Face To Face With the Wall

This weekend seems to always draw my thoughts back to Vietnam, my time there, what I went through, what we all saw and did… and those who were killed in action, many in the prime of life, in that far away place.

I wasn’t over there (in Khe Sanh) long enough to know the names of many people – I was so new and so scared I am lucky to even remember my own name. I can check out some of the many web sites for our unit (Lima Co. 3 Bn 26 Marines, 3rd Marine Division) and learn the names of those killed in action in Feb – April 1968.

There were two Marines whose death caught my attention. One young Lance Corporal had thirteen days to go before heading for home. He had spent almost thirteen months in combat and he was killed in action just before heading for home… hit by shrapnel from an artillery shell. That was a mind blower and a heart breaker.

vietnam-veterans-memorialThe second was a sergeant who was the team leader for a 50 Cal bunker just down the way from our M-60 bunker. He was married with a young child. One afternoon, while standing atop his bunker scouting with field glasses the terrain in front of his bunker… where the enemy spent a lot of time. Standing there, doing his duty as best he knew how, he took a direct hit from an NVA rocket. There was not enough of him left to send home. Man, that tore me up inside. I cried for his family and their loss. He was such a good man with so much of life ahead of him. During the high point of the Tet Offensive we were receiving around 1,200 rounds of incoming fire daily. We knew where they were coming from, what distant booms caused us to hit the dirt, and which one we could ignore. In early April we started getting artillery rounds from Laos… these booms sounded from far distant guns. We got down, waited, waited, got back up and then BOOM… a six-by size hole opened up not more than 50 feet from our bunker… between us and the next position.

I heard other stories of men wounded and killed in service to their country. I remember, like many others, wondering why were we there, and what were we doing? Was this legit or were the rumors about South Vietnam’s oil rights true. We still did our best to do our duty in all things… but we still wondered. Why in the world were we taking hills – losing men – leaving the hill – taking the same hill again – losing more men. Same thing with Khe Sanh… we fought to defend that piece of red dirt – lost a lot of men doing it – and then the brass leaving it and then taking it again. Folks, I am not a war planner… but this was just downright stupid. Sometimes I wonder if the brass ever wanted to win this war – they sure didn’t act like it, plan like it, or give us all the tools needed to do the job. Some say we could not have won this war…. Not one Marine in the field bought that load of “stuff.” We knew we could have won had they given us want we needed and had they really wanted to win.

While we were over there people of our own age were protesting in Washington and other places around the country… saying that we needed to end the war. I know some of the protest was simply from people who didn’t want to end up over there, while others were protesting because they had lost family members. Back then I didn’t care to much for the protesters and the affect they were having on the war. Years went by and I finally came to the point were I didn’t really blame anyone for going to jail or to Canada to escape the war.

7a64df70b4792971862be979cce91c76I didn’t go to the Vietnam Wall until 2010. I had no idea what affect it would have on me, seeing all those names of people who gave their lives for some ideal over there… they were honorable even if their country was not all that truthful or faithful, or honorable to them. When I see that wall now I have such mixed emotions: Forgive me, but it represents to me honorable, courageous sacrifice on the part of all those who gave their last full measure of devotion… while representing our governments failure to support those they called upon to fight and die for the political will of this country. I am a General Colin Powell fan… a General who says: If you send them to war make damn sure to give them everything they need to win… especially the political will. Don’t be quick to send our young men and women to die on foreign soil with no plan to win or care for them when they come home. (Paraphrased)

Today… this weekend I honor all those who died due to the evils of war, thanking them for the honor, courage and valor they exhibited for all all to see. God bless you all!!!

Steve

 

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