Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Oh, Ya Better Watch Out, Get Ready To Die, Ya Better Not Doubt, I'm Tellin' Ya Why--Ho Chi Minh Is Comin' To Town (Reprise from 12/21/14)

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
Everywhere You Duck
I Was In This One.  Dong Ha, 1967
(photo from Photobucket.com)

     So, okay, wit wasn't exactly a common attribute among us Marine Corps riflemen stuck along the south edge of Vietnam's laughably mis-named Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) during the Christmas season of 1967. But what we lacked in wit we more than made up for in sarcasm, which was often so extreme that it lapsed into flat-out nihilism.  I guess war has a way of doing that to people, especially a military adventure that was as entangled in moral imperatives and hazards as the one we waged in Vietnam.
     We knew all about the violent ambivalence about the war that was tearing our country apart, but we were pretty much immune--maybe numb is a better word--to all the noise. Marines at the DMZ didn't care about any of that--we knew we were in Hell and that, as we routinely put it, "Hell sucks." We just wanted out, we counted the days until our tours were up.  We said of our dead that they had been "wasted." Not "killed."  Wasted.  Never did think about it much back then, but realize now how much pungency there was in the use of that word.  Considering Vietnam's post-war shambles and the nearly 60,000 Americans (and many times that number of Vietnamese) killed in action during that ill-starred escapade--which I still regard as the defining screw-up of my generation--"wasted" is a word that more than applies, and not just to the dead.
     So here we are a half-century later, still bogged down in wars that are saturated with political and economic and moral confusion.   Considering that this seems to be a cyclical recurrence since perhaps the Korean War in the 1950s and certainly my war in Vietnam, you just have to wonder if this is built into our modern destiny.  Do our Congressional reps stop to consider the relentless futility of their actions when they robotically re-authorize funding for these ventures?  I mean, we left Vietnam with a superb complex of ports and landing fields and excellent buildings (I saw them when I visited in 2009) throughout the south that we basically handed over to our enemies. Same thing seems to be happening in Iraq, and no doubt will lead to a recurrence in Afghanistan. 
     As to the long term cost, Stateside? Just as so many of my generation of warriors came back with serious post-war issues, I note
USMC Lance Corporal Me, 1966, Enroute To Vietnam
(photo from battlestory.org)
thamany veterans of our ventures in central Asia are having their own bouts with the traumas of battleI know that combat in its own right will lend itself to psychological and emotional consequences, but my experience in Vietnam tells me that the overriding issues of fighting a war with much-contested moral underpinnings against an enemy that poses no direct threat to the United States leaves a residual ache that can be consumptive for some.  It already started for me and my brothers-in-arms when we blithely referred to KIAs as having been wasted, when drug use by our troops became a common occurrence, and when our songs of the war were filled with sarcasm and contempt ("Jingle Bells, mortar shells, VC in the grass . . . take your merry Christmas and shove it up . . " well, you know). 
     Now I think about our combat forces deployed in central Asia and wonder if the incipient bitterness is beginning to creep into their souls.  For some of the vets I've talked to, I know it has. That hangs some sorrow on me, mainly because I know it never really goes away.  Such is the legacy of our political leaders who don't constantly examine and re-evaluate the basic assumptions that brought us here in the first place.  My wish this Christmas is for Thune, Noem and Rounds to demand an answer to the question "why?" before they vote another dime of American money to sustain what seems to be a stone much larger than the one Sisyphus was forever condemned to roll up that hill. The myth to the ancient Greeks has become the reality to us modern Americans.

News today of the death of 6 U.S. Airmen (one of them stationed here at Ellsworth) at Bagram, Afghanistan, prompted me to reprise this post from a year ago.  John


  1. Thanks to you, John, and all the men and women who served in the military, or continue to serve.

    May they all be home for Christmas, if only in our dreams.


  2. thank you for serving in that war. guided to your blog by all the mentions you're getting in Journal letters on your column on SD's regressive tax structure.

    What was that in the combat picture above, an ammo dump got hit?

    Peter Hasby

  3. Yes, that's the ammo dump at Dong Ha on September 3, 1967.