The Vietnam War and Remembrance: (April 30th, 1975-April 30th, 2017)

[Editor’s Note: An individual who can witness, nay live through, decades on the battlements of hell and emerge with wisdom and beauty are to be welcomed. Those who speak with clarion voice allowing others to learn from that experience are to be celebrated. Thank you Kim Roberts.]

April 30, 1975—April 30, 2017. Then and Now. Photos of him the day we met, and of us

The way I am today. Taken with two girl friends two weeks ago

more than four decades ago when he was alive, then my current picture taken two weeks ago with friends from the Sadec Flower Village in Vietnam to America. Love and War. Destiny and the magic of life. Over four decades have gone by the window of my life, literally as swiftly as whiffs of fragrance in the whirlwind breeze–from the fresh scent of Spring essence to the intense, spicy, and aromatic Summer heat then transitioned to the soft, intimate touch of flurry Autumn leaves dispersing in the air, and ending it all with a silky, tendered scent of Winter rain drips. Life has been both a curse and a blessing, nonetheless, no regrets.

We met in April 1968 at a Military Chapel in Dong Tam, Vietnam, one year short of five decades ago, while taking communion. On April 30, 1975, he frantically tried to get me out of Vietnam to no avail. Taking a leap of faith, I planned an escape from Vietnam and succeeded. Months later, I was a tattered refugee in America beginning to build a new life. Survival, Love, and War. And hundreds, if not thousands, of other events in between. Oh, what a life!

In remembrance of April 30, 1975, a day of peace, I am reprinting a piece I wrote on April 30, 2000, “Peace at Any Price,” which was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. I am reposting it as I hope that this reminder helps the next generations of people from Vietnam and all Americans how precious peace is. We need to acknowledge the past, appreciate the peaceful present, and move toward the future with our faith in each other and I pray that our government and leaders will do the same. I also hope that the healing process extended over the past four decades has brought back the spirit of Vietnam, the country I love, and the beauty and uniqueness it once manifested itself. May we all remember this day–a day to celebrate LIFE, PEACE, and LOVE.

*****Peace at Any Price/Her countrymen who survived the carnage of Vietnam seem to have put the war behind them. Why can’t she?

by Kim N Roberts Published 4:00 am, Sunday, April 30, 2000. The San Francisco Chronicle ©SFGate.org (Reposting on April 30, 2017)

The way he was when I first met him, one year short of 5 decades ago.

When I began writing down memories of my escape from Vietnam, I had no idea it would dredge up so much pain. Often during the three years I’ve worked on the project, I wake up in the morning weeping.

“What’s wrong?” my husband asks.

“It’s Vietnam,” I say. “I get upset whenever I remember the war.

“Can’t you just forget about it?” he asks.

But I can’t forget.

I left Vietnam for America after the war — the war that took away the loved ones I cherished, the war that deprived me of my personal possessions, the war that forced me to flee the country I loved so much. I was 24 years old.

I was one of the lucky ones. For years I felt guilty for having escaped from Vietnam, for surviving. I wished no one would ask me about my national origin. I wished my husband would not tell people where I came from when he introduced me. I wished that others would mistake me for a Korean or Filipino. It took me a long time to realize I was a victim of the Vietnam War — not the maker of it.

Most Americans — even the most caring, the most sensitive — have no idea what it was like to live through the war. For them, it is over, done with, history. I can’t look to an American and see understanding in their eyes when I talk about the war. They can’t understand why, after 25 years, I cannot forget.

But to my shock, when I turn to my compatriots, I see that the majority of the Vietnamese I know — many who suffered greater losses than I did — act as if they have managed to erase the war that tore so many of our lives to shreds.

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I went back to Vietnam four years ago, hoping to find a sense of kinship I’d been missing for so many years. My countrymen welcomed me with cheerful, smiling faces as they told me they had forgotten about the war. But have they really?
My 23-year-old relative Tan Tran was born soon after his father, a South Vietnamese army officer, was killed. “I don’t know anything about the war,” he said. “I am now married and we have a thriving seafood business. Life is good here. So I don’t think about war.”
“Bring your husband back with you next time you return,” the young town chief told me when I went to Sadec, my hometown in the Mekong Delta. He knew that my husband served in Vietnam. “We have forgotten about the war. Americans are our friends now.”
My driver, Luu Nguyen, in his mid-40s, asked, “Why didn’t you bring your husband? The Vietnamese are happy to see Americans — no more governmental restriction or resentment, no more hatred and retaliation.” While I was talking to Luu, his daughter asked me about Michael Jackson, her American idol.
The Vietnamese have learned to live like Americans, too. At the Hotel Sadec, for $25 a night, I got an air-conditioned room with breakfast and packages of luxury items: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, shampoo, and soap. I was given postcards, maps and information in English about the local tourist attractions — including the monument to Ho Chi Minh’s father and the Xeo Quyt Canal, a former Viet Cong hideout and fire-base. I later visited the Cu Chi tunnels in Phuoc Long, built by the Viet Cong underneath the military base of the American First Air Cavalry Division.
“Why do the Americans want to remember those bad old days?” asked the tour guide. “They give me my job. I feel like a winner. I make money and I don’t have to remember the war.”
Vietnam isn’t the only place where newfound prosperity seemed to wipe out for others what for me are horrors imprinted forever upon my heart. The Vietnamese I know in California all tell me how they also have forgotten the war.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the war’s end. Not long ago, I called my childhood friend, My Nguyen, to ask her about the commemoration plans in San Jose, where she now lives.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I have forgotten all about it. Since 1989, I have been working 70 hours a week so I can send money home regularly. You should see the videotape my brother made of our new house in Vietnam, built with the money I sent.”

One evening at 10 p.m. I called Hang Doan, a sister-in-law in her early 60s who escaped Vietnam with me, to ask for information about our camp in Thailand. Hang and her husband own 15 rental houses. They both work full-time for Sacramento County, and Hang also teaches at night.
“I have almost forgotten these things,” Hang said. “I’m too busy to look back. I just got home from my second job. I often have dinner around 10. Sweetie, haven’t you forgotten about the war?”
Other Vietnamese tell me the same thing: They have forgotten the war, its aftermath, and the mistakes, heartache, atrocities and misery that came with it. Everyone thinks that making money, a lot of it, is the best remedy.
When I visited the War Crimes Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, I wondered how the Vietnamese could look at the photo display of corpses strewn on the ground, the napalm victims’ burned bodies, and the planes spraying clouds of Agent Orange and say they have forgotten the war.

When I saw streets that bear such names as Dien Bien Phu, or Cach Mang Thang Tam (August Revolution), Dong Khoi (Simultaneous Uprising), Nam Ky Khoi Nghia (Southern Revolt), I wondered how my countrymen could walk these avenues and say they’ve forgotten. Is it only their memories that have died, or have they paid for the act of “forgetting” with a piece of their hearts as well?

Linh Tran, who works for me, brought me the March 19 newspaper showing the

The way we were four decades ago.

Vietnamese protesting in Oakland over the lithograph exhibition of Ho Chi Minh. “These Vietnamese protesters probably don’t want to be reminded of the war,” she said. “But they show that they still hold on to memories of the past. I personally wish I can forget the war.” Linh, in her mid-50s, came to America in 1986. Her husband, a former South Vietnamese soldier, was in a forced labor camp for seven years. She remembers feeding her baby thin rice soup flavored with salt because after the war, there was no milk or sugar, even in the black market.
When her oldest son, Tuan, was drafted to fight in Cambodia in 1979, she peeled off her tin roof and sold the tin piece by piece to pay for his escape. Tuan’s boat was pirated four times. He ended up as a refugee in Italy. He is now a manager in an Italian bakery, working 60 hours per week. Linh, her husband and her daughter each work two jobs. “So we can afford the things we lost to the war,” she says.

But for me, there isn’t enough money in the world to make up for what I lost.
For Americans, the war ended when the fighting stopped 25 years ago. But for the Vietnamese, the end of the conventional war was the beginning of millions of private wars.
I, along with my sister and her family, escaped persecution by the victorious North Vietnamese by fleeing Vietnam in an old leaking fishing boat with a broken-down engine. I still recall the horror I felt one day at the sight of three bright red Khmer Rouge boats surrounding our boat. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge killed thousands of escapees — including their own — but for some reason that day the Khmer Rouge decided not to investigate us, 26 escapees, including children, as our boat ran adrift along the Cambodian shore. It was a miracle that we safely reached Thailand.
I wish I could forget the miserable days in the refugee camps when we were homeless and destitute. At one point, my sister-in-law Hang literally fought the camp attendant for a piece of plastic to hang around our mosquito net to give us some privacy. She lost.
And I can’t forget the small fire that destroyed all the personal belongings I brought in a small overnighter and left me with only one burned silver dollar.

In California, I look at my countrymen and divide them into three groups. Some are what I call the “drifters,” those too young to know the war or too indifferent to want to know. Some are the “vanquished,” those who survived the war bitter, poor, underprivileged and lost. The third group, the “victors,” triumphed over the past through personal success — accumulated wealth, a brilliant career, social status or an education.
But while they seem to have forgotten about the war, their obsession with success tells me otherwise. They work as if they are racing against the ghost of the past — a ghost that may catch up with them and devour them if they slow down.

Kim Roberts’ writes a great blog. Please visit: http://www.sadecinmyheart.com/

Please visit Kim Roberts’ Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/sadecinmyheart/

 

 

Wilson’s Contribution to the Cold War

“To love truth for truth’s sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the

John Locke published in Popular Science Monthly Volume 66 1904 or 1905

John Locke published in Popular Science Monthly Volume 66 1904 or 1905

seed-plot of all other virtues.” — John Locke

Oft quoted in my youth, I lost contact with John Locke’s advice over the years.  Ricochet’s Daily Shot and a strong ‘cuppa’ re-awakened Locke’s view of truth in an explosive burst of energy that rocked my head and dragged me to the dreaded keyboard.  Loving truth and finding it in the labyrinth of life are two entirely separate actions tangled together in a Gordian knot suspended above each individual’s ‘La Vida Loca’.  President Woodrow Wilson’s contribution to a future, unforeseen Cold War is a leading example of my search for truth in the political rabbit warrens of war and peace.  Actions, ego, and being “the smartest guy in the room” have consequences—good and bad.

Was there a line of people eagerly awaiting support and ‘lessons learned’ about ditching colonial yokes, freedom, self-determination, and the rights of individuals from the United States? Although difficult to say with any certainty, the U.S. was, at that time, admired for its triumph following a bitter fight with its colonial master, England.  We know that the U.S. commitment to trade rather than conquest as a prime directive was a new, novel, and successful model.  We also know that the WWI Paris Peace talks in 1919 attracted

Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919 (candid photo) (L - R) Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Great Britian) Premier Vittorio Orlando, Italy, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps) - U.S. Signal Corps photo

Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919 (candid photo) (L – R) Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Great Britian) Premier Vittorio Orlando, Italy, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson
Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps) – U.S. Signal Corps photo

slightly fewer than twelve present and future leaders from various colonies testing independence and sloughing their colonial bonds. Some, including Nguyễn Sinh Cung (Hồ Chí Minh) from Vietnam, attempted to meet with Wilson.[1]   It had, after all, been a mere 136 years since representatives from the rebellious colonies in North America and England gathered in Paris to sign the 1783 treaty with England to end the American Revolutionary War.  The United States had been tested by a great Civil War and found wanting.  It’s model, however, provided for growth and society to take cyclical steps toward a more perfect union. The new model was battle tested and  tough.  How quickly we forgot. Continue reading

Madmen in the White House

The Soviets were master chess players so what happens when the Mad Hatter takes a seat

The Mad Hatter Creative Commons

The Mad Hatter
Creative Commons

at the table? That was a question President Richard M. Nixon asked. By January 1969, finding a face-saving way out of the Vietnam War became a foreign policy priority for Nixon and Kissinger, and they had a plan. The Madman card played by Eisenhower during Korea was legend and Nixon, Eisenhower’s Vice President (1953 – 1961), was familiar with the ploy. Many arrows fill the foreign policy quiver; economic, trade, intelligence, diplomacy, and, of course, military. Foreign policy arrows combine forming customized solutions to particular interests or threats. The Madman game, played in one guise or another from 1969 to 1974, customized a bizarre and risky combination of foreign policy shafts.

The Eisenhower Madman policy appears founded in scuttlebutt, and documentation is hard to come by. Admiral Joy commanded the Naval Forces Far East, including all naval operations in Korean waters during the Korean War (1950-1953). Later the Admiral served

Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy, USN, Commander Naval Forces Far East Photographed 9 June 1951. Note his Nikon 35mm camera. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy, USN, Commander Naval Forces Far East
Photographed 9 June 1951. Note his Nikon 35mm camera.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

as chief negotiator during the truce negotiations at Kaesong until they broke down in 1952. Joy asserted that the Eisenhower administration’s nuclear threats in May 1953, reaped Soviet compromises during negotiations. The January 1956, issue of Life Magazine published a supporting story by James Shepley, “How Dulles Averted War” (pages 70 and 71). Secretary of State Allen Dulles detailed how he carried Eisenhower’s nuclear warning to Beijing in 1953 during a visit with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Shepley reported that “…Dulles told Nehru that the U.S. desired to end the fighting in Korea honorably. He also said that if the war continued, the U.S. would lift the self-imposed restrictions on its actions and hold back no effort or weapon to win…” According to rumor, innuendo, and the tribal drums similar, clarified messages, on nuclear intent found their way to China through several different mechanisms. Continue reading

Happy New Year

Legacy is the Cold War Warrior lens. As the leaf of the calendar prepares to turn the oldHappyNewYear_col year new, what comes from our past? The tribes are vibrating in anticipation of a wild and woolly presidential election in the U.S.  Mongering fear is a rhetoric staple for the speechwriters. A new player in the political orchestra is playing discordant notes as if he is composing a new symphony in the middle of the presidential concert performance. The Cold War witnessed ten presidential elections, some more noteworthy than others.

The 1960s began with a bang when a young, attractive Democrat, John F. Kennedy, took Richard Nixon to task for the job of president. Richard Nixon was a known as a ‘red-baiter’, but Kennedy, a WWII veteran, was a hawk’s hawk. Both sides played the Cold War Soviet threat card, but Kennedy brought fear alive through words that painted a picture of thousands of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles destroying freedom’s cities, lost children, and hope’s demise for humanity’s future. The number of missiles Kennedy was attributing to the Soviet arsenal, compared to the U.S.’s paltry few, was ridiculous. President Eisenhower could have made short work of Kennedy’s vision of the apocalypse by pointing out the young candidate’s lie, but did not.

Kennedy’s short time in office did make a difference. He and Nikita Khrushchev found some common ground in between shoe poundings. They banned atmospheric and underwater nuclear testing. Together they formed a treaty framework, still in use, to reduce the stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Instead of both empires having enough nukes to destroy the world many times over, we each only have enough left to destroy the world once. Continue reading

Arc of the Moral Universe or Wormhole?

For years I believed my fate was tethered to Theodore Parker’s arc of the

The Arc of the Moral Universe (Public Domain)

The Arc of the Moral Universe (Public Domain)

Moral universe bending toward justice. However, objective, empirical evidence indicates that I am condemned to wander in a wormhole with its ends fixed between the 1960s and 2010s. In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King concluded an address to the graduating class at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University stating “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” in quotation marks. President Obama and Time Magazine attributed the quote to Dr. King, but the provenance moves the date back to before the Civil War and a series of sermons given by Theodore Parker.

The 1960s. hoto by Albert R. Simpson, Department of Defense. Public domain

Photo by Albert R. Simpson, Department of Defense. Public domain

The 1960s

What a time it was. Baby boomers came of age. For the first time in history over 50 percent of Americans were under the age of 25 and looking for a cause to fight for (it’s what people under 25 do). Revolutions of many colors were in the air, anti-anything was good. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll took the country by storm. The Cold War was at its zenith. The Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam, and assassinations filled the headlines. Technology was ascending and science became the new religion. Space travel was no longer the domain of Buck Rogers or science fiction authors. Check out some of the U.S. headlines:

1960: Russia shot Gary Power’s American U-2 spy plane downed over the motherland * An irritated Khrushchev canceled the Paris summit conference * The Israelis invaded Argentina to capture Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi noted for the extermination of Jews (The Israelis executed Eichmann in 1962) * Mao’s Communist China and the Soviet Union split in conflict over Communist ideology * Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Madagascar, and Zaire (Belgian Congo) gained independence * Cuba confiscated $770 million of U.S. property * 900 U.S. military advisers were in South Vietnam * 1961: U.S. and Cuba severed diplomatic relationship * Robert Frost recited “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration * Moscow’s Yuri Gagarin became first man in orbit around Earth * Cuba routed the U.S./exiles Bay of Pigs invasion *The U.S.’s astronauts, Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom, made it into space * Russia’s Titov went one better by orbiting the earth over seventeen times in the Vostok II * East Germans erected the Berlin Wall to keep the East Berliners home * The U.S. detonated a really nasty 50-megaton hydrogen bomb * 2,000 U.S. military advisers were in South Vietnam * 1962: Lt. Col. John Glenn, Jr. was the first American to orbit Earth * Algeria gained independence from France * The Soviets and Americans faced off during the Cuban missile crisis * James Meredith registered at University of Mississippi thanks to protection from federal marshals * Cuba released 1,113 prisoners from the Bay of Pigs invasion attempt * Burundi, Jamaica, Western Samoa, Uganda, and Trinidad and Tobago became independent * 11,000 U.S. military advisers were in South Vietnam * 1963: France and West Germany signed a treaty of cooperation ending four centuries of conflict * Dr. De Bakey implanted the first artificial heart in human; the patient lived four days * Pope John XXIII died and was succeeded by Cardinal Montini, Paul VI * U.S. Supreme Court ruled no locality may require recitation of Lord’s Prayer or Bible verses in public schools * The U.K.’s Profumo scandal broke out * Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the “I have a dream” speech to a Civil rights rally held by 200,000 blacks and whites in Washington, D.C. * Washington-to-Moscow “hot line” communications link opened to reduce the risk of accidental war * President Kennedy was assassinated by sniper in Dallas, TX and Lyndon B. Johnson became president * Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President Kennedy, was murdered by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner * Kenya achieved independence * Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique” * 15,000 U.S. military advisers were in South Vietnam * 1964: U.S. Supreme Court ruled that congressional districts should be roughly equal in population * Ruby convicted of murder and sentenced to death for slaying Lee Harvey Oswald (the conviction was reversed Oct. 5, 1966; Ruby died Jan. 3, 1967) * Three civil rights workers—Schwerner, Goodman, and Cheney—murdered in Mississippi * Twenty-one arrests resulted in trial and conviction of seven by federal jury * Nelson Mandela sentenced to life imprisonment * Congress approved Gulf of Tonkin resolution (The Gulf of Tonkin turned out to be a false flag incident) * The Warren Report concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone * The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show * 23,310 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * 1965: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and more than 2,600 other blacks arrested in Selma, Ala., during three-day demonstrations against voter-registration rules * Malcolm X, black-nationalist leader, shot to death at Harlem rally in New York City * U.S. Marines and Army Rangers landed in Dominican Republic * Medicare, senior citizens’ government medical assistance program, began * Blacks rioted for six days in Watts section of Los Angeles: 34 dead, over 1,000 injured, nearly 4,000 arrested, fire damage put at $175 million * A power failure in Ontario plant blacked out parts of eight states of northeast U.S. and two provinces of southeast Canada * Ralph Nader’s published “Unsafe at Any Speed” * 184,314 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * 1966: Black teenagers rioted in Watts, Los Angeles; two men killed and at least 25 injured * The Supreme Court decided Miranda v* Arizona * 382,010 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * 1967: Three Apollo astronauts—Col. Virgil Grissom, Col. Edward White II, and Lt. Cmdr. Roger Chaffee—killed in spacecraft fire during simulated launch * Biafra seceded from Nigeria * Israeli and Arab forces engaged in the Six-day War that ended with Israel occupying Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and east bank of Suez Canal * Red China announced the explosion of its first hydrogen bomb * Racial violence in Detroit; 7,000 National Guardsmen aided police after night of rioting * Similar outbreaks occur in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, Rochester, N.Y., Birmingham, Ala., and New Britain, Conn. * Thurgood Marshall sworn in as first black U.S. Supreme Court justice * Dr. Christiaan Barnard and team of South African surgeons performed world’s first successful human heart transplant-patient died 18 days later* 485,600 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * 1968: North Korea seized U.S. Navy ship Pueblo and held 83 on board as spies * Tet offensive started, turning point in Vietnam War * My Lai massacre * President Johnson announced he would not seek or accept presidential re-nomination * Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated in Memphis and James Earl Ray, indicted in his murder, captured in London (in 1969 Ray plead guilty and sentenced to 99 years) * Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot and critically wounded in Los Angeles hotel after winning California primary-he died the next day * (Sirhan Sirhan convicted 1969) * Czechoslovakia invaded by Russians and Warsaw Pact forces crushed the liberal regime* 549,500 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * 1969: Richard M. Nixon inaugurated 37th president of the U.S. * Stonewall riot in New York City marks beginning of gay rights movement * Apollo 11 astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins—took man’s first walk on moon * Sen. Edward Kennedy plead guilty to leaving scene of fatal accident at Chappaquiddick, Mass. in which Mary Jo Kopechne drowned—got a two-month suspended sentence * Woodstock Festival * Sesame Street debuts * Internet (ARPA) goes online * 549,500 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * Continue reading

My Vietnam era mode of transportation (1968 – 1975)‏

Note to reader:  As a U.S. invited contractor I was issued a Department of defense noncombatant’s certificate of identity with assimilated rank of Colonel/EGS-15, equal to a military grade of 0-6.  I was issued blanket travel orders  to board military aircraft to any in-country military installation.  These travel orders were valid from 1968 to March 1973.  After which I traveled either on commercial or Air America aircraft until April 1975.

Going There: World Airways DC-8 Charter ~ 1968

Aboard a World Airways DC-8 Charter from Travis AFB to Tan Son Nhut AFB, Saigon, VN. One of the stewardesses was Linda Phillippe; who happened to be the daughter of one of my old bosses. She took good care of me while in-flight.

Aboard a World Airways DC-8 Charter from Travis AFB to Tan Son Nhut AFB, Saigon, VN.
One of the stewardesses was Linda Phillippe; who happened to be the daughter of one of
my old bosses. She took good care of me while in-flight.

Trivia:

In the 1960s, World Airways became the first U.S. charter airline to enter the jet age with the acquisition of new Boeing 707s.

The USAF Military Airlift Command, “MAC”, used World Airways Charters extensively during the Vietnam era for Military troop transfers.

World’s most famous flight was on 2 April 1975

The first ‘Operation Babylift’ flight took off from Saigon in darkness; the airport had turned the runway lights off. The DC-8 departed without a formal clearance to take off or a flight plan filed. Oakland Aviation Museum Life Members Bill Keating and Ken Healy piloted the flight. Ed Daly paid for the flight out of his own pocket. Continue reading

Decades later, ‘Vietnam syndrome’ still casts doubts on military action

This article was posted on December 12, 2014 on John Podlaski’s blog Cherries-A Vietnam War Novel. Podlaski’s site asks the question “Ever wonder why young soldiers return home “changed” or “different” after their deployment to a war zone?”. The following article by was written by Eric Slavin and originally published in Stars and Stripes. It is an excellent legacy post that illustrates how the past can help and haunt.

By Erik_Slavin Article originally publishes in Stars and Stripes, November 12, 2014

The Vietnam War’s lasting impact on America’s foreign policy is largely characterized

Near Tay Ninh, Vietnam, November 4, 1966: A soldier stands amid swirling dust from a helicopter arriving to evacuate the wounded after the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division came under heavy Viet Cong fire during Operation Attleboro.   KIM KI SAM/STARS AND STRIPES

Near Tay Ninh, Vietnam, November 4, 1966: A soldier stands amid swirling dust from a helicopter arriving to evacuate the wounded after the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division came under heavy Viet Cong fire during Operation Attleboro. KIM KI SAM/STARS AND STRIPES

by doubt, in the opinions of many analysts.

Doubt that the United States, despite possessing the most powerful military on earth, will win a war against a determined enemy.

Doubt among presidential administrations that the public would support a conflict, once television showed them pictures of dead soldiers being dragged through the streets of countries most Americans knew little or nothing about.

Mostly, doubt — with some notable outliers — that the United States can impose its will through force, no matter the situation.

Vietnam at 50Driving those doubts is the desire to avoid another open-ended commitment with an uncertain endgame, where U.S. troops spend years on the ground in a foreign country, fighting against an enemy that can blend back into the civilian population far too easily.

That desire is part of what some have defined as “Vietnam syndrome,” a concept declared dead and reborn several times in the decades since the last American combat troops left Southeast Asia.

“Getting involved and not being able to get up, like Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians suffering constant blows, that’s the concern,” said Carlyle Thayer, an American professor and Vietnam analyst who taught a course on the Vietnam War at Australia’s National Defense University.

That concern endures — buffeted by experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan — as River PatrolAmericans debate today’s military actions.

Americans support fighting the Islamic State group by a 60 percent to 31 percent margin — unless that action turns to ground troops, according to a September Gallup poll. Only 40 percent approve of that, according to the poll.

President Barack Obama went so far as to rule out U.S. ground troops before the latest round of air and naval strikes on Iraq and Syria began.

Before the end of the Vietnam War, presidents didn’t speak in such measured, cautious ways about how they would wage war. However, Obama made it clear during a May speech at the U.S. Military Academy that caution would be a cornerstone of his foreign policy agenda.

“Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences,” Obama said.

The U.S. would act unilaterally when it was directly threatened and would otherwise explore other options, he said.

Inder fireObama, 53, is too young to have served in Vietnam — yet his words that day mirror the definition of Vietnam syndrome offered by journalist and Vietnam War author Marvin Kalb, who called it “a fundamental reluctance to commit American military power anywhere in the world, unless it is absolutely necessary to protect the national interests of the country.”

The term Vietnam syndrome first reached prominence when presidential candidate Ronald Reagan used it during an August 1980 campaign speech. Reagan said the syndrome was created by the “North Vietnamese aggressors” aiming to “win in the field of propaganda here in America what they could not win on the field of battle in Vietnam.”

In Reagan’s view, America failed to secure Vietnam because it lacked the means and the will to do so from the home front.

Nevertheless, fear of another Vietnam “quagmire” became the lens through which military action was viewed in the post-war 1980s.

Although Reagan’s budgets dramatically increased defense spending, his military actions were generally small, covert or obtained by proxy.

Then came the first Gulf War. It was civilian America’s first look at the reconstituted, all-volunteer force in a very large-scale action.

Victory came swiftly and at the cost of relatively few casualties. President George H.W. Bush avoided the quagmire by pulling troops out of Iraq quickly and leaving Saddam Hussein in power — moves that drew little criticism at the time.

Basking in the afterglow of military triumph, Bush ended a speech in 1991 with the

Black Hawk Down Mogadishu, Somalia

Black Hawk Down Mogadishu, Somalia

proclamation that, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”

About two years later, the doubts that Vietnam brought about returned, this time in the Horn of Africa.

On Oct. 3, 1993, the “Black Hawk Down” incident kicked off the Battle of Mogadishu, leaving 18 U.S. servicemembers dead. Americans recoiled at images of Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland’s body being dragged through the Somali capital’s streets.

21somalia.lDays later, Clinton ordered U.S. troops to begin preparing for withdrawal.

A year later, the genocide in Rwanda began, and Clinton sent no military force. He would later describe not intervening in the genocide, which claimed about 1 million Rwandans, as one of his biggest regrets.

“If we’d gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives that were lost. … It had an enduring impact on me,” Clinton said on CNBC in 2013.

Rawandan Genocide

Rawandan Genocide

American overseas involvement remained somewhat restrained up until the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

After that, eight out of 10 Americans supported a ground war in Afghanistan.

If President George W. Bush had any worries about Vietnam syndrome, he didn’t share them publicly.

Defense analysts once again declared Vietnam syndrome kicked, at least, until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan grew protracted, and opinion polls turned against the conflicts.

“Getting involved and not being able to get up, like Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians suffering constant blows, that’s the concern.”– Carlyle Thayer

In 2009, conservative scholar Max Boot said that George H.W. Bush got it wrong with his 1991 proclamation — Vietnam syndrome was alive and well in the Obama era.

Boot noted several examples of lawmakers and analysts questioning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the prism of Vietnam.

Boot dismissed their doubts as defeatist. He saw no reason to make the Vietnam comparison, unless it was to compare administrations “more interested in ending than in winning the war.”

Boot’s view led him to agree on one point with Obama’s assessment: “You never step into the same river twice. And so Afghanistan is not Vietnam.”

slavin.erik@stripes.com Twitter: @eslavin_stripes

The November Assassinations That Rocked The World

Part II – John F. Kennedy: Sinner or Saint?

Author: John Malch

John F. Kennedy: Sinner or Saint?

John F. Kennedy: Sinner or Saint?

Way back in 1960, when Nixon faced off with Kennedy for the U.S. presidency, I asked my father who he would be voting for.  He answered: “While in confession last Sunday, my penance was I must vote for Kennedy or suffer mortal sin.”[1] I thought he was joking because after becoming an American citizen in 1914, he had always voted Republican. Dad gave me a brief history lesson about the Kennedy dynasty.[2] It began with Joseph P. Kennedy’s premeditated agreements with Distillers to become the sole American importer of three of its most valuable brands of liquor one month prior to the repeal of the 36th amendment which ended Prohibition. This transaction may be the reason he was infamously called ‘Joe-

Joseph A. Malch & son, John, circa 1960

Joseph A. Malch & son, John, circa 1960

the-bootlegger’.  I remembered my dad calling senior Kennedy, ‘Joe-the-bootlegger’ because he was supplying spiritual wine to Catholic parishes, which was legal during Probation via government bonded warehouses.  Surely, some of those spirits spilled over to old Joe’s cronies although no hard evidence has ever proved Joe was a rum-runner during Prohibition.[3]  Also, Joe Kennedy’s ‘nefarious escapades’ during the ‘Roaring Twenties’ are well documented. His business ventures included banking, manipulation of the stock market through insider trading and some slick ‘selling short’ moves when he got out of the stock market before the crash of 1929.[4]

In early 1938, Joseph P. Kennedy was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James in London.  His fierce

In 1938, Joseph P. Kennedy appointed Ambassador to Great Britain

In 1938, Joseph P. Kennedy appointed Ambassador to Great Britain

anti-Communist and anti-Semitic position are well documented and well known.  Not as widely known is that he favored Adolph Hitler’s solution to both these ideologies as “world problems”.[5]

Joe Kennedy’s dream was to see his first born son, Joseph Jr., inaugurated as the first Roman Catholic President of The United States, but Joe Jr. was killed in World War II.  The dream did not vanish with Joe Jr.’s death and Joseph Sr. was not deterred: he

 Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.

Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.

wanted a Kennedy in the Whitehouse. The second son, Jack, picked up the baton, ran the races and grabbed the brass ring for the Kennedy family-John F. Kennedy (Jack) became the 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961.

The 1960 Democratic National Convention was held in Los Angeles and I remembered two new challengers, Adlai Stevenson II and Lyndon B. Johnson, tossed their hats in the ring just one week before the convention opened. Continue reading

The November Assassinations That Rocked The World

Author: John Malch

Editor’s Note: Jealousy, political or religious ideology, contract killing, revenge, geopolitical manipulation and nation building are all motives for assassination: the murder of an individual who is usually a famous celebrity, politician, religious figure or royal. John Malch’s post addresses the brutal assassinations of South Vietnam’s Ngô Ðình Diem and his brother on November 2, 1963. The assassinations haunted U.S. President Kennedy, but by November 22, 1963, less than three weeks later Kennedy, himself, would die from an assassin’s bullet(s).

Part I Friendly Dictators

The United States has a dark history of poor choices for ‘Puppets of State’. Especially in

Prime Minister Ngô Ðình Diem casting his ballot in 1955 State of Vietnam referendum (Cuoc trung cau dân ý mien Nam Viet Nam 1955)  https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=osu1091210764&disposition=inline

Prime Minister Ngô Ðình Diem casting his ballot in 1955 State of Vietnam referendum (Cuoc trung cau dân ý mien Nam Viet Nam 1955)
https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=osu1091210764&disposition=inline

Latin America, South East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. One of the most controversial and disturbing choices the United States’ made was in 1956, when, backed by the “American Plan”, Ngô Ðình Diem proclaimed the formation of the Republic of Vietnam, naming himself President.

I have often wondered whether Diem was ever vetted for this position. Ngô Ðình Diem was born in Phú Cam, Quong Binh Province,‘North Vietnam’. Diem was christened Jean-Baptiste in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Hue in 1907. His primary education started at a French Catholic school. He later entered a private school started by his father. At the end of his secondary schooling, his examination results were sufficiently impressive at the French lycée in Hue, he was offered a scholarship to Paris. Diem declined. Instead, He moved to Hanoi to study at the School of Public Administration and Law, a French school that trained Vietnamese bureaucrats. It was there that he had the only romantic relationship of his life when he fell in love with one of his teacher’s daughters. After she persisted with her vocation, entering a convent, he remained celibate.

Why would the United States select a Roman Catholic, with a formal French education

Buddhism in Vietnam

Buddhism in Vietnam

and very little knowledge of Anman and especially Cochin-china where the population in 1956 was over 92% non-Christian, i.e., Animism, Buddhism (70% of the population), Cao Dai, Confucianism, Hinduism, Hinduism, Hoa Hao, and Islam, as president of newly formed Republic of Vietnam?

Vietnamese elders I know, claimed it may have been necessary for the United States to appease France in softening the blow for their loss of their Colony, French Indo-China. Tongue-in-cheek they said it was better for the new president to speak fluent French rather than English.

The United States had rushed headlong into supporting Diem, seemingly without consideration of the culture. South Vietnam was a U.S. government construct, a nation-building exercise illuminated by the Pentagon Papers.

“The United States moved quickly to prevent the unification and to establish South Vietnam as an American sphere. It set up in Saigon as head of the government a former Vietnamese official named Ngo Dinh Diem, who had recently been living in New Jersey, and encouraged him not to hold the scheduled elections for unification. A memo in early 1954 of the joint Chiefs of Staff said that intelligence estimates showed “a settlement based on free elections would be attended by almost certain loss of the Associated States [Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam-the three parts of Indochina created by the Geneva Conference] to Communist control.” Diem again and again blocked the elections requested by the Vietminh, and with American money and arms his government became more and more firmly established. As the Pentagon Papers put it: “South Viet Nam was essentially the creation of the United States.”[1] Continue reading

A Warrior’s Footprints

Ralph “Scott” Camburn died in March 2013. His soul may have crossed the rainbow

Ralph “Scott” Camburn's 90th birthday party.

Ralph “Scott” Camburn’s 90th birthday party.

bridge, but we, as a nation, should mourn the loss of yet another veteran who spent his life in service to the country he loved. Lt. Col. (Ret) Camburn’s 91 year old weathered, tired body housed memories of flying a B-24 Liberator on 35 bombing missions over Germany with the 8th U.S. Air Corps during WWII and memories of conflicts in Korea, Laos and Vietnam. When he retired his uniform in 1965, service was in his DNA and he kept on serving with Air America where he was assigned to Binh Thuy Air Force Base, IV Corps Tactical Zone of South Vietnam, as an ’AA’ Flight coordinator. And yet, I cannot find a single obituary for this soldier. Is there no one to weep for him save a single friend and comrade?

A Consolidated B-24 Liberator emerges from "Flak Alley" over Vienna, Austria with its No. 2 engine smoking

A Consolidated B-24 Liberator emerges from “Flak Alley” over Vienna, Austria with its No. 2 engine smoking

The B-24 Liberators were the key to achieving the third objective of the war against Germany.  That objective was to conduct an intensive strategic bombardment of Germany in order to destroy its military, industrial, and economic system. Bomb they did and Scott was in the thick of it with his 35 missions between August 1944 and March 1945. “The B-24 Liberators flew 400 bombing missions over Europe during WWII, losing some 10,000 airmen and 1,000 aircraft between 1942 and 1945.”[1]

The average life expectancy of Eighth Air Force crews’ mission completion rate in

448-Bomb Group, 714th Squadron: Scott is in the Front Row Left

448-Bomb Group, 714th Squadron: Scott is in the Front Row Left

1943/1944, was only 11 missions, so Scott beat the averages. Why was the life expectancy so very low? The B-24 Liberator was not as able to take as much punishment as the B-17 because its complex construction, in particular, the wing, was relatively weak. If the wing was hit just right it gave way completely. Photographic records of WW II show B-24’s plummeting from the sky with two wings folded upward like those of a butterfly. In contrast, the sturdiness of the B-17 was almost unbelievable, sometimes returning to base with major components, tail-sections, engines, even wings, very badly damaged, and even on occasion partly missing. The Liberator became the bomber of choice because it could deliver a larger payload.

EDELWEILER, Germany – U.S. Air Force Col. Mark Wells reads names of service members killed during a mid-air collision of two C-119 Flying Boxcar transport aircraft in 1955 while Army Chap. (Col.) James Hoke, Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Bohannon and others look on, Aug. 11, 2006. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Maj. Pamela A.Q. Cook)

EDELWEILER, Germany – U.S. Air Force Col. Mark Wells reads names of service members killed during a mid-air collision of two C-119 Flying Boxcar transport aircraft in 1955 while Army Chap. (Col.) James Hoke, Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Bohannon and others look on, Aug. 11, 2006. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Maj. Pamela A.Q. Cook)

Flying in close formation with other transport planes near Chungju on Jan. 24, 1951, a C-119 Flying Boxcar of the Far East Air Force?s combat cargo command spews out its of rations and gasoline to fighting U.N. ground troops anxiously waiting on a snow-covered battlefield a few hundred feet below. More than 300 tons of supplies were airdropped. (AP Photo) (Courtesy of U.S. Military Photo Store

Flying in close formation with other transport planes near Chungju on Jan. 24, 1951, a C-119 Flying Boxcar of the Far East Air Force?s combat cargo command spews out its of rations and gasoline to fighting U.N. ground troops anxiously waiting on a snow-covered battlefield a few hundred feet below. More than 300 tons of supplies were airdropped. (AP Photo) (Courtesy of U.S. Military Photo Store

Scott’s number did not come up in WWII and he survived the Korean conflict as well, although he had a close call. He was a member of the Crew 66 of the “Boxcars”. While it was never clear exactly what that reference meant, a troll through newspapers turned up an August 11, 1955 Ocala Star Banner Article, about the crash of two Flying Boxcars, C-119, into the Black Forest; 66 soldiers were killed.[2] Nine Flying Boxcars took off in formation, two collided. The survivors formed Crew 66.

The Flying Boxcar is one of those aircraft that owes its success to its ability to do a lot of different jobs. It was purpose built as a military freighter, yet it could take as many as seventy five passengers in a seated arrangement, on litters or as paratroopers according to John Refett. It was built with the ability to deliver over ten metric tons of freight to very short airstrips designed for small aircraft but also had the range and equipment to fly to anyplace in the world on its own. In the Korean War, the C-119 was important in transport and airdrop roles; dropping both supplies and airborne troops. During the Vietnam war C-119s were used as third generation “gunships” (these are sideways firing ground attack airplanes that orbit a target). They are workhorses! The military operated them with a maximum takeoff weight up to 100.000 pounds for as long as the engines held together.

As Korea drew to close, Laos and Vietnam

Air America Logo

Air America Logo

were hotting up. Scott, not one to cover his Alpha Sierra Sierra, headed out to help and ended up in the thick of it once again. The Vietnam war in 1964 was the backdrop of Scott’s last tour of duty in uniform. Following his retirement in 1965, Scott joined the Air America team in Viet Nam and was assigned to Binh Thuy Air Force Base, IV Corps Tactical Zone of South Vietnam, as an ’AA’ Flight coordinator.

What Scott did in Laos is not clear. The Cold War was filled with secrets and this is one of them. Connecting the dots, however, perhaps he was involved with the CIA and the Secret War. Continue reading