May 7 is an anniversary event for me. That’s what psychologists call a particularly bad hair day you went through in the war. May 7th embodies an ignoble day of a not-so-special time in our military history. Win. Place. Show. Every gig we’ve ever done in our history was an unmitigated Win. Granted, we sometimes took our sweet time accomplishing many of them but we got ‘er done.
But never in our history up until Vietnam had we ever tucked tail between legs and beat feet on such a massive scale. Never. I heard some tales from AirAm brethren decades after the war about how they had to literally drop their tools down at Tan Son Nhut among the revetments and run for their lives. They were tasked with the impossible project of disassembling and packing hundreds of Porters and like-new Bell 204s and 205s ahead of what looked like an impending rout.
They ran out of time and bugged out for Clark or Taipei with the last of the 130s they were going to pack all the aircraft in. The new owners scored bigtime- probably bigger than this latest fiasco in Kabul. I don’t get it. We are the biggest and mightiest force on earth. Or were. I worry about America. What we see these days is emblematic of that era. No deposit. No return. Or is it what we don’t see because we’re too busy looking down at our phones?
Up is down. Men can become women just by summarily announcing the fact. They’re invited to use the ladies’ room… by politicians who won’t be using them themselves. Men can now chest feed and menstruate. Science has been wrong since the dawn of time. I disremember in all of my 72 years that I’ve ever seen Mr. Red Robin and Miss Sally Blue Jay get married and live happily ever after… with tons of grandbirds in their old age. Or two bucks bond for life. I have much to learn. I’m not angry. I’m not depressed. I’m curious how all this is going to play out and damn glad I won’t be around to see the eventual aftermath.
But one thing I knew early on from my Dad in ’65 was that this dustup in Vietnam was going to be a dead end and an unmitigated disaster. When he arrived as V/C of 7th AF in June 1966, we were already almost out of 500 and 1000 lb. MK 82s. 250 pounders were like firecrackers and you had to drop four to even make a good dent in the earth. Hand grenades and 5.56 were also having supply chain problems. We were flying old F 100s and F 105s as our front line fighters. The F4 was just arriving and didn’t even have internal guns. Who needed them? We had Sidewinders and Sparrows. Our gunships were leftover C 47s and dollar 19s. C model Hueys were so underpowered they took the doors off their gunships to take off with a full load of ordnance. Some would do hot refuels and top off the tanks. They had to sit and wait for some of the JP4 to burn off before they could pull pitch.
McNamara, the Ford whiz kid, loved to tamper with production. What he’d envisioned for Vietnam was a test run. The M 16 and the M 60 were going to be vetted and refined. The C 130 was going to be upgraded frequently to expand payload and range. Everything was calculated out dang near to the last CBU 26. If this worked out as predicted, we’d drop the last of the ordnance and Jane Fonda’s best friends forever- Ho Chi Minh and Co.- would throw up their hands in abject surrender. The word ‘If” was the operable conjunction. Sadly, McNamara grossly underestimated their resolve and by Tet ’68 we finally had to acknowledge all the body counts in the world were not going to be the metric of success.
Funny how that didn’t work out. When we ran out of 1000 lb. MK 82s, we started buying them back from the West German Air Force. We gave them away in ’45 to rebuild their post-WW2 Air Force and then were forced to buy them back at $900 a pop plus shipping for several years until we cranked up production at home. But what I really can’t understand is how we could repeat the identical same fustercluck fifty years later at Kabul Airpatch.
I saw a horrendous amount of waste over the fence up north. Frequently, we ran out of cargo chutes to drop pallets with chickens or pigs or .30 cal M1 Carbine ammo. The ammo we didn’t kick out. We had to land and unload it. The chickens and the pigs had to learn how to fly and they weren’t very adept at it. I guess that where the old tag line- “Pork. It’s what’s for dinner” came from. The Meo never complained. They just had to rearrange the dinner menu on Mondays and Thursdays when we were out of chutes.
Those smaller chutes were also good as makeshift body bags to transport the recently departed back to their home of record for burial. In addition to 450 Kip per month, they got the full meal deal-a burial plot and Taps if they were unlucky enough to run into some of that Pathet Lao “microaggression”.
When my son reached 18 or 20 in ’08, I finally hit 100% Permanent and Total. Buckwheat became entitled to Chapter 35 DEA college benefits on VA’s dime. It suddenly began to dawn on him this largesse came from my service. He began to ask all manner of questions about the War and my part in it. I’d never told a soul all those years in between-not even Cupcake. Nobody was much of a history buff when I returned in ’72. Cupcake’s dad was the same way following WWII. He never discussed it with his family either. The most I ever got out of him was that he’d gone ashore in the second wave at Omaha Beach in June 1944 and went from Corporal to 2nd Lieutenant in less than 90 minutes. End of story. Nothing much to see here. Move along.
My Uncle Jay was captured at Corregidor and did the 67-klic fun run up to Camp O’Donnell with a round through his ankle. All he’d tell me as a child was they had to drink each others’ urine to stay hydrated. He escaped three times in his 3 and a half years there. That explained the three fingers missing from his left hand. He said little else about it. After Vietnam, it all made sense to me.
My son kept at it and asked me quite frankly if I’d ever seen dead Pathet Lao soldiers. Then one day if I’d ever seen dead American soldiers. And finally a year later if I’d ever killed anyone in those two years. I recalled what one of the more gung ho pilots I flew with once said. My reply was “The first one will cost you, son- you’ll burn in Hell. Fortunately, the rest are free.” I left it at that. If I knew, I might get PTSD. Having a 40% casualty rate puts a damper on small talk. Truth be told, I was too busy to ever count when we did the bomb damage assessments after each pass. What possible good would it do to know? It reminded me of the Roman Colosseum and the Gladiator era-Lions 5, Christians 0.
So, here we are fifty years later and engaged in the same tom foolery of abandoning our military assets- and often our own citizens- and bugging out. We’re no better than the ARVN in the last days shedding their uniforms and boots and leaving the civilians to fend for themselves. On numerous occasions, Cupcake has remarked that she is relieved that her Dad isn’t alive to see what has become of our beautiful country. I feel the same. While we may have come in second place in RVN, I feel we kept our pride and professionalism. I’m sure all those folks who served in Iraquistan have similar sentiments.
We don’t do politics or religion here at asknod. We help Veterans. But at some point, it would seem that our Government would start helping them too. Golly. If they did there wouldn’t be any need for all of us litigators. Considering the Veterans Administration has been around since the Revolutionary War in some iteration or another, you’d think they’d have this cat in the bag by now. Oddly, with every new war they create more Veterans and have less money for them. But boy howdy, look at the VA rosters and they have Yoga instructors now. If you’re feeling stressed out from 0900 to 1000 hrs, you can do stress reduction classes with Lisa on Zoom right there at your desk. Yeppers. She’s a GS 12 and probably is pulling down $82 K/year. Johnny Veteran is pulling down a 70% rating without TDIU = $1804/month or $21,648/year. But wowser-he gets free VA medical and acupuncture for his chronic back pain instead of oxycontin. The yoga classes, however, are reserved for those needy VA employees.
May 7 should be Vietnam Remembrance Day. VA recognizes the period of 1/09/1961 to 5/07/1975 as the period of war. Where in Sam Hill did March 29th come from? Was it a leftover or did they usurp National Butterfly Appreciation Day for it? Whoever’s in charge of handing out days stepped on their necktie. Considering there aren’t too many of us left who were there, it seems we’d get a vote on the subject. I think I speak for all Vietnam Vets when I say we’d be happy to give it back to the Butterfly enthusiasts when we’re gone.
What the hey? In 20 more years, there won’t be any of us Vietnam Vets alive anyway…well, with the exception of all those VFW combatants who insist they were SOGs and sailed up the Mekong in a Destroyer on a secret mission. Ask them which fork of the Mekong and they’ll give you that 1000-yd. stare. It’s priceless. Gosh, you mean there’s more than one? Who woulda thunk it?
I thank all of you who did serve there. I just think we deserve to own this day as much as anyone does. We have VE Day. We have VJ Day. We celebrate the 4th of July as the birth of our nation. I guess the Big Guys in DC aren’t too proud of screwing up and prefer to disremember some of our peccadillos. What we don’t have is RVN Day. Maybe it would help us to avoid more of the same in the future. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
I find your statement that I do not subscribe to “It’s a worthy thing to fight for one’s freedom. It’s a sight finer to fight for another man’s.” to be out of touch to the point of being uncomprehending. Yes, we all lost good friends in the Southeast Asian Conflict. And it was specifically, most immediately, while we were fighting for the freedom of the Vietnamese, Laotians and Thais. If you do not perceive this correctly, you might want to broaden your horizons.
The only reason the NVA came to the Paris Peace Accords is because they were down to recruiting 17 year-olds, and the attrition was no linger sustainable. Not my words, the words of a prominent North Vietnamese. The Operation Lam Son 719, while inflicting high losses on the South Vietnamese, was the final wake-up call to the North that the Ho Chi Minh Trail was (finally) being cut at Highway 9. US aircraft were taking out the bridges to China in the north, and Hai Phong was made ineffective as a port by the mining. The dikes and bridges between Hanoi and Hai Phong were being destroyed. This is not a rewriting of history. It is written history – and may I suggest you would want to read it. Had the ICCS kept the peace as per the Peace Accord, Vietnam would have been another ‘divided Korea’, and stories of the US ‘leaving with our tails between our legs’ would have never arisen.
Many of our fellow Americans, and I dare say this includes your goodself, have been too emotionally involved to see a holistic view of the last half of the 20th Century, and the West’s fight(s) against world domination by Communism. For starters, there were armed Communist insurgencies /rebellions in every Southeast Asian country – Indonesia (the PKI), Thailand (where certain provinces were off limits by ’67), Singapore (Lee Kwan Yu’s suppression of the Communists), Laos (you already know the story here), Viet Nam, and of course Cambodia (with the Khmer Rouge). There was the Cold War in Europe, and then Cuba & Central America, Korea (ongoing), etc. It was the Global Communist threat that the US was fighting, and Southeast Asia was a major battleground where that Global threat went hot. This also is not a ‘rewriting of history”. It is written history. A lack of appreciation of the ‘big picture’ of course leads to the ‘small picture’ – so if the shoe fits…
For your personal edification, my participation in our fight for other’s freedom was from ’67 (Thailand, Laos) through to the evacuation in ’75, where I personally escorted Americans and Vietnamese onto C123’s and C130s departing for Thailand, Philippines and Guam, and onto the CH53’s out to the 7th Fleet. My introduction to Viet Nam was cross-border from Cambodia’s ‘Parrot[‘s Beak’ to Cu Chi to welcome in Tet ’68. My personal experiences that first night in-country, to include the Field Hospital need not be elaborated upon, and there it would continue for the next 7 1/2 years. So please be advised that your ‘war stories’ while tragic, do not in any way qualify you to lecture me on your most myopic view of the Southeast Asian Conflict.
Continue on with God’s work for Veterans, and your love of dogs, but as a historian you’d make a good usher in a movie theater.
At the time of the Evac of Saigon in Apr ’75 there was virtually no US owned materiel or equipment – having transferred 99 % to the ARVN and VNAF two years prior. Two years prior was also when the last of the US ARMED forces pulled out, as per the Paris Peace Accord (peace treaty). This does not in any sense equate to our military being run out with our tails between our legs. The materiel ‘liberated’ by the NVA was South Vietnamese property, and had been for a little over two years. Remaining DAO civilians were still in the process of retrograding the last few items – salvageable Butler Buildings, De Long Piers etc, which we had not transferred to the South Vietnamese. The US contingent in Viet Nam (’73 – ’75} was the US Embassy’s Defense Attache Office (DAO) advisors and civilian contractors. The Evacuation in ’75 by US Air Force and the later heli-evac by the US Marines was orderly and massively successful. No Americans were left behind (unless you ask the Conspiracy Theorists). The Pilatus Porters you refer to were Air America operated, as Air America was retained in Viet Nam during the Peace Treaty years to fly the ICCS ” peace keepers’ (Polish, Hungarian, Iranian, Indonesian) around in Hueys and the Porters. (What a Joke.. ICCS – the “I Can’t Control Sh!t” folk…) around country and to provide transportation for the remaining CIA officers. As you will know, it was not “The Viet Nam War” – it was the War In Southeast Asia, including Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. The only debacle was the US’s abandonment of an ally.
Mr. Morledge- you are allowed to have your own views on what transpired in SEA but you aren’t allowed to reinvent history. We lost before we reached 1973. We declared “peace” and shook hands with the NVA in Paris to get our folks released from the Hanoi Hilton. Then we “transferred” all our remaining assets to the ARVN and cut and ran-as in “with our tails between our legs”. You can gussy it up to camouflage the truth any way you wish. We squandered 59, 474 troops for nothing. In 1975, the only AirAm folks left were admin weenies and the ones packing up the Porters and newer Bell 205s for transport to the next hot spot (in Nicaragua).
My father (a Colonel in the USAF at the time) was sent over in 1954 to see what we could learn from the Dien Bien Phu catastrophe. He briefed Eisenhower and Sweeney not to get involved. Nobody listened. Up in Laos, they did have Pathet Lao POW camps separate and distinct from NVA stuff. Those troops were never accounted for-dead or alive so please don’t come here and offer revisionist history or paint a rosy picture of what turned into a shit show. I lost too many good friends there. I even watched two executed below me with their hands held up in surrender one afternoon. Bodies were never recovered (BNR). There are about 400 more we’ve never accounted for.
LTC Beckley (dec.) once said “it’s a worthy thing to fight for one’s freedom. It’s a sight finer to fight for another man’s.” Obviously you don’t subscribe to that philosophy. I do. In fact, I’ve carried that over into my present line of work helping Veterans. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.