Dan Kellum 8
Dan Kellum - Episode 8
What stands out in Episode 8 is the shock value of the Americal Division troops who ran amuck killing innocent villagers March 16, 1968 in My Lai (4) and another nearby ville....504 old men and women, children and babies were murdered. Women were raped as well, according to the investigation. Graphic photos of the dead makes one take pause to wonder why these U.S. Army soldiers could do this. The unit had lost 28 men to boobytraps and sniper fire nearby and 2 days earlier a popular platoon commander was killed. The Americal soldiers were said to be looking for payback as a large enemy force was supposed to be in the My Lai (4) area. They were not there. When my C-69 officers' class graduated in February 1969, fellow 2ndLt. Al Nelson Jr. caught a flight to South Korea to talk to his father Lt.Col. Al Nelson Sr. as he was conflicted about the breaking news about My Lai (4), also called Pinkville, and sought his counsel as to Rules of Engagement. His father told him, "Don't kill a man who can't kill you." The My Lai Massacre reverberated in the press and antiwar demonstrations back home. I think the photos that appeared in the media of the murdered villagers of My Lai (4) was a turning point in the ratcheting up of protests and violent demonstrations back home. I had the bad luck of being called a "baby killer" before I left for Vietnam and upon my return in a packed pizza parlor by a loudmouth antiwar, anti-serviceman young man. Not one person in my hometown eating establishment came to my defense as he continued to bait me from across the crowded room. I swallowed my anger and pride and left the pizza parlor never to set foot in there again. Others returning home suffered the same treatment I think in part due to My Lai (4) as now the antiwar demonstrators could point to that incident as proof we were the Bad Guys. I worry that Burns/Novick are dredging up those anti-military feelings again for the past and present military personnel with their documentary.
The documentary would again bounce back and forth from the war raging in Vietnam and the antiwar demonstrations back home. Hamburger Hill (Hill 937) made the people stateside pause to ask why take a hill after 11 days of fighting at the expense of 56 KIA and 420 more WIAs only to give it back to the enemy a week later...a valid question which we Marines had the same experience in I Corps. I think all three presidents, Kennedy, LBJ and now Nixon privately or to advisors admitted the war in Vietnam was unwinnable. That does not give us citizens outside the White House much confidence knowing that they each continued the war despite their misgivings about an "unwinnable" war...and continuous loss of American young men and women in Southeast Asia. A Pew poll indicated that the war was a mistake. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird pushed for the Vietnamization of the Vietnam War. In other words turn the war over to the RVN troops, declare it a Civil War between North and South Vietnam, throw the South Vietnamese a lot of military equipment, get a "promise" from the North Vietnamese they won't invade the South (seriously?) and walk out the door with our POWs and declare Peace with Honor. I can tell you the Regional and Popular Forces on the hamlet levels were not up to facing off with the well-trained and well-equipped NVA/VC. As one North Vietnamese soldier put it....if the American forces and their allies could not defeat them in 10+ years with 500,000+ troops in-country and all the firepower at their command, what made anyone think the South Vietnamese armies could stop the NVA/VC?
The documentary touches on the racial issues in the American troops which was a microcosm of what was going on in America. African-Americans, according to the documentary, had a disproportionate loss of lives to their numbers in Vietnam. I don’t think that is an accurate figure. Gung-ho officers and SNCOs/NCOs were fragged or warned first with a smoke grenade...Burns/Novick reported 800 cases of fraggings in the U.S. Army. There were also reports of patrols being sandbagged. I never personally heard of any fraggings in my battalion in 1970. I noticed a difference in the comradery of bush Marines and those who worked in the Battalion Rear jobs. When black, white or brown Marines depend on each other to stay alive in the bush, you would be impressed at the brotherhood that comes from that....not so much in the Battalion Rear.
Torture of POWs by both RVN troops and the NVA/VC was common practice I'm sad to say. The documentary notes that 170,000 Hispanics served in Vietnam with 3,000 being KIA. Nearly 2,000 Army medics and Navy Corpsmen lost their lives in Vietnam. We did our best to take care of our Docs...a healthy Doc provided life-saving medical attention to my Marines....usually the senior Doc in the bush was referred to as "Mother, " which shows you how much we cared about our Docs.
Demonstrations exploded back in the states as a Peace Moratorium had demonstrators marching all over the United States. A radical group called for four days of rage in Chicago. A statue honoring a policeman in Chicago was blown up. On October 15, 1969 the country experienced the largest public dissent in American history. Also participating was 1,000 Congressional staff who stood silently on the Capitol steps. Nixon appealed to the Silent Majority to support him and the troops/war and counter demonstrations hit the streets. You can imagine the mayhem Nam vets faced when they returned from Vietnam. A Marine officer told me he was advised to remove his uniform else he be singled out by antiwar elements and might be faced with being spit on. Our home towns had turned upside down on our return to The Real World as we called it. One of my college professors would later tell me after I left the service that other students would whisper behind my back that "Dan was in Vietnam...in the Marines in combat." I think the connect the dots follow up thought was that I was a walking, talking time bomb and should be avoided. I think the report of the My Lai (4) Massacre painted us all on the same canvass as the Americal Division troops. To tell the truth, this time bomb never went off. And this is what worries me about what the other 99 percent of civilians think of us 1 percent military personnel. This documentary may not produce the healing discourse "Burns/Novick" are hoping for from an intellectual viewpoint but rather something altogether different...time will tell.
Semper Fi, Dan Kellum
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