Another DC-8 stretch jet accelerating along the runway, the pilot decides all OK to climb, the wheels lift off the runway at Cam Ranh Bay as the sounds from inside echo to those still behind or just arriving. Not a one of us thought this a country we liberated but our year was complete. Heading home, just soldiers much older than one year, returning to a country so different from when we left. Happiness and anticipation filled our minds with a touch of sadness perhaps loneliness for some we left behind. The ride was long but the thrill of returning made the time seem less important and patience an easy choice as the passenger plane lifted up and away.
Strange how after the return our memories shortened of the year out of our lives. We thought about friends, we became so close so quickly and acquaintances we made rapidly, our minds crowded that earlier time, glossed over as we adjusted to the new crowded world we returned to. For the fortunate life went on while many others struggled physically and emotionally. The sounds of helicopter blades rotating, familiar words like dust off, 5 or 10 clicks continued to resonate inside our heads in our changed homeland.
A time so distant now but seemed so familiar even 50 years past as I read the newspaper, watched the news or scanned the 24 hour news update all over social media. Now this generation is experiencing similar events. Then as now we learned how we lost but no one explained what we might have won. We were there to help, to avenge to some extent all in the name of some perhaps distorted sense of goodness. We were not viewed as heroes then, perhaps there is more respect now. We didn’t see lives lost or destroyed or altered physically and psychologically forever as a waste. Somehow in our minds then we accepted it all, covered it over with time and seldom spoke of it, not out of regret or shame, maybe it simply didn’t feel right to brag even now when talking was more acceptable. Then and now we were all heroes and none of us were.
We left defeated in the eyes of some probably who never served. We all did our jobs from Saigon to Kabul and left these places much as we found them. Perhaps over our time there we touched lives, helped people individually, held frightened children even as we were frightened. In midst of a conflict or war, whatever term seems more acceptable, some people knew we cared as individuals.
Now anger and frustration dominate my thoughts. Our objective was what? You decide. How is a winner determined if there is nothing to win? Osama is dead. The Taliban paid a heavy price although they are now back. Did we really believe the tribal make up of Afghanistan would create a group with allegiance to a national identity? The Vietcong had a national identity and many strongly identified with Ho Chi Minh. They had fervor and commitment. The Taliban may draw their allegiance from religion. Truthfully I don’t know but they certainly have a commitment to their geography. The patriots, flag wavers, those who never served and those who did but are now lost, are seeking a grander memory than actually was. For me people simply want to display righteous indignation to cover their own indifference and callousness to rationalize their insecurity.
My anger swells inside at the thought of some of the unknowing constantly commenting for their own gratification or maybe advancement in the eyes of some who without thought accept their claims of insight and wisdom. Speaking to people who are neither listening nor hearing as they wildly clap their hands does not make you wise. More likely just a king of some fools.
Now people claiming patriotism criticize decisions made by people qualified and capable of making decision. Vietnam was a country and many Vietnamese people believed it should be one country and supported the efforts of the North Vietnamese. Our own lack of information created a hindrance. We did not understand they did not trust the Russians nor like the Chinese. The country had been dominated by the Chinese often over the centuries. They were not about to accept domination by another country. The North Vietnamese rolling south and encountering minimal resistance should not have caught us off guard. Like the Taliban walking to Kabul without any resistance should not have been a surprise. Now many different elected types claim we should should’ve done better, they could have done better if they were in power. By the way they have been in power and didn’t do better. I’m tired of the arrogance and the blame game. It’s over finally.
The calls to support military action be it in Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq were loud and vocal. Any who raised doubt or questions were criticized even condemned. Now many of the same people are claiming it was not handled properly we should have prepared better as if 20 years were not enough. Does anyone believe two months more would have made a substantial difference and that no more Americans would die or be injured? Perhaps the solution was to load our equipment, our military personnel onto a deuce and a half truck and drive to the border long ago. We didn’t so now what? How about welcoming our soldiers home, not many did during Vietnam. In short respect those who served and what good they did achieve. Otherwise you patriots who seldom served but still wave our flag as if you own it, get out of our way. Thank those who brought it to an end or simply be quiet, sit down and pray for peace. There are no good or moral wars. War is always wrong but there may be things more wrong. Success is not always the same but peace is always success.