Vietnam War Veterans Deserve More Respect After thinking about all the things we would learn this year in American history I decided to do my project on the experiences of Vietnam War veterans. There is a lot of controversy as to whether or not the Vietnam War veterans are given enough recognition for what they went through. I have heard horrible stories of US soldiers dying from US bombs, shell shock, and soldiers returning to America and not being able to function as active members of society due to the horrors of the war. All I really know about the war is what I have seen on television. I wanted to learn about the war through the firsthand accounts of those who were there.
The Vietnam War was a military struggle fought in Vietnam from 1959 to 1975. It began as an attempt by Communist guerrillas (or Vietcong) in the South, backed by Communist North Vietnam, to overthrow the government of South Vietnam. The struggle grew into a war between South Vietnam and North Vietnam and ultimately into an international conflict. The United States and some 40 other countries supported South Vietnam by supplying troops and munitions, and the USSR and the People’s Republic of China furnished munitions to North Vietnam and the Vietcong. On both sides, however, the burden of the war fell mainly on the civilians.1 On January 27, in Paris, delegations representing the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the Provisional Revolutionary Communist Government of South Vietnam signed an Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.
The cease-fire officially went into effect on January 28. Both the US and North Vietnam asserted that there were no secret peace terms.2 All the US fighting forces had withdrawn from Vietnam by March 1973, but not without major losses on both sides. Two million Vietnamese were killed and 3 million were wounded. The extensive use of napalm and defoliants (such as Agent Orange) left many people badly burned, and destroyed the ecology of a country that was mainly agricultural. This is an important part of US history because it was the first war in which there was no clear winner. 57,685 US soldiers were killed, and triple that amount were wounded.
Even those who returned to the United states without physical damage suffered from depression, and had to live with memories of the carnage and destruction that they saw. What bothers me about the war is that even though these men risked their lives to fight a war that had nothing to do with them only because their country was anti-Communist, they have been seemingly forgotten by their country. Many, especially those who suffered physical trauma, have no jobs and are forced to beg for food on street corners and live under bridges. The first book I read was Bouncing Back. It was a collection of the experiences of a group of Air Force pilots who were gunned down and taken as prisoners of war.
The post-POW lives of the Air Force pilots I read about contrasted greatly with those of the Marines I read about in The War In I Corps. The Marines lived dirty lived in the Jungles of Vietnam. One of the best things about The War In I Corps was its great descriptions of the things the Marines had to go through. As Richard A. Guidry put it : “In a driving rain, laden with heavy packs, our platoon lumbered toward its place in the long line of men sprawled in the thick sticky mud…
The rain added a slimy quality to the crust of dirt and fungus that encased my body. Running my fingers across my arm was like following the tracks of a snail.”3 It really gave me a feel for what they were going through. It made me wonder how they didn’t just not fight. The war wasn’t theirs, but due to bad luck they were stuck in this horrible jungle forced to fight an enemy they had no reason to hate. Living like animals with practically no food and little or no contact with Their families. Under the same conditions I think I would sit under a tree and wait it out.
While finishing the book, I remembered a discussion we had in class about whether or not the soldiers were considered as individuals. Guidry explained how military thought of them: ” To them we were just parts of the machine, no different from cannons or jeeps. We were superfluous; they were there to fill their clipboards. Apparently, nobody wanted to stop the infiltration, because it resulted in a steady stream of favorable statistics, a couple dozen kills a week at very little cost. That looked good for everybody, and might even mean promotions for the lower ranking officers. But down in the ranks, those of us wit our faces in the mud knew that thinking was not going to win the war”4 His book is full of accounts of superiors putting the troops in danger when there was clearly a better way, and hiding in foxholes leaving the soldiers without a leader to tell them what to do.
So many injustices were done in fact that a Lieutenant was murdered, and Guidry and his troop planned to murder theirs. Bouncing Back was a more inspirational book. The characters had reason to live, even though they were trapped in POW camps. They dreamt of a better place, and fought the interrogators as hard as they could. They set up a tapping code to communicate along the walls, and would even teach each others the things that they had studied in college. The interesting thing about the book is the way the Air Force pilots live their lives when they weren’t fighting as compared to the Marines.
They lived in air-conditioned rooms. Three square meals a day, as compared to the Marines who had one ration a day (on a good day), and half a ration every other day during long battles where they could not get food into the battlefield. For Al Stafford (the main POW in Bouncing Back), however, the good life ended only three weeks after he entered the war. After being hit from behind by a SAM missile he ejected from them plane. ” He used his survival radio to make one transmission to Compton (his superior). ‘Sorry boss,’ Stafford said ‘I’ll see you after the war.'”5 He later had to throw away his radio, his only contact with the people that cod save him, in fear that he would be tortured by the Vietnamese till he called for a rescue.
He even though of committing suicide by overdosing on the morphine he carried, but instead decided on throwing it away, so that he wouldn’t be able to. So even this early in the war, the horrors of the POW camps were already known. I believe the worst torture Stafford had to endure was being without water. “As time passed, Stafford’s awareness shifted away from his physical pain and the uncertainty of his situation and focused on one single fact and sensation: he was thirsty.. He got down off the stool, onto his knees, and licked the floor where he tiles joined, hoping some water had a accumulated there. When that failed, he tried licking damaged places on the wall, hoping that some water had sweated through.”6 It was only his second day without water, and he had to wait three more.
The book continues to describe the horrible conditions in the rooms, the small amounts of food, and the torture that they had to go through on occasion, but never was any soldier’s ordeal described the way Stafford’s had been. Its amazing how some people can persevere. After spending eight years as a Vietnam POW Stafford was released. When he returned home his wife was still waiting for him, and the only problem he suffered was occasional depression. Bibliography sorry, i left out the sources History Essays.