One day of the year, one seminal moment of introspection. My plaint that day was ” WTF? We were winning when I left”. What could have happened? Greed, bribery, buying a officer’s commission for your son, the list is endless. The outcome was just as inevitable.
I look back in retrospect 45 years later and see a far different perspective than what I subscribed to in 1970. To put this in focus, our forefathers weren’t exactly enchanted to see Hessians landing in Trenton New Jersey in 1777. Hired guns and mercenaries never elicit much sympathy in a downtrodden population. How difficult then was it for the NVA and their VC following not to perceive us as just more of the same speaking English instead of Japanese or French?
May 7th, 1975 will always be the Band of Brothers Day for my Veterans and me. There can be no more definitive date in spite of the spectacle of the Marines’ ignomious striking of the colors just hours ahead of the T-54’s coming down Le Duan Street on 30 April. Perhaps that is what make it akin to Dunkirk, to Waterloo, to Bataan and Corregidor or a host of other military mishaps. The sheer rapidity of the fall, the pandemonium and ensuing fog of war rapidly replaced in short order by a new government-one very vindictive and hell bent on evening the score.
I’ve only been in one war and it’s unfortunate it had to be the one we took a Bronze in instead of the Gold. It is often said no one will remember who came in third at the Olympics in a few decades. How sad that metric doesn’t attach to Vietnam. We 2.9 million souls, now diminished to barely 850,000, will carry the onus of that loss to our graves. For lack of a shoe the horse was lost. Losers don’t get yellow ribbons around the tree.
Blaming poor generals and defective political leadership is all well and fine for post-Vietnam armchair quarterbacks who were never there. The one burning thought that May 7th, 1975 drives home for many of us was how pointless it all was. Either an ideal or belief was worth defending…or it wasn’t. You can sanction the loss of 58,220 of my brothers and a few sisters for either a just cause or that it was the “right thing to do”. Or, you can write it off to a geopolitical brain fart that backfired and smartly move on to the next one.
We now engage in a booming, robust $26 billion a year in trade with the DRV. Miz Fonda is undoubtedly still on Ho Chi Minh’s relative’s Christmas card list. The name Saigon has been “disappeared” Soviet style-airbrushed over. The reunification is as complete as it was inevitable. I just have a damn hard time getting over the 58,220 we pissed away only to cut and run. Worse, I can see a slow, similar accrual of deaths-a mere trickle now but nevertheless a small river- still emanating from Afghanistan and Iraq.
I remember late nights and talking with my friends about life and death. No one wanted the dubious honor of being the last one to come out in a box. When your time was short, you were pulled from point and sent back to the rear to count socks. You were taken off flight status and put in intelligence reading maps. For some, even that was no panacea. An errant B-40 could rearrange fate in a millisecond. If you were dumb like me, the testosterone kicked in and you signed up for a second tour.
I raise a cup to cheer those who made it back and those who didn’t. To the ones who successfully zigged instead of zagged and dodged the golden BB, I salute your prescience. To those who should have been flying 300 feet higher and 8 knots faster but weren’t, I salute your sacrifice but question the need for it.
We are falling faster than any other cohort of combat Veterans before us who served in WW2 and Korea. Whether it be to the insidious diseases or Agents Orange, Blue and Pink or contaminated inoculations with jetguns, the toll the “conflict” took is stupendous considering what was not attained.
If you made it back, you probably find yourself reading your medical charts these days like the Wall Street Journal looking for some guidance, some hint, some harbinger of impending sickness. Hell, I know I do. I get laryngitis reciting them all to the nurse every time I visit the doctor. Well, at least the ones I actually know about.
Thank you, each and every one of you who fought with me in that war. Thank you for putting Tay Ninh ahead of Toronto. Thank you for being selfless and putting America above a cool car and Dick’s Drive-in. May 7th, 1975. Another day that will live in infamy. Funny how them sevens come up a lot on the dice.
P.S. As would be expected on May 7th, a chopper flew over about 1400.