The Vietnam war and its lessons

December 10, 2001

The darkness blanketed the day as the grunts set up for a night ambush, anxious to avenge the loss of their men the day before.

Each felt the outline of his weapon as he adjusted his position in his line of fire and pondered the leeches.

They like to crawl up and pierce the skin to further infect the jungle rot on one's body. But all would agree leeches are preferred to the bamboo viper. One bite from a small green snake and your life is gone in the equivalent of two steps.

Night vision begins to focus on distant shadows, small in stature, creeping along an expected path.

Halt! A voice bellows out, followed by simultaneous weapons spitting out hundreds of rounds of deadly fire.

Blood curling screams emanate from jerking bodies whose pounded flesh splatters tissue parts onto the quivering jungle foliage.

Heavier-sounding AKs return fire as the rear guard of the enemy patrol melts into the blackness.


Cease fire! What seemed an eternity was over in less than a minute as we listened to the jungle for more info.

The next day we looked at the Vietnamese working inside our base camp and knew we would most likely meet them again while on patrol. Either they would get us or we would get them in an endless series of hide, seek and kill in the war of patience and nerves.

During the peaceful reunification phase of ending the Vietnam war, then President Nixon addressed the nation with the following statement; "No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War.

"It was misreported then and is misremembered now. Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic."

To understand this statement we must regress to when the soldier in the bush affixes his last X on his short-timer's calendar and takes his freedom bird home.

He is greeted with obscenities, eggs thrown and fielding accusations of being a baby and helpless civilian killer, instead of the open arms he realizes he has found himself in another war, one that defines the spirit of its time. It was public opinion and his uniform made him the object of all that was bad to the world, and his return the admission of guilt.

While he had been gone the long-haired flower children had increased their intensity in voicing anti-government policies and embraced Third World communist concepts and love-ins as solutions, particularly at major American universities.

Draft dodgers were looked at as morally equipped while the soldier became the visible link between the hawks and the doves, the military and non-military, the public and government leaders. Not since the Civil War had our country been so divided. Isolated, the soldier learns to hold and emotionally implode while questioning the validity of serving the government of the people who are now castigating our uniforms.

Finally, higher command tells us not to wear our uniforms off base.

Our involvement in Vietnam began when during World War II our OSS (now the CIA) were training Ho Chi Minh's forces in guerilla warfare, tactics which would later be used against us.

In October 1954 President Eisenhower pledges American support to the South Vietnam government. In April 1965 President Johnson authorizes the use of ground combat troops for offensive operations.

Our main tactic was search and destroy, an attempt to make the enemy engage us in head-to-head combat.

They proved to be elusive and preferred to inflict casualties on us. Also, since this was the most televised war in American history, they worked on political public opinion.

Each time they did meet us they were totally destroyed, such as the Tet offensive where the Viet Cong were totally wiped out along with North Vietnamese regulars.

What was not generally known was we also were fighting communist China, which was providing troops and supplies while the Soviets provided technology.

In March 1973 the last U.S. combat troops leave Vietnam and POWs begin to come home as part of Operation Homecoming. In September 1974 President Ford offers clemency to draft dodgers and military deserters.

For the U.S. the war was declared over in 1975.

From 1964 to 1975 we lost 58,169 killed in action and had over 304,000 wounded in action.

Hanoi reported 1.4 million dead but no report on WIAs.

When the Cold War was over it was reported our commitment to Vietnam prevented several Southeast Asian nations from coming under communist control, according to the domino theory that prevailed.

The 10-year war gave us lessons, which would outline future actions such as: finally defining the effects of war on individuals and their families. The elusive terms of war neurosis, battle fatigue and shell shock are now recognized as post-traumatic stress syndrome. the instillment of unit cohesiveness; going in as a unit, coming back as a unit.

lThe growing importance of special operations in the face of conventional wisdom. In other words, the brains over muscle concept.

lThe refinement of battle-tested modern strategies designed to save American lives in future short-term wars and now to challenge terrorism.

lThe development of speed, smart weapons and technology.

lPerhaps the most important is public opinion, especially in regard to American soldiers and the job they must do. They put their personal lives aside to work for a higher cause, to work for the government of the American people and the cause of freedom.

Therefore, on behalf of the Vietnam veterans of VFW 9305, I say to the veterans of past and current wars, God bless you and you'll be welcome home.

But most of all, God bless America!

>> EDWARD CASTILLO-RUBIO of El Centro is service officer of a local Vietnam Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

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