Dan Kellum 7

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Dan Kellum - Episode 7

Tim O'Brien, author of Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried, added his 2 cents worth to the Burns /Novick's documentary by noting in an interview outside the documentary that half the audience (military) will think what is presented will be too critical of the military, etc. and the other half will think the documentary is not critical enough. The war definitely still weighs heavily on Tim O'Brien as the article I read notes on Google. He was drafted into the Army in the summer of 1968 and had come to the conclusion "the war was less than righteous." He laments he capitulated to being drafted as he didn't want to appear unpatriotic...so he went to war...after he said he had "a failure of nerve that he regretted." Presently he is a college professor in Austin, Texas. He is today conflicted about the impact the Vietnam War has on our current attitudes toward veterans and the military service. 

The documentary returns to LBJ announcing he will not run for President again. He still continues the bombing of North Vietnam to bring them to the negotiation table. And the North Vietnamese counter they will not negotiate a peace until the bombing stops. Clifford Clark, LBJ's Secretary of Defense, tells the President, "We're in a war we cannot win," and he also noted, "(Tet) was a turning point in the war. Its size and scope made mockery of what the American military had told the public about the war, and devastated the administration's credibility.” In 1968 the country seemed to be coming apart at the seams as demonstrations turn violent, there's the debacle of a "police riot" during the Democratic Convention in Chicago as antiwar demonstrators disrupt the convention where Hubert Humphrey is elected to represent the Democrats. A hint of things to come occurred when Richard Nixon was chosen by the Republicans as their presidential candidate. LBJ was infuriated when he found out from CIA and FBI intelligence that Nixon had contacted RVN's President Thieu to not attend the Peace Talks as Nixon explained he would work out a more favorable settlement for Thieu if he would only wait until Nixon became president. Thieu did wait but the fear that he would be exposed...LBJ said what Nixon did was treason....left Nixon in fear during his presidency.

War scenes and antiwar demonstrations around the world highlighted Episode 7. LBJ had stated that Khe Sanh should be defended at all costs so there would be no more Dien Bien Phus....then one day the large camp was bulldozed and the American forces there abandoned it. Gen. Creighton Abrams replaced Westmoreland and his motto was less talk and let results speak for themselves. It was thought if Abrams had been head of the forces in Nam from the beginning the outcome would've been different.  Something I found irritating was the importance of body counts even before the firing stopped in engagements. MAC-V wanted a ratio of friendlies to enemy troops killed and, thus, became the inflated numbers games for the pencil pushers in the Puzzle Palaces in the Rear.

Army Lt. Vincent Okamoto, who was the most decorated Japanese-American in the Vietnam War, noted a common hero's refrain, "The real heroes are the men that died, 19-, 20-year-old high school dropouts. They didn’t have escape routes that the elite and the wealthy and the privileged had. And that was unfair. They weren’t going to be rewarded for their service in Vietnam. And yet, their infinite patience, their loyalty to each other, their courage under fire was just phenomenal. And you would ask yourself, how does America produce young men like this?" The documentary also noted that the North Vietnamese leaders sent their military age children abroad to keep them from having to serve in the South.

The Tet Offensive in the North was reported as a great victory but after a while nothing was said of Tet as the wounded filtered back home with terrible injuries. The BBC and other broadcasts reached the people in the North and they were able to figure out Tet was not what they'd been told. An additional 17,000 enemy troops were killed during a mini-Tet the next year. The Phoenix Program and Provincial Reconnaissance Units were briefly touched on as RVN PRUs and Phoenix members tried to weed the VC and NVA soldiers and tax collectors out of the villes and press coverage showed at least one Vietnamese waterboarded by the Vietnamese troops. Some 20,000 Vietnamese were killed by the PRUs, according to the documentary, and not all were enemy troops but rather were counted along with the enemy. French forces who observed the Viet Minh's brutal tactics firsthand during their war in Indochina were sent to another colony in Algeria (1954-1962) to put down an Algerian independence movement and used the same tactics they saw worked for the Viet Minh in Vietnam....until the French government was repulsed by it and ordered them to cease and desist (the Algerians obtained their independence from France in 1962 as a result). 

The documentary tells the story of the VC/NVA on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and how resilient they were in keeping the path/roadway open after being bombed over and over. An American pilot in a fixed wing made the comment he would've been "proud to have served with those truck drivers (on the Ho Chi Minh Trail...citing their bravery as he bombed and strafed them...and still they kept coming.)."  Karl Marlantes, Marine infantry officer and author of Matterhorn and What It Is Like To Go To War, also talked about those 18- and 19-year-old Marines and Navy Corpsmen he served with in Vietnam as having "big hearts and didn't know failure....they fought as a platoon and did heroic acts without being asked to do them." If you shut out the background noise of antiwar music on occasion and the demonstrators marching in the streets yelling, protesting and in some cases breaking windows and burning vehicles, etc., and politicians throwing their military personnel under the bus to remain in office or be elected to one, you can almost feel the emotional Vietnam veterans' side of the Vietnam War story in the documentary....and feel empathy toward their traumatic experience. Having served in Vietnam, I can associate my experiences with theirs to a point. My war was in 1970 when all the major battles had been fought in my area up to that point and the VC/NVA generally tried to avoid us and attacked the RVN troops. To this day if I find someone who was in Nam in the earlier years, I shake their hand and thank them for their service and their thinning out the enemy troops' ranks before I stepped foot in Vietnam.

Semper Fi, Dan Kellum

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