. 

 
It was all but over when I was born, but my father and uncles told me stories of those days. I've read heavily of it out of curisoity, and because of the myths blended with truth that surrounds the time.

Hooah to those warriors, present and past
 
Sir, *Well Done!* I've got about 10 years on you. But you have done something, that I just can't find the words. Just think about the "old timers", now about twenty five, trying to explain 9/11/2001 and its impact, to their grandchildren. I think one phrase you use which is really important. "The ghosts on our shoulders. I have few from that era too. This one's for for you, too, Dad." We fight those ghosts with everything at our disposal, some we win, some we lose. God Speed to those we lose, there are no words to describe your feelings. You just keep up with the good fight.
 

This Aritcle takes me back to that same day when I too sat and watched the Fall of Saigon and South Vietnam.  Still fresh in my memory the two tours and the many lost friends, here in the morning and simple gone later that day. No goodbyes or fairwells, just Continue the Mission.
Yes I remember well.
 

 
Well said....
 
"Never, ever, again", I pray. Both for those we try to help, and the way we were treated.
 
I was on my way to Division Headquarters in Frankfurt, listening to Armed Forces Radio when the announcement was made.  I had to pull off the highway at a Schnell Imbiss.  Cried for some time, for those who were lost and who were subsequently abandoned by the politicians.  The war was won several times by those on the ground only to have victory delivered into the hands of our enemies by the politicians.  Whether we should have done it in the first place is another question.
 
I was there, I was hard times.
 
God bless them all. I pray that someday the memories and the pain and most of all the lies come to an end for every single one.
 
Amen.
 
Mizz FitzGerald? I sent a whole bunch of "oppressed peasant agrarian reformers" I caught killing their fellow countrymen -- and women, and children -- straight to hell.

Just wanted you to know you won't be lonely when you get there.
 
I agree with htom, Never will I allow our brothers to suffer the hell from our fellow citizens that we (the Vietnam Veteran) went through.  I thank the Lord that things have changed and our men and women wearing the uniform of our country are now treated with the praise and respect they deserve.  I too watched the fall of Saigon, I too also watched with my ghosts.  I cried.
 
Beautifully Done
 
I was aboard Independence CV62 in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia.
 
 Amen, John.
 
In January, I returned from an 8-month deployment to the Northern Arabian Gulf.  One of the sailors under my charge was a petty officer who escaped Vietnam by boat and came here to the United States.

At one point during their escape, the family became separated and were on two separate boats.  The family members on the other boat were all killed.  His boat escaped.

He is an ordinary person with an extraordinary story to tell.  To sum it up, he witnessed firsthand the compassion and professionalism of the US Navy, which rescued him from certain death.

During the long midwatches, he was always positive and cheerful no matter how bad conditions were.  He truly loves this country and is proud to wear the uniform.

It eventually occurred to me that this outstanding sailor is living testament to the devotion and valor of our brothers and sisters who served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

Thanks to the Auld Man and all who served before us.

 
It makes me mad.  55,000 American soldiers died, but millions of our Vietnam allies were killed because of the politics.  I'll never forgive and I can't forget the zipping of body bags and the smell of death.   It was a long and brutal war. 

91B20
82nd. Airborne
 
*raises beer, takes sip*
Salute!

Well done, John.
 
When we looked at the world with young men's eyes so soon to grow old.
 
I remember watching that in my Uncle Doug's house in Decatur, GA.  I was 24, and still congratulating myself on escaping the draft.  I became of military age just as the war was winding down and getting Vietnamized, so I would not really have risked much except for maybe being beaten up by comrades for being weird and strange, but I still had mixed feelings, thinking commies were indeed evil, but that I was an intellectual objector, the war being conducted in a stupid manner.

I have since developed a slightly guilty conscience for not having gone, but Chief  Bill has said that he forgives me, which will have to do.

On later thought, and on reading Jerry Pournelle, I am convinced that we really did have the thing won and Congress threw it away, betraying the trust of lots of folks abroad and at home.
 
Just finished armor ait and was on my way down the street to sheridan school. After a rousing chorus of babykiller this and that from my so-called 'friends' I moved out smartly and never looked back. Haven't seen, heard or missed a one of em.
 
Amen John, and BillT as well. 
 
Oh, almost forgot! Just stepped outside and spilled libation.
 
I was in Tech school at Lowery AFB, CO.  The next morning, the half of my class that had orders to Thiland, were told to report to the personel office for new orders.  That was it.  Our instructors, who had all been to Nam were definatley "plowing through" the days classes.  I'm sure they were eager to get away from us kids, have a drink, and cry for the friends maimed by rocket attacks and pilots/WSOs that never came back.
 
I spent a lot of time with the Vietnamese people while I was there from May 1970 to Sept.1971. I knew that one day the NVA would take Saigon. My unit lost 38 good men. My wife is from Viet Nam and is an eyewitness to 4-30-1975. She knows from personal experience what it is like to live under the Communists.
We the vets were treated like dirt or at the very least people were very cold to us. It was though we had a contagious disease. That is why I send boxes to A-stan and Iraq. No veteran should ever again have to through what we did. Shame on you America!
 
Harp, not where I was. I was a student at Ga.Tech from the fall of '68 till I gave up, around '76. During that time, I had several Vet roommates, who were pleasant enough folks, if a bit strange (rotationally-winged, mostly). We got along.   The main  thing  there and then  was,  you  had  to be  really  brave  to  play  intramural  contact  sports  against  any  team  fielded  by  the Veterans'  Club.
 
To a certain extent, my contemporary reactions reflect those of JTG, except that I was only 15. I had literally grown up watching that war, and wanted nothing to do with the military. My older brother (senior by about 8 years) fled to Canada.

Even then, I held a passion for history, but it took a fair number of years before I gained a better grasp of what happened. Just recently an episode of Pajamasmedia Trifecta -while discussing health care "reform"- coined the phrase "where was the media?" One could ask the same thing of the Vietnam era.

Later (again, like JTG) after following Jerry Pournelle for a while I began to grasp what really happened, as opposed to the official version of what happened.

Godspeed to those men (and few women). Today we even have folks like John Voight stand forth, fighting the Common Wisdom.

JTG, thanks for the reminder; I also spilled a libation, even if it was only a beer {sheepish look}.

harp1034, and BillT, and the Auld Soldier, and all of you of the Old Breed; thank you for your service, and may God bless you..

 

 
What Casey said.
 
I was at Tan San Nhut  on April 30th. It seems like just yesterday.
At least they cheered my Son at the airport when he came back from Iraq. Somehow that does seem like some kind of vindication.
 
God Bless those who stood up and Stood the Line. The soldiers who fought have nothing to be ashamed of. The betrayals came from the same segments of society then that are pushing constant streams of betrayal now.

Our military was harmed greatly by the betrayals then, and continued to be harmed by those betrayals, even today. You can see it in our military's overly cautious ROEs, its knee jerk defensiveness in PR and its subtle acknowledgment that the betrayers on the home-front are potentially every bit as lethal to the US military as are the foreign enemy currently engaged in the fight.
 
Even though I was a young child 35 years ago.... I don't remember the end of the war first-hand.  I wish I could.  Thanks for sharing, John.  And many, many thanks to those who fought during Vietnam, including my father, who still, to this day, won't talk about it.
 
Rick554,

When I was coming back from some tough months in Al Anbar, we got to Maine about 0230 local time.  There were several hundred people in the terminal, there to shake hands and thank us for our service and our sacrifice.  I had tears in my eyes, not for us and our welcome.  I was grateful and still am, no question.  But the thought that moved me so profoundly was how much this would have meant to so many thousands of Vietnam Veterans whose suffering and sacrifice was scorned and belittled. 

I got a hug from a Khe Sanh Marine, and told him "I wish I'd been old enough to do this for you".  All he could say was "I HAD to be here."

So, to you as well, I wish I'd been old enough to do for you what your warriors did for your son.
 
Oldloadr, Lowry AFB, CO was an "interesting place" , many untold stories out of that place. You went to Thailand,  possibly Bangkok? Cardinal rule, If  it looks too good to be true, *Don't touch it!* Castle Rulez forbid me to define, "it".

Many of you try to talk about talking to 'Nam Vets, it must be their choice. Many of the guys and GALS from 'Nam want the respect to go to Today's Military at War.  'Nam is history, signed, sealed and delivered, you can never rewrite the history.

To the whole motley crew at the Castle, even King John, all the regulars and even Sakar, who proved herself to be extremely gracious with a couple of *Old Vets*. John provided a playroom, for us,  probably padded.

Grumpy
 
As a parent of a recently returned (Iraq) reservist, I think I know who to thank for the honor that my son has received in our community and country. Thanks to the returned Viet Nam vets who were not honored in their return. I think that they must have pledged that their treatment would happen again in our community. When my son (and all of the local son's & daughters) return, our church brings the returned soldier to the front of the church, gathers all of the previous generations of hero's together and we lay on hands and pray for the new and old soldiers. It could be that this was the first time that our church’s veterans have been able to be honored by our church, just like our currently serving soldiers. I want to thank all who have served in the past so that my son can serve and return with pride and honor in his service. I apologize to those who served honorably and did not receive the same. I offer my pledge also, never again.
 
Beyond the personal and subjective memories, there's a lot to learn about the Viet Nam experience.  Just before committing our first large formations in 1965 the brass at the Pentagon war gamed the exercise.  What they discovered was that no matter what the blue side did, the red side ( US military and civilian strategists playing the Communist leaders ) could just keep sending in more manpower.  We were 10,000 miles from home and the Commies were all "at home"  and nothing except nukes could overcome that advantage.  The conclusion, carefully hushed up, was that a Viet Nam campaign was ultimately unwinnable.  By 1967, two years into the heavy fighting, President Johnson came to the same conclusion.  The side we were backing was so weak, corrupt and demoralized that no amount of American help could salvage them.  It was this realization that kept him from running for reelection in 1968.  Nixon shook things up, replacing Westmoreland with Abrahms who concluded that we could probably do better on the battlefield with improved tractics but we were nowhere near "victory" and time and patience were running out.  We had to start backing out of there utilizing whatever fig leaves we could create ( read Viet Namization and Paris Peace Talks ).  Remarkably, given the ferocity of the anti-war demonstrations at home, the men at the top paid relatively little attention to them.  It was a rational decision to cut our losses and get out of a hopeless situation.  All this was going on far above the heads of the men in the trenches.  Limited war was simply a game that we were very new at and didn't really know how to deal with.  Perhaps we still don't.  
 
A song released by SSgt Barry Sadler, titled "Empty Glass Beside Me", tells of a vet drinking a toast in memory "he will drink with me no more."  More than 35 years have passed since I heard it and I remember about the empty glass at the seat beside him. It may only be a toast with cherry RC cola, but it is my way to render honors.
HH
 
If you are in Wisconsin, namely Green Bay, WI, at Lambeau Field on May 21-23 you will have the opportunity to honor Vietnam Veterans at lzlambeau.org/.