Dan Kellum 10

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Dan Kellum - Episode 10

Tim O'Brien started off Episode 10 with quotes from his book, The Things That They Carried, items Vietnam vets carried into battle. I carried a St. Christopher medal in my camou trouser's pocket an old girlfriend had given me long ago...it brought me luck as I'm here today.  An Intelligence officer remarked that he and 2.5 million Americans answered the call to fight in Vietnam and wondered if it was worth it as the war wound down. The reality was the guys in the white hats don't always win like they do in the make-believe movies. Upon my arrival on my first day in Vietnam I watched from Division Ridge as Sea Knight after Sea Knight medevac helicopter dropped off Marine casualties at 1st Medical Battalion to my east in January 1970. That's when I realized the good guys (Marines) didn't always win and bullets didn't differentiate between good Christian boys and Communists...and I wondered what I had volunteered myself into. Stateside Pres. Nixon authorized burglaries to the Watergate that consumed the president as the Washington Post's Woodward and Bernstein broke the story. All seven of the burglars were convicted and Nixon authorized a payout of $1 million to them to keep their mouths' shut. Back to the negotiating table....30,000 NVA troops were to be allowed to be left inside the South Vietnamese borders...145,000  were there instead waiting to be given the order to attack the RVN troops.

Pres. Thieu ordered his troops to hold every inch of South Vietnam. The NVA/VC advanced down Highway 1 in RVN. Thieu thought he could depend on Nixon to resume bombing his enemy as he had secretly promised. Nixon had his attention riveted on the Watergate Hearings and was impeached on July 27, 1974. Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974 and with him went his deal to have Thieu's back in thwarting any attack by the NVA. Congress ordered no more support of RVN August 15, 1974. RVN was on its own without armed support from the U.S. or parts for equipment left behind for the RVN troops. Fuel and ammo ran short and the troops were restricted to firing four artillery shells and 85 bullets per day!!!! That's not war, that's suicide. Salary to the troops was cut and desertions became rampant. Defeat was, indeed, inevitable. The NVA commenced a test attack on the ARVN December 1974 northeast of Saigon. When the U.S. failed to respond, the North's Duan knew RVN was on its own.

VP and now Pres. Gerald Ford informed Thieu no further action would be made to help RVN. Thieu must've known he was betrayed by the U.S. NVA Gen. Giap who had commanded troops at Dien Bien Phu against the French was given control of the southward march to Saigon. Giap's troops conquered city after city with their Russian tanks and artillery overwhelming the outgunned ARVN. Orders to pull back towards Saigon to defend a tighter defense position created chaos as the NVA/VC caught up with the fleeing troops and civilians and cut them down. Da Nang was not overrun but rather panic caused the troops to leave their posts and head South. Eighteen NVA Divisions faced off against six ARVN Divisions...it was a mismatch. Pres. Thieu saw the writing on the wall, quickly resigned and left Vietnam via Ton Son Nhut Airport with his family.

U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin was in denial that the NVA/VC were about to conquer  RVN and made no call to higher ups to evacuate Americans or the Vietnamese working for us in Vietnam. The CIA personnel were making plans to help their people escape the enemy approaching Saigon. The iconic scenes of panic and emotional stress of the Vietnamese trying to enter the embassy grounds to catch helicopters flying out with people to the 7th Fleet offshore was heartbreaking. A Vietnamese lady [Mai Elliott] who was quoted throughout the Episodes noted, "You have to lose a nation to feel the humiliation we felt." Her family was able to leave Vietnam and settle in the U.S. Embassy staff tried to shred and burn classified documents but helicopters landing sent the shredded documents flying everywhere due to their rotor wash....NVA/VC were able to piece the documents together to get the names of the South Vietnamese who were working for the U.S. clandestinely and were able to kill them. The last radio message from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon was, "Let's hope people will learn from history and not repeat it. Saigon signing off." The helicopter exodus left 129 Marines yet to be evacuated. Helicopters returned to remove all but Marine Sgt. Juan Valdez and 10 of his Marines. Their radio was dead and they figured they would go down fighting. Fortunately, two helicopters were dispatched to bring them out at 7:53 a.m., April 30, 1975. They would leave 400 Vietnamese at the Embassy they had assured they would be taken as well. The documentary stated that the government of Vietnam had less than five hours to live.

New RVN Pres. Duong Van Minh ordered the South Vietnamese troops to surrender to avoid bloodshed on both sides. Saigon would be renamed Ho Chi Minh City. One of the saddest scenes was that of a South Vietnamese policeman who went to a tall statue honoring South Vietnamese soldiers, took his pistol out and shot himself in the head. CBS's Walter Cronkite reported on the fall of Saigon, "We finally reached the end of the tunnel and the light is out...the war is over."  Children born of American soldiers and Vietnamese women were left behind. The victors sent 1.5 million South Vietnamese to re-education camps in the North for what was said to be three days of study to indoctrinate them. One man said he was "re-educated for 17 1/2 years!!!! Some 1.5 million South Vietnamese would flee their country to chase the American Dream...400,000 made their way to America and turned out to be industrious and entrepreneurial. The documentary found the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's Stalinist agriculture experiment as an economic disaster and their inflation ballooned to 700 percent. The unification of the two countries was in a military sense and didn't last. ARVN cemeteries were either bulldozed or fenced in to prevent the relatives from honoring their dead.

Returning stateside, Marlantes said he came home with his own demons shared by many Vietnam veterans....Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or simply PTSD. To honor and an attempt to heal a divided nation over the Vietnam War, Jan Scruggs came up with the idea of a monument design contest to put on the Washington Mall. Maya Ying Lin, a 21-year-old Yale University undergraduate, was chosen for her design of black marble 'V' slash in the earth and the names of all 58,000+ Americans killed in Vietnam. There was controversy over the design as many veterans didn't see the design as honoring our KIAs. I heard the dissent and leaned towards their complaints....until I stood before The Wall in Washington, D.C. I watched visitors interact with The Wall finding someone they knew or were related to or just being overwhelmed by the sheer number of the names there. Something else that moved me were the personal items left at The Wall as offerings to buddies or family members who failed to return home like the rest of us. My heart aches for those I knew in Vietnam and their families. Musgrave said he collapsed on seeing The Wall for the first time, sobbed and couldn't catch his breath and knew that this was going to save lives. Carol Crocker, Mogie's sister, said she lost her breath to see The Wall, found her brother's name in the company of all those other names, that he was not forgotten or lost and that it was incredibly freeing for her. After all these years, an antiwar activist  said he felt sad for calling Vietnam veterans' "baby killers." 

Burns/Novick probably should've ended on The Wall comments but they instead chose to take short closing responses from many of those they interviewed. As an overview of The Vietnam War by Burns/Novick, I would say the interviews were a key part of the documentary. I think John Kerry should've been taken to the proverbial woodshed for his inserting himself into the Peace Talks in Paris while still in the Navy and although he was eloquent in his speech before the Congressional Committee his claims of wholesale atrocities by American troops was all smoke and mirrors as reported by Neil Sheehan in his comments on the subject and B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley in Stolen Valor as well as Google comments. Will this documentary bring about healing and discourse? The veterans I've conversed with and saw the hour-long teaser in special showings have only negative comments to say about the documentary and feel it has a Left leaning viewpoint.

After watching the multitude of antiwar marches and antiwar supporters, I kind of feel there is a preponderance of 'them' versus 'us.' The combat in Nam showing the dead bodies of Vietnamese troops on both sides and American dead was too much. I kept thinking of the families of all those dead combatants who might be watching and actually see the face of their loved one pop up on the screen in the documentary.  You want to shock people and give them a heart attack or a panic attack or anxiety episode then that was the way to do it. I think this documentary has the potential to create a widening rift in this country between (active/inactive) military service members and those on the Left, and acerbate perceived racial issues. As I pointed out before, politicians seemed overly concerned about re-election, e.g., Kennedy, LBJ and Nixon to their demise in office and mortality rate of their armed forces. I would think anyone watching this documentary would come away with a major disillusionment of politicians in general. And if that's kicking off discourse it will be more of a yelling match in today's climate towards politicians. I was proud of my service in the Marine Corps and fighting in Vietnam as I'm sure the majority of servicemen and servicewomen feel the same. My Marines and Docs were all good people, okay one or two maybe not so much, but on the whole I called them "my boys"....as I headed out on R&R I charged my platoon sergeant with taking care of "our boys" while I was in Australia for a week. I hope Burns/Novick's $30 million 10-year research and resulting documentary doesn't cause a revisit to the turbulent 1960s and 1970s when antiwar, anti-establishment civilians thought it justified to spit on "my boys." 

Semper Fi, Dan Kellum

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