It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I began to openly talk about my Vietnam experience, that is to say, feel comfortable talking to those who did not share my experience. I had pretty much kept my experience a mystery to others, as most of us Nam Vets have done, after all, our war wasn’t very popular.
I guess there were a lot of emotions we’ve all had to deal with, but for those of us who went and fought, there were multiple issues of guilt, betrayal, hate, anger and devastation to deal with, long after the War ended.
I my case, I first experienced guilt when I arrived home from the war in mid 1966. I felt guilty, because I had left my best friends, my brothers, behind to fight and die, while I was safe at home in the real world. I felt that I had betrayed the only people who I could really trust, entrusted my life to and whose lives were entrusted to me.
Again, when the war finally ended, I felt guilt when the U.S. left Vietnam with its tail between its legs and condemned the Vietnamese people to Communism. My Brothers and I fought, lost blood and lives to avoid such an end.
As a result, I felt betrayed by the very system I had sworn to protect & obey.
We were U.S. Marines, Man for Man, we were and still are the toughest fighting force in the world, but we failed to overcome the communist threat, and for this failure, I felt ashamed and guilty.
By the late 70’s I began to feel guilt and devastation for my personal part in the damage and human suffering caused by a war that never should have ended with the disgrace of those who fought it, or never should have been fought at all.
Later in life, with a wisdom that is only achieved through maturity, I have come to a middle ground with my emotions. The guilt will never be completely resolved, but living with it has become
less of a Burdon through the years.
Understanding the Vietnam War, why we went there in the first place, and how we ultimately screwed up and lost, has helped to put all of these emotions in their proper prospective.
Many Nam Vets, justifiably, blame their government, the Generals, Congress, McNamara and especially President Johnson for the demise in Vietnam.
After all, it wasn’t our fault. We were trained to win and we went to Vietnam to win. Losing never entered our minds. Why then did we lose?
The simple answer to this question would be, we didn’t lose, we gave up. I’ve seen bumper stickers that read, ”We were winning when I left” A truer statement would be ”We were winning when we all finally left”
Let’s face it; the Vietnam War was a bad war! That’s what all the Journalists called it, “A Bad war” I contend that there is no such thing as a “Good War” But then the Journalists basically wrote the script for the Vietnam war didn’t they, Vietnam was the first “made for television” War.
I was in Vietnam just short of (4) weeks when on August 2nd 1965 Dan Rather (a CBS field reporter at the time) came into the field and did a piece for the CBS nightly news.
Although Mr. Rather was only party to the aftermath, and reported only hearsay, (he showed up several hours after the incident, and only after the area had been secured) he was the expert as far as the average American television viewer was concerned. However, Dan Rather did not report all of the facts, and what was reported, made the Marines of G Company 2nd Battalion 9th Marines look like barbarians.
(Dan Rather’s segment was aired on the CBS nightly news and again in a CBS series titled “Vietnam The 10,000 Day War” and allegedly exposes US wrongdoing in the Village of Cam Ne) See my story (Assault on Cam Ne) in the War Stories section for the truth.
Unfortunately, the Press interfered greatly with the process of winning, by brining the War into every living room in America, and using the War for television ratings. War is tough enough on those of us who fight it, it has different and sometimes more overbearing effects on those who observe it.
(Americans quickly became disgusted with the scoreboard, the daily body counts)
It was the American public, tired and disgusted with what they were seeing on television, that through protest, finally put a stop to the war. And yes, some of our politicians were way out of control. Presidents do not fight wars, soldiers fight wars, and generals control the battlefield. President Johnson tried to control every aspect of the war and failed.
I liken President Johnson to Adolph Hitler, hovering over the battlefield map, planning the next military action or response.
click photo to enlarge
Our Communication systems at that time were slow at best, there were 12 to 24 hours lag time between the Whitehouse situation room and my CO on the battlefield. By the time Johnson and his henchman issued their response, the battlefield conditions had changed to the degree that the new orders were obsolete before they were ever issued.
Johnson declared in early 1965 that if he was going to have to take the heat, he was going to make all the decisions. As a result, the Vietnam War became a Whitehouse board game and Johnson had all the Field Generals so
involved with his politics that they failed to lead.
If American soldiers in Vietnam had leaders like Chesty Puller, George Patton & Douglass Macarthur, the War would not only have ended with a win. The Vietnam Wall would be a much narrower monument (far fewer names).
The Vietnam War was lost because President Johnson, just like Adolph Hitler, played Field General. And while Johnson was playing General, 40,000 American soldiers died on his battlefield. By the time Nixon came into control, it was too late, the American people lost their desire to win and only wanted it to stop.
LOSE, no my Brothers we didn’t lose, we fought hard, many were wounded and 58,000 of us died, but we won every battle, No we didn’t lose. Our country, our leadership and our fellow citizens gave up. No we didn’t lose, we performed our duty with HONOR! We've earned the right to be Proud!
exception of Jane Fonda and President Johnson and a hand full of Draft
no longer hate those who made me feel guilty.
It is still my belief that Fonda should have been tried for Treason, not sure about Johnson!
I believe that the War needed to end when it did, but I also believe that we could have won it in the 60's if the Brass had stood up to the President and taken control of the battlefield!
It has taken a long time to resolve these emotions, talking to other Vietnam Vets has
been the biggest help, building and maintaining this web site has helped, all
of your guestbook posts and emails have also helped and only time can heal
the rest of my open wounds.
I am not
sorry that I went to Vietnam, It was the right thing to do when we went in. I
am proud of my Brothers, proud of my myself, proud to have served my country,
and proud to be a member of the greatest brotherhood in the world, the United
States Marine Corps.