Looking back on the recent “reallocation of available assets” at Kabul Airpatch last fall, those of my generation merely nod their heads in confirmation and concur there never really have been any true Mensa Generals since World War 2. They’re not permitted to think outside the box anymore. Everything is built on the OSHA premise that it takes a village to change a lightbulb. It has to be widely shared on Social Media and the number of views/likes has to be ensconced into the Clouds for eternity.
The vision planted in our brains on 5/7/75 was the Huey hucking contests offshore at Dixie Station. Afghanistan’s ignoble retreat, however, will leave us with that indelible image of C-17s shedding civilians from their landing gear on climb out. That’s some brutal shit for the unwary progressive viewer. Wars always seems to be such an antiseptic, faraway thing until the day the footage gets graphic. Dan Rather and others brought this into our living rooms along about 1967 and war coverage has never been the same since. And keep in mind that was a sanitized version in those days. Reality was often far different but you the American public never saw this. Life magazine didn’t even publish the really ugly stuff.
We nicknamed them Glad Bags reasoning that a body would be glad to be going home. That may sound macabre but gallows humor abounded back then. It warded off depression… temporarily.
When working with the Veterans I represent, I’m always reminded that folks who were trained to fly IBM Selectrics™ often found themselves pressganged into Eleven Bravos. A cook I repped who was stationed at An Khe told me about a couple of times the gooks got inside the wire and ran rampant dang near all night. In October ’68 they mortared the perimeter and did a minor probe for weaknesses. They came back 12 days later in broad daylight and got the POL area- almost 14,000 barrels. He said shit was cooking off in the bomb dump for days. I’ve had Vets tell me of dark nights where they were yelling at each other not to run around so they could figure out which ones were Cowboys and which were the Indians. Sometimes war devolves down into these most basic of tactics.
My service was similar. I thought I had a cut and dried job for a year in country or the neighboring environs only to discover my government had different plans for me. I certainly never considered being fluent in French would increase my risk relative to others’. Project 404 sounded like such an innocuous gig. A little psyops with a side of interesting dining (Monkey Ball soup, raw papaya soumtom), playing dumb and eavesdropping on visiting RLAF officers who thought they were being ohhhh soooooo clever speaking in-guess what- Français. It turned out this was our life in reality.
Granted, there were a lot of dialects and languages afoot in Long Tieng. A lot of the AirAm crew chiefs were Filipino and spoke both Spanish and English. There were combat-seasoned Thai Army Troops available for use as fire extinguishers when the Pathet Lao advanced unexpectedly in winter monsoon. There were Hmong troops who spoke only Hmong. I picked up Pidgin Thai eventually as it was the more common of all. Dee dee mao merely turned into Pai lao lao.
The intriguing aspect of Vietnam and Afghanistan revolves around their similarities. I have vivid memories of watching Walter Cronkite that day on the evening news showing us live footage of the ‘tactical advance in a new direction’. Each one of those Huey submarines would be up to a cool $1.6 million nowadays assuming they had updated avionics. Who’d want one is another story. Rotary wing is delayed suicide. It’s never a question of if a chopper will suddenly have a mechanical misadventure at 2500 ASL but when. Orville and Wilber had it right from the beginning. Imitate the birds. It doesn’t hurt as much when you don’t drop like a rock.
We Veterans lament the tremendous loss of military hardware left on the tarmac and in warehouses in Kabul but that doesn’t even begin to hold a candle to what we left scattered across Vietnam-not to mention all the destroyed materiel. 11,846 choppers were shot down or crashed. That’s not even counting the ones that got the heave ho into the South China Sea on 5/7/75. We ‘donated’ tanks, APCs, .50 cal HMGs, M 60s and gazillions of M 16s on top of gazillions of surplus Korea M1/M2s, G3s, Thompsons and the ammo. We left crated Pilatus Porters on the flightline at Tan Son Nhut. We left a fleet of C 123s and C-7s. This absolutely dwarfs any stupidity in Afstan. We spent more on building schoolhouses in this latest war and it didn’t buy us any Taliban camaraderie whatsoever.
To invoke George Santayana’s name yet again would be pointless. Everyone knows his sentiments and they were once again vindicated last fall. The major media would have you fixate on the 13 troops that ate it trying to supervise the withdrawal at the airpatch. But that would ignore the 2,325 who ate it over the whole deployment or the 3,519 who didn’t make it back vertical from Iraqistan. Why is it we Americans are always the firemen on the world stage? Who dreamed up this game of donating our troops to the jaws of war?
I’m sure Dunkirk would be another spot-on analogy but it wasn’t our war back then…yet. I don’t mean to dwell on the waste in materiel. I speak of the wasted lives. I can never conceive of expending one-let alone 58,434 troops on a losing cause. It’s not that Vietnam wasn’t a worthy cause. It’s the fact that we weren’t allowed to succeed. And most certainly not over the fence in Laos. A phrase carved in stone evokes my sentiments on war- ‘It’s a worthy thing to fight for a man’s freedom; it is another sight finer to fight for another man’s. But what happens when they tie one of your hands behind your back? Who ever heard of having to request permission to return fire or to deploy nape or WP when your troops are getting overrun?
I reckon you have to draw the line somewhere when trying to play whack-a-mole with communism. The problem is you eventually run out of compliant youthful men to do it with. Without casting shade on the opposite sex as infantrywomen, one must understand they don’t have restrooms on battlefields. You can’t just raise your hand and say “Yo. Permission to go to the loo, Sir?” It just doesn’t work that way. In the real world, men don’t need tampon dispensers in the men’s restroom. Regardless of the new pregnant man emoji, men cannot give birth or lactate. Men can’t get out of sorts once a month due to estrus. Frankly, combat is distracting enough already without throwing this added distraction into the mix. No one can argue that women do not provide a valuable augmentation to our military forces but I wish the powers that be would recognize the glaring drawbacks to total integration. And before I get in any deeper on the other 46 genders, I’ll move on.
While I will never throw cold water on brave men (or women) of all nationalities desirous of coming to the aid of the Ukrainians- or any besieged country, I do not think we, as Americans, personally have a dog in this fight. We’ve swept up the broken glass on the European continent twice with the blood of our servicemen. Three times if you count the cold war. France went so far as to 86 NATO and boot our bases out of France. It’s high time Europe shows its backbone and owns their shitshow. This isn’t going to end well any way you look at it. Somebody’s feelings are going to get hurt. We don’t need any more Glad bags arriving at Dover airpatch any time soon. After over 20 years, the mortuary personnel have earned a vacation.
I expect the next hot spot will be Iran or a rematch between the pissed off sand ranchers and Israel but I’m hoping that will happen after my departure. I have grandchildren and corn to grow. And that’s all I’m gonna say about May 7th, 1975. It reminds me of taking third place at the Bejing Olympics.
And, as a parting reminder, never get between a mama bear and her cubs.