Tag Archive | "Vietnam War"

Remembering Vietnam and Its Veterans

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Recently, I received an email from a dear friend and brother in arms, Ed Honn who served our country in the Vietnam War.  It was a request to pledge to a cause that would establish a national holiday to honor Vietnam veterans for their sacrifices and service annually on March 29th.   At first, the idea of a holiday to honor Vietnam War veterans seemed a little odd to me, given the fact that we already have Veterans Day, a national holiday that honors all Americans who have served in our Armed Forces.

 

Yet, the Vietnam War was unique in the annals of American warfare.  Like the Korean War and, for that matter, every military conflict in which the United States has engaged since World War II, it was undeclared.  And, like the American Civil War, it deeply divided this nation.  But, unlike virtually every other war in American history, the Vietnam War and the soldiers who served in it did not have the support of the majority of the American people.

 

American involvement in Vietnam can be traced to the major global upheavals created in the wake of World War II.  Post-war Europe and Asia witnessed a veritable explosion in the growth of Communism.  In Europe, much of Eastern and Central Europe came under the control of the Soviet Union – forming what Winston Churchill termed the “Iron Curtain.”  In China, the People’s Liberation Army defeated the Republican Government of China in the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War – creating a Communist government on the mainland with the Nationalists fleeing to Taiwan.  In Korea, the victorious Allied Forces including the Soviet Union divided the country at the 38th parallel with the Communists assuming rule of the North.  The 1950 invasion of South Korea by the North resulted in America’s involvement in the United Nations police action to restore South Korea.

 

In the meantime, Vietnam, a part of what was known as French Indochina, had experienced its own political and military unrest.  Suffering under French colonial rule for nearly six decades, Vietnam was occupied by yet another country when the Japanese invaded it in 1940.  It was during this period of dual occupation that Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh established the Viet Minh, whose goal was to rid Vietnam of the French and Japanese occupiers.  Having gained support for its cause in northern Vietnam, the Viet Minh announced the establishment of an independent Vietnam with a new government dubbed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in September, 1945. This led to open warfare with the French for nearly a decade.  In May 1954, the Viet Minh defeated French troops in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and took control of what became North Vietnam, causing the French to fully withdraw from the region under the auspices of the Geneva Accords of 1954 and creating the independent countries of Laos, Cambodia, North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

 

When general elections, stipulated by these Accords and intended to reunite the country failed, South Vietnam held its own elections.  The ascendance of Ngo Dinh Diem to leadership of South Vietnam only exacerbated the tensions and disillusioned many South Vietnamese.  In 1960, communist sympathizers in South Vietnam formed the National Liberation Front (NLF), also known as the Viet Cong, to fight a guerilla war against the South Vietnamese.

 

Into this mess of international affairs and nation-building gone awry stepped the American soldier.  Beginning as military aid and training to the South Vietnamese, American involvement escalated as our government scrambled to keep yet another domino from falling into the hands of the Communist monolith.  And, the burden fell upon the American GI to save the world from Communism.

 

If American efforts to sustain the South Vietnamese regime were to succeed, young men were needed in increasing numbers to support the war effort.  At that time, conscription was still the law in the United States.  However, many young men – perceiving the futility of the American effort and fearful of subjection to the same fate as peers and acquaintances who suffered death or debilitating injury as a result of their service in Vietnam – sought deferments from the draft.  With education as a valid reason to avoid being drafted, male enrollments in colleges and universities exploded overnight.  When that loophole ultimately was closed, some young men sought conscientious objector status or fled the country to avoid service.

 

Yet, many – aware of the heroic service of their fathers or grandfathers in wars past – chose to put country first and proudly served in Vietnam.  They served, despite declining support at home, despite the insults of those who disparaged their service.  Some of them did not return alive, others were missing in action and never accounted for, still others came home with scars – physical and emotional – that shaped the remainder of their lives.

 

Four decades later, in a post-911 world, Americans have regained the respect and esteem in which they hold the members of our military, many of them true heroes.  Nonetheless, the heroes who served in Vietnam still retain their scars.  No parades were held in their honor.  Upon their arrivals home, they received little recognition and even less gratitude.

 

Even after the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with its wall listing the names of those who did not survive the conflict, many Vietnam vets felt little solace.  Like pieces of valuable China that were broken and repaired, their cracks were still evident.

 

For many veterans of that war like my friend Ed Honn, the healing process cannot be completed until they get the final recognition for their sacrifices and service with the establishment of March 29th as Vietnam Veterans Day on the calendar.

 

To all who read this,  please support their cause by adding your name when requested.

 

Stolen Valor

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To set the record straight, this writer has to apologize for the title of the article.  But, it seems that no other words can truly express the subject matter.


The Vietnam War was a long conflict between the ideologies of Communism and the Free World.  But unlike our World Wars and Korea, our nation was divided on our participation in this battle.  Many people vehemently and openly opposed the war; some of those who were called to serve did not.  Some became “conscientious objectors” (those who disagree with violence in all forms), while others fled the country to avoid the draft.  Still others went overseas to fight.


With the aftermath of this war, our troops returned to home.  While not hailed as victors, our soldiers were simply happy to return alive. This era of anti-war demonstrations and political unrest ended in President Richard Nixon’s decision to pull us out of Vietnam.  Some political analysts saw this decision as a military defeat.  To the present day, many argue that the war could have been won had our politicians heeded the advice of the military leadership and not bowed to the pressure of the protestors.


Although the war officially ended for America in the jungles of Vietnam, it continued in another vein.  It haunted the hearts and minds of those whose loved ones in the military were classified as missing or prisoners of war.  To this very day, the hunt for MIAs and POWs continues, symbolized by the motto, “We shall never forget.”


In an attempt to shed new light on this still-festering subject, B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley collaborated in writing a self-published book entitled, Stolen Valor.  Burkett had served with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam; Whitley was an investigative journalist.  Together, they weave the story of how the Vietnam generation was robbed of its heroes and its history.


In doing so, they have challenged the assertion that Vietnam veterans were broken men and psychopaths.  The authors have countered those allegations with true stories of valor and exposés of the wannabes who disguise themselves as veterans of that war, wearing uniforms and medals to achieve notoriety or political status.   John Kerry comes immediately to mind when speaking of this latter category.


During the 2004 Presidential election, candidate Kerry’s war record came under fire via a book titled, Unfit for Command, by The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.  In essence, the authors questioned Kerry’s receipt of combat medals, as his injury was too minor to merit an award.  Whether this challenge had any bearing on his loss of bid for office remains unanswered.


Kerry’s record notwithstanding, those who chose to serve their country in this war were caught in the maelstrom of a politically divided nation.  To add insult to injury, amnesty was declared for all those who evaded the draft by leaving the country, rather than fight for it.  These people were welcomed home with open arms.


The Vietnam War brought to light the consequences of war other than those suffered as a result of bullets or hand grenades.  It made the world aware of a toxic chemical weapon known as Agent Orange.  In addition, the war highlighted PTSS (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) and its effects upon the men and women fighting under extreme conditions in the jungles and waterways of an ancient land.


A brief synopsis of the Burkett-Whitley book is:


1.      The Image

2.      The Trauma

3.      Stolen Valor

4.      The Victims and Heroes


The work also provides appendices of awards and their recipients.   Lest we forget our heroes of Vietnam, it is well worth the time to read this book and gain an understanding of an era that almost divided a nation.  If you are interested, please visit:


http://www.stolenvalor.com/


Uncommon Valor

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Ed Freeman with George W. Bush

Recently, I had received e-mail about the passing of an American hero.  As I had never heard his name before, and as his story was so remarkable, I decided to conduct a little research as to the story’s veracity.  In so doing, I discovered an unsung hero whose gallant exploits simply must be shared.

 

I’ll begin by relaying the e-mail:

 

Freeman is Coming!

 

You’re a 19-year-old kid, and critically wounded in the jungles of Ia Drang Valley at Landing Zone X-ray on November 14, 1965,Vietnam.

 

Your infantry battalion is outnumbered 8 to 1, and the enemy fire is so intense, your company Commander has ordered the Medi-Vac helicopters to stop coming in.  You’re listening to enemy gunfire and you know you’re not getting out.

 

You’re family is halfway around the world, 12000 miles away and you’ll never see them again.  As you fade in and out, you know this is the day.

 

Then, over the sound of gunfire, you hear the sound of a helicopter. You look up and see approaching an unarmed Huey, with no Medi-Vac markings on it.

 

It’s Ed Freeman and he’s coming to pick you up.  He’s not a Medi-Vac and it’s not his job, but he’s coming anyway.

 

As he lands amidst the murderous gunfire, they load you and 3 other guys [onto the chopper], and then he flies you up and away through enemy fire to the doctors and nurses. He returns 14 more times to evacuate 30 more men who would have never made it out that day.

 

Valor

When I read this story, I could not help but choke up and say a prayer for this man.  Ed Freeman, whose nickname was “Too Tall” served his country in three wars:  World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

 

Born in Neely, Perry County, Mississippi, Ed was the sixth of nine children, and actually grew up in the nearby town of McLain.  He was a graduate of that burg’s Washington High School.  During World War II, Ed served in the U.S. Army, progressing through the ranks via his courage and leadership.  By the time for him to serve in the Korean War, he had achieved the rank of Master Sergeant.  Although he was assigned to the Army Corp of Engineers, he fought as infantry and received a battlefield commission at the battle of Pork Chop Hill.

 

This commission made him eligible to become a pilot, thereby fulfilling a small part of his childhood dream; Ed had always wanted to fly.  Because he was 6’4″, the military had to disqualify him from flying.  Ed traded a potential pilot’s license for his nickname, which stuck with him throughout the rest of his life.  In 1955, the Army eased the height restrictions for pilots, enabling Ed to attend Flight School.  With the training that he mastered there, he became a top-notch pilot of airplanes and helicopters.

 

In 1965, Ed Freeman, then a Captain, drew an assignment as second-in-command of a sixteen-craft unit: Company A 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).  On November 14th of that same year, Freeman and his unit transported a battalion of American soldiers into the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam. Arriving back at their base, they learned that the troops they’d transported were under attack and taking heavy casualties. At this point, Ed and his commander, Major Bruce Crandall, volunteered to fly unarmed light helicopters to rescue the wounded and carry water and ammunition to the beleaguered troops.  Those who watched Ed’s chopper brave enemy fire for their benefit, before the copter landed and as it took off, must have thought they were seeing a mirage that day; that is how bleak their situation was. Perhaps when they were aboard, they dreamed that an angel had rescued them.  But it was only Ed, aided by his commander, putting his life on the line for his fellow soldiers.

 

In 1966, Freeman was sent home; a year later, he retired from the military.  With his wife Barbara, he settled in Treasure Valley, Idaho.  Ed continued to fly, as he loved to, and in another capacity, he continued to serve the U.S. government.  He used his skills to track and conduct aerial censuses of wild horses for the U.S. Department of the Interior.  He retired in 1991.

 

Ed Freeman

 

For his actions in Vietnam, Captain Freeman’s commanding officer nominated him for the Medal of Honor.  As a result of a deadline then in place for this particular tribute, he was awarded The Distinguished Flying Cross instead. His nomination for Medal of Honor languished until 1995, when the deadline was eliminated.  Nearly six years later, President George W. Bush presented the Medal of Honor to him on July 16, 2001. After Ed’s death, in March of 2009, the Post Office in his hometown McLain, Mississippi was renamed in his honor, The Major Ed Freeman Post Office.

 

The media is chock-a-block with tales of violence and hatred perpetrated by twisted individuals and so-called religious zealots.  I feel it’s only right to give equal time to “the good ones” among us — the ones who take risks, the ones who demonstrate genuine compassion for others, the ones who put their money where their mouths are.  Ed Freeman surely fits that bill.

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