Heroes of the Vietnam
By James Webb (U.S. Senator - Democrat)
The rapidly disappearing cohort of Americans that endured
the Great Depression and then fought World War II is receiving quite a send-off from the leading lights of the so-called 60s
generation. Tom Brokaw has published two oral histories of "The Greatest Generation" that feature ordinary people doing
their duty and suggest that such conduct was historically unique.
Chris Matthews of "Hardball" is fond of writing columns
praising the Navy service of his father while castigating his own baby boomer generation for its alleged softness and lack
of struggle. William Bennett gave a startling condescending speech at the Naval Academy a few years ago comparing the
heroism of the "D-Day Generation" to the drugs-and-sex nihilism of the "Woodstock Generation." And Steven Spielberg,
in promoting his film "Saving Private Ryan," was careful to justify his portrayals of soldiers in action based on the supposedly
unique nature of World War II.
An irony is at work here. Lest we forget, the World War II generation now being
lionized also brought us the Vietnam War, a conflict which today';s most conspicuous voices by and large opposed, and in which
few of them served. The "best and brightest" of the Vietnam age group once made headlines by castigating their parents
for bringing about the war in which they would not fight, which has become the war they refuse to remember. Pundits
back then invented a term for this animus: the "generation gap." Long, plaintive articles and even books were written
examining its manifestations. Campus leaders, who claimed precocious wisdom through the magical process of reading a
few controversial books, urged fellow baby boomers not to trust anyone over 30. Their elders who had survived the Depression
and fought the largest war in history were looked down upon as shallow, materialistic, and out of touch.
Those of us
who grew up, on the other side of the picket line from that era's counter-culture can't help but feel a little leery of this
sudden gush of appreciation for our elders from the leading lights of the old counter-culture. Then and now, the national
conversation has proceeded from the dubious assumption that those who came of age during Vietnam are a unified generation
in the same sense as their parents were, and thus are capable of being spoken for through these fickle elites.
the " Vietnam generation" is a misnomer. Those who came of age during that war are permanently divided by different
reactions to a whole range of counter-cultural agendas, and nothing divides them more deeply than the personal ramifications
of the war itself. The sizable portion of the Vietnam age group who declined to support the counter-cultural agenda,
and especially the men and women who opted to serve in the military during the Vietnam War, are quite different from their
peers who for decades have claimed to speak for them. In fact, they are much like the World War II generation itself.
For them, Woodstock was a side show, college protestors were spoiled brats who would have benefited from having to work a
few jobs in order to pay their tuition, and Vietnam represented not an intellectual exercise in draft avoidance, or protest
marches but a battlefield that was just as brutal as those their fathers faced in World War II and Korea.
Few who served
during Vietnam ever complained of a generation gap. The men who fought World War II were their heroes and role models.
They honored their father's service by emulating it, and largely agreed with their father's wisdom in attempting to stop Communism's
reach in Southeast Asia .
The most accurate poll of their attitudes (Harris, 1980) showed that 91 percent were glad
they'd served their country, 74 percent enjoyed their time in the service, and 89 percent agreed with the statement that "our
troops were asked to fight in a war which our political leaders in Washington would not let them win." And most importantly,
the castigation they received upon returning home was not from the World War II generation, but from the very elites in their
age group who supposedly spoke for them.
Nine million men served in the military during Vietnam War, three million
of whom went to the Vietnam Theater. Contrary to popular mythology, two-thirds of these were volunteers, and 73 percent
of those who died were volunteers. While some attention has been paid recently to the plight of our prisoners of war,
most of whom were pilots; there has been little recognition of how brutal the war was for those who fought it on the ground.
Dropped onto the enemy's terrain 12,000 miles away from home, America 's citizen-soldiers performed with a tenacity and quality
that may never be truly understood. Those who believe the war was fought incompletely on a tactical level should consider
Hanoi 's recent admission that 1.4 million of its soldiers died on the battlefield, compared to 58,000 total U.S. dead.
who believe that it was a "dirty little war" where the bombs did all the work might contemplate that is was the most costly
war the U.S. Marine Corps has ever fought; five times as many dead as World War I, three times as many dead as in Korea, and
more total killed and wounded than in all of World War II.
Significantly, these sacrifices were being made at a time
the United States was deeply divided over our effort in Vietnam . The baby-boom generation had cracked apart along class
lines as America 's young men were making difficult, life-or-death choices about serving. The better academic institutions
became focal points for vitriolic protest against the war, with few of their graduates going into the military. Harvard
College , which had lost 691 alumni in World War II, lost a total of 12 men in Vietnam from the classes of 1962 through 1972
combined. Those classes at Princeton lost six, at MIT two. The media turned ever more hostile. And frequently
the reward for a young man's having gone through the trauma of combat was to be greeted by his peers with studied indifference
of outright hostility.
What is a hero? My heroes are the young men who faced the issues of war and possible death,
and then weighed those concerns against obligations to their country. Citizen-soldiers who interrupted their personal
and professional lives at their most formative stage, in the timeless phrase of the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National
Cemetery , "not for fame of reward, not for place or for rank, but in simple obedience to duty, as they understood it."
Who suffered loneliness, disease, and wounds with an often-contagious elan. And who deserve a far better place in history
than that now offered them by the so-called spokesman of our so-called generation.
Mr. Brokaw, Mr. Matthews, Mr. Bennett,
Mr. Spielberg, meet my Marines. 1969 was an odd year to be in Vietnam . Second only to 1968 in terms of American
casualties, it was the year made famous by Hamburger Hill, as well as the gut-wrenching Life cover story showing pictures
of 242 Americans who had been killed in one average week of fighting. Back home, it was the year of Woodstock , and
of numerous anti-war rallies that culminated in the Moratorium march on Washington . The My Lai massacre hit the papers
and was seized upon the anti-war movement as the emblematic moment of the war. Lyndon Johnson left Washington in utter
Richard Nixon entered the scene, destined for an even worse fate. In the An Hoa Basin southwest
of Danang, the Fifth Marine Regiment was in its third year of continuous comb at operations. Combat is an unpredictable
and inexact environment, but we were well led. As a rifle platoon and company commander, I served under a succession
of three regimental commanders who had cut their teeth in World War II, and four different battalion commanders, three of
whom had seen combat in Korea. The company commanders were typically captains on their second combat tour in Vietnam
, or young first lieutenants like myself who were given companies after many months of "bush time" as platoon commanders in
the Basin's tough and unforgiving environs.
The Basin was one of the most heavily contested areas in Vietnam , its
torn, cratered earth offering every sort of wartime possibility. In the mountains just to the west, not far from the Ho Chi
Minh Trail, the North Vietnamese Army operated an infantry division from an area called Base Area 112. In the valleys
of the Basin, main-force Viet Cong battalions whose ranks were 80 percent North Vietnamese Army regulars moved against the
Americans every day. Local Viet Cong units sniped and harassed. Ridgelines and paddy dikes were laced with sophisticated
booby traps of every size, from a hand grenade to a 250-pound bomb. The villages sat in the rice paddies and tree lines
like individual fortresses, crisscrossed with the trenches and spider holes, their homes sporting bunkers capable of surviving
direct hits from large-caliber artillery shells. The Viet Cong infrastructure was intricate and permeating. Except
for the old and the very young, villagers who did not side with the Communists had either been killed or driven out to the
government controlled enclaves near Danang.
In the rifle companies, we spent the endless months patrolling ridgelines
and villages and mountains, far away from any notion of tents, barbed wire, hot food, or electricity. Luxuries were
limited to what would fit inside one';s pack, which after a few "humps" usually boiled down to letter-writing material, towel,
soap, toothbrush, poncho liner, and a small transistor radio.
We moved through the boiling heat with 60 pounds of weapons
and gear, causing a typical Marine to drop 20 percent of his body weight while in the bush. When we stopped we dug chest-deep
fighting holes and slit trenches for toilets. We slept on the ground under makeshift poncho hootches, and when it rained
we usually took our hootches down because wet ponchos shined under illumination flares, making great targets. Sleep
itself was fitful, never more than an hour or two at a stretch for months at a time as we mixed daytime patrolling with night-time
ambushes, listening posts, foxhole duty, and radio watches. Ringworm, hookworm, malaria, and dysentery were common,
as was trench foot when the monsoons came. Respite was rotating back to the mud-filled regimental combat base at An
Hoa for four or five days, where rocket and mortar attacks were frequent and our troops manned defensive bunkers at night.
Which makes it kind of hard to get excited about tales of Woodstock , or camping at the Vineyard during summer break.
had been told while training that Marine officers in the rifle companies had an 85 percent probability of being killed or
wounded, and the experience of "Dying Delta," as our company was known, bore that out. Of the officers in the bush when
I arrived, our company commander was wounded, the weapons platoon commander wounded, the first platoon commander was killed,
the second platoon commander was wounded twice, and I, commanding the third platoons fared no better. Two of my original
three-squad leaders were killed, and the third shot in the stomach. My platoon sergeant was severely wounded, as was
my right guide. By the time I left, my platoon I had gone through six radio operators, five of them casualties.
figures were hardly unique; in fact, they were typical. Many other units; for instance, those who fought the hill battles
around Khe Sanh, or were with the famed Walking Dead of the Ninth Marine Regiment, or were in the battle of Hue City or at
Dai Do, had it far worse.
When I remember those days and the very young men who spent them with me, I am continually
amazed, for these were mostly recent civilians barely out of high school, called up from the cities and the farms to do their
year in hell and he return. Visions haunt me every day, not of the nightmares of war but of the steady consistency with
which my Marines faced their responsibilities, and of how uncomplaining most of them were in the face of constant danger.
The salty, battle-hardened 20-year-olds teaching green 19-year-olds the intricate lessons of the hostile battlefield.
The unerring skill of the young squad leaders as we moved through unfamiliar villages and weed-choked trails in the black
of night. The quick certainty when a fellow Marine was wounded and needed help. Their willingness to risk their
lives to save other Marines in peril. To this day it stuns me that their own countrymen have so completely missed the
story of their service, lost in the bitter confusion of the war itself.
Like every military unit throughout history
we had occasional laggards, cowards, and complainers. But in the aggregate, these Marines were the finest people I have
ever been around. It has been my privilege to keep up with many of them over the years since we all came home.
One finds in them very little bitterness about the war in which they fought. The most common regret, almost to a man,
is that they were not able to do more for each other and for the people they came to help.
It would be redundant to
say that I would trust my life to these men. Because I already have, in more ways than I can ever recount. I am
alive today because of their quiet, unaffected heroism. Such valor epitomizes the conduct of Americans at war from the
first days of our existence. That the boomer elites can canonize this sort of conduct in our fathers'; generation while
ignoring it in our own is more than simple oversight. It is a conscious, continuing travesty.
Former Secretary of the Navy James Webb was awarded the Navy Cross, Silver Star, and Bronze Star medals for heroism
as a Marine in Vietnam. His novels include The Emperor's General and Fields of Fire. Also, please note
the following statistics:
Day was just a month ago, but a grateful nation should be thankful EVERY DAY for our Veterans! Here are some interesting
facts about the great men and women (and teenagers) who served in Vietnam:
In case you haven't been paying attention
these past few decades after you returned from Vietnam, the clock has been ticking. The following
are some statistics that are at once depressing yet in a larger sense should give you a huge sense of pride.
2,709,918 Americans who served in Vietnam, Less than 850,000 are estimated to be alive today, with the
youngest American Vietnam veteran's age approximated to be 54 years old." How does it feel to be among the last third
of all the Vietnam Veterans who served in Vietnam to be alive? I don't know about you guys, but
it kind of gives me the chills.
Considering the kind
of information available about the death rate of WWII and Korean War Veterans, publicized information indicates that in the
last 14 years Vietnam veterans are dying at the rate of 390 deaths each day. At this rate there will
be only a few of us alive in 2015.
These statistics were taken from a variety
of sources to include: The VFW Magazine, the Public Information Office, and the HQ CP Forward Observer - 1st Recon April 12,
STATISTICS FOR INDIVIDUALS IN UNIFORM AND IN COUNTRY
1. 9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the Vietnam Era (Aug 5,
1964 - May 7, 1975).
2 8,744,000 GIs were on active
duty during the war (Aug 5, 1964 - March 28, 1973).
3. 2,709,918 Americans served in
Vietnam, this number represents 9.7% of their generation.
4. 3,403,100 (Including 514,300 offshore)
personnel served in the broader Southeast Asia Theater (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, flight crews
based in Thailand and sailors in adjacent South China Sea waters).
5. 2,594,000 personnel served within
the borders of South Vietnam (Jan. 1, 1965 - March 28, 1973). Another 50,000 men served in Vietnam
between 1960 and 1964.
6. Of the 2.6 million, between 1-1.6 million
(40-60%) either fought in combat, provided close support or were at least fairly regularly exposed to enemy attack.
7. 7,484 women (6,250 or 83.5% were
nurses) served in Vietnam.
8. Peak troop strength in Vietnam:
543,482 (April 30, 1968).
1. The first man
to die in Vietnam was James Davis, in 1958. He was with the 509th Radio Research Station. Davis Station
in Saigon was named for him.
2. Non-hostile deaths: 10,800
58,202 (Includes men formerly classified as MIA and Mayaguez casualties). Men who have subsequently
died of wounds account for the changing total.
4. 8 nurses died -- 1 was KIA.
5. 61% of the men killed were 21 or younger.
6. 11,465 of those killed were younger than 20 years old.
7. Of those
killed, 17,539 were married.
8. Average age of men killed: 23.1 years
9. Enlisted: 50,274 - 22.37 years
10. Officers: 6,598 - 28.43 years
Warrants: 1,276 - 24.73 years
12. E1: 525 - 20.34 years
13. 11B MOS: 18,465 - 22.55 years
14. Five men killed in
Vietnam were only 16 years old.
15. The oldest man killed was 62 years old.
16. 2,709,918 Americans served in Vietnam,
58,202 were KIA for a percentage of .0214%.
17. 303,704 were wounded: 303,704. 153,329 were hospitalized.
18. 150,375 were injured requiring
no hospital care.
19. 75,000 were severely disabled. 23,214 were 100% disabled. 5,283 lost limbs. 1,081 sustained multiple
20. Amputation or crippling wounds to the lower extremities were 300% higher than in WWII and 70% higher than
21. Multiple amputations occurred at the rate of 18.4% compared to 5.7% in WWII.
in Action: 2,338
23. POWs: 766 (114 died in captivity)
24. As of January 15, 2004, there are 1,875 Americans still
unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.
DRAFTEES VS VOLUNTEERS
1. 25% (648,500) of total forces in
country were draftees.
2. 66% of U.S. armed
forces members were drafted during WWII).
3. Draftees accounted for 30.4% (17,725) of combat deaths in Vietnam.
Reservists killed: 5,977
5. National Guard: 6,140 served: 101 died.
6. Total draftees (1965 - 73): 1,728,344.
Actually served in Vietnam: 38%
8. Marine Corps Draft: 42,633.
9. Last man drafted: June 30, 1973.
RACE AND ETHNIC BACKGROUND
1. 88.4% of the
men who actually served in Vietnam were Caucasian; 10.6% (275,000) were black; 1% belonged to other
2. 86.3% of the men who died in Vietnam were Caucasian (includes Hispanics); 12.5% (7,241)
were black; 1.2% belonged to other races.
3. 170,000 Hispanics served in Vietnam; 3,070 (5.2% of
total) died there.
4. 70% of enlisted men
killed were of North-west European descent.
5. 86.8% of the men who were killed as a result of hostile action were Caucasian;
12.1% (5,711) were black; 1.1% belonged to other races.
6. 14.6% (1,530) of non-combat deaths were among blacks.
34% of blacks who enlisted volunteered for the combat arms.
8. Overall, blacks suffered 12.5% of the deaths in Vietnam
at a time when the percentage of blacks of military age was 13.5% of the total population.
9. Religion of Dead: Protestant
-- 64.4%; Catholic -- 28.9%; other/none -- 6.7%
Vietnam veterans have a lower unemployment rate than the same non-vet age groups.
veterans' personal income exceeds that of our non-veteran age group by more than 18 percent.
3. 76% of the men sent to
Vietnam were from lower middle/working class backgrounds.
4. Three-fourths had family incomes above
the poverty level; 50% were from middle income backgrounds.
5. Some 23% of Vietnam vets had fathers
with professional, managerial or technical occupations.
6. 79% of the men who served in Vietnam had
a high school education or better when they entered the military service. 63% of Korean War vets and only 45% of WWII
vets had completed high school upon separation.
7. Deaths by region per 100,000 of population: South -- 31%, West --29.9%;
Midwest -- 28.4%; Northeast -- 23.5%.
DRUG USAGE & CRIME
1. There is no difference
in drug usage between Vietnam Veterans and
non-Vietnam Veterans of the same age group. (Source: Veterans
2. Vietnam Veterans are less likely to be in prison - only one-half of one percent of Vietnam Veterans have been
jailed for crimes.
3. 85% of Vietnam Veterans made successful transitions to civilian life.
WINNING & LOSING
82% of veterans who saw heavy combat strongly believe the war was lost because of lack of political will.
2. Nearly 75%
of the public agrees it was a failure of political will, not of arms.
1. 97% of Vietnam-era veterans were
2. 91% of actual Vietnam War veterans and 90% of those who saw heavy combat are proud to have served
3. 74% say they would serve again, even knowing the outcome.
4. 87% of the public now holds Vietnam
veterans in high esteem.
INTERESTING CENSUS STATISTICS
& THOSE TO CLAIM TO HAVE "BEEN THERE."
of those who served in Vietnam were still alive as of August, 1995 (census figures).
that same census count, the number of Americans falsely claiming to have served in-country was: 9,492,958.
of the current census taken during August, 2000, the surviving U.S. Vietnam Veteran population estimate is: 1,002,511. This
is hard to believe, losing nearly 711,000 between '95 and '00. That's 390 per day.
4. During this census count, the
number of Americans falsely claiming to have served in-country is: 13,853,027. By this census, FOUR OUT OF FIVE WHO CLAIM
TO BE VIETNAM VETS ARE NOT.
5. The Department of Defense Vietnam
War Service Index officially provided by The War Library originally reported with errors that 2,709,918 U.S.
military personnel as having served in-country.
6. Corrections and confirmations
to this erred index resulted in the addition of 358 U.S. military personnel confirmed to have served in Vietnam
but not originally listed by the Department of Defense. (All names are currently on file and accessible 24/7/365).
Isolated atrocities committed by American Soldiers produced torrents of outrage from anti-war critics and the news media while
Communist atrocities were so common that they received hardly any media mention at all.
8. The United States sought
to minimize and prevent attacks on civilians while North Vietnam made attacks on civilians a centerpiece
of its strategy.
9. Americans who deliberately killed civilians received prison sentences while Communists who did
so received commendations.
10. From 1957 to 1973, the National Liberation Front assassinated 36,725 Vietnamese and
abducted another 58,499. The death squads focused on leaders at the village level and on anyone who improved the lives of
the peasants such as medical personnel, social workers, and school teachers. - Nixon Presidential Papers. (More
While 4 dead students at Kent State got all the press then and now, there was an interesting period in the Vietnam
conflict. President Nixon, for the first and only time, allowed our troops into Cambodia. Until that date, it was safe for
the Vietnamese to maintain their supplies in Cambodia, cross into Vietnam to attack our troops, and then cross back into sanctuary
in Cambodia for safety. In 1970, that changed, and it had a marked effect on the American war effort. The missions into Cambodia
were highly successful at finding the NVN weapons and supplies. But (sadly)soon Cambodia once again became off-limits to American
There's an amazing story about what happened during that period in this month's VFW Magazine. Click on: