I have brothers and we are close. But sometimes a brother-in-arms can be closer. At a recent reunion of one of my infantry battalions I was treated with such dignity and heart that it precipitated great healing. The chief organizer grabbed my hand and with a strong man-hug whispered in my ear: "welcome home brother." As much as I love my brothers they could not offer the kind of peace that occurred in that moment.
At one time it was thought that all of the homeless men were Vietnam Vets or worse, that most, if not all of the Vietnam Vets, were homeless. Both of these assertions were not true in any real sense; but it showed how people's perception of the Vietnam Vet was a negative one. But in any case some of the Vietnam Vets were homeless waiting for their benefits .
Now, after 911 and two more wars, the image of the Veteran has improved. But there is still a problem waiting for benefits. It takes on average 9 months to get service rated and start receiving benefits. That is assuming the application was successful and no appeal is required. Although the VA does provide the benefits retroactively, the extra money sometimes arrives too late.
One solution is to apply for education or disability benefits while waiting for discharge. These VA pre-discharge programs can be found on the VA website.
Land mines are a "persistant and incidious" danger and many are still armed. I learned this first hand when I went back to Vietnam on my Honeymoon.
16 million acres of land in Vietnam are still contaminated with land mines and un-exploded ordinance. And Vietnam is not even in the top three of land mine contaminated countries. Angola, Afghanistan, and Cambodia, according to UNICEF, account for 85% of the landmine contamination. Nevertheless, over 42,000 people have been killed in Vietnam in the decades since the Vietnamese-American war.
Military bases are concentrated areas for land mines but Vietnamese. American, and yes French ordinance (mortars, artillery shells, bombs. cluster bomblets, rockets and grenades) litter the area in 6 central Provinces both above ground and below ground according to a Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and the Vietnam Ministry of Defense.
Children are at risk as are farmers, scavengers and villagers. Even tourists are at risk as I discovered when I visited Vietnam in 1999. My wife of a few weeks (Lucy) and I hired a guide in Dong Ha who was known for his local lore and knowledge of the location of land mines in the area. I wanted to go back to Con Thien to somehow find fragments of myself that I seemingly misplaced in the brutal battles of that small base just south of the DMZ.
The guide swore that he knew where the land mines were. We took a car as far as we could, then walked. Lucy who is very intuitive and smart said she could go no further feeling the pain of the many souls that occupy Con Thien the so called Place of Angels. The guide and I walked on and I started sweating and getting a bad feeling. We ended up at a burnt concrete remnant of an old French fort which I did not recall. In September of 1967 I was deployed outside of the "wire" which was made up of concertina, with its deadly razors unrolled, and a mine field. We also made up the perimeter and were the first line of defense situated in open country near the mine field. After surviving Con Thien, back in the day, I was looking at the guide and he had a sick green look of deep visceral fear and I wanted to go- go anywhere. He was hesitant and look confused. I got very worried and the bile went into my mouth. I nervously said, "You don't know where you are going, do you?" He was silent and kept looking for the path out. I felt like I was in an elevator free falling. After all I had survived under impossible odds and now was about to get blown to bits in the same place from which I had escaped. The irony was palpable. I was beating myself up over my misguided adventure.
Suddenly when the guide was about to experiment with a new direction a single bell rang out. It was a cow bell. Over the rise came a very little angelic girl herding her one cow. She smiled the most angelic smile. The guide asked her how to get safely back to the path. She apparently said she would lead us back. We followed the little angel of Con Thien and each clang of the bell reminded me of the fallen, I was grateful to be given another chance to live. I now know another reason why it is called the Place of Angels. Later when the magic wore off I thought, "would she be OK in the future?".
2/9 0n Operation Hickory
The pain of losing a buddy is deeper than any wound.
In combat we learned from experience that we were not fighting for glory, we were not fighting for our individual survival, we were not fighting for abstract concepts like freedom, or capitalism, we were not fighting because of anger or revenge, and we were not fighting
because we were ordered to. We were fighting with and for our brothers in blood, we were fighting to rejoin our families and to provide an opportunity for our mothers to see us again, and we were fighting for the right to be proud of being a Marine. We were not fighting for God, but we all prayed for his intervention on our side and on our behalf. Our fidelity to our country was a given but it was still hard to comprehend how fighting in a distant land was protecting our country. Most of us never gave these issues a second thought
Agent Orange being sprayed over Vietnam
Agent Orange is a herbicide designed by Monsanto. Monsanto, admitting a mistake in chemistry, created a component of the herbicide:known as Dioxin. Dioxin has a very long half life and is one of the deadliest substances per volume known to man. Better living through chemistry, they say. Agent Orange was named for the color of the canister holding the defoliating agent. Before Agent Orange there was Agent Blue.
As the map shows Agent Orange was sprayed over a good part of Vietnam to defoliate the jungle and brush to expose the enemy. By 1971 about 12% of the total area of South Vietnam had been sprayed with defoliating chemicals. Not only did we spoil the Vietnam country side, cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and birth defects; we damaged Vietnam Veterans who had crawled through it and dug fox holes in it.
There are a number of conditions caused by Agent Orange. For the listed conditions the Veteran's Adminstration will presume that the condition was caused by exposure to Agent Orange and thus fast track the Veteran through the system. This process assumes that the vet was actually "in-country" with some exceptions.
On the plus side the US has started a multimillion dollar initiative in 2012 to begin to decontaminate the Dioxin hot spots in Vietnam. It is a beginnig.
A foxhole or fighting hole is dug in situations of imminent harm from enemy shelling or air or ground attack. It portends death while providing a means of survival. Foxhole solidarity is more about solidarity than a foxhole. Under the pressure of death fighting men are forged together into a common spirit, like no other.. An example is the siege of Con Thien shown in the photo..
A fox hole is simply a hole dug in the ground to give the fighting infantry some cover and protection. Usually the Marine infantry is on the move but in cases of establishing defensive positions that are to last the foxholes may meld into trenches. And the Marines (or soldiers) may meld into a unified fighting force with a common spirit.
This extraordinary common spirit is called foxhole solidarity and it is what we ,who have experienced this hyper state of relationship, want to experience again. It is what combat veterans hold as the standard (for better or worse) to which we judge all of our relationships.
Foxhole solidarity is a state of brotherhood, foxhole solidarity is a state of mutual grace, and foxhole solidarity is the basis for the Marine promise, "We leave no man behind.." Foxhole solidarity will only grow stronger in the face of more demise. It is what fighting men in the end fight for..
"... does anyone remember me?" I ran across this beseeching lament while surfing some Veteran sites. It brought our (Vets) current state of affairs into vivid, albeit fractured, focus.
"Does any one know what happened to Sergeant H. in Lima Co. after the battle for the hill?"
Veteran internet sites are filled with these questions like notes posted on a fence after a disaster. War is a disaster. We are in pieces, individually and collectively, trying to be whole again; though this can never be. We can come together but we will always be missing the fallen. Yet we can mitigate these losses. We are in charge of our own history as well as our future. Honoring our dead will help fill the holes. Connecting with our brothers in combat will offer relief and integration. No one else can understand as well..
In the noble quest for healing and wholeness, let's come together and honor our time we spent at war. By sharing our stories we can restore our past and thereby provide a coherent future for our grandchildren..
If we make connections we can reclaim our shared experience. Only then will we be remembered.
Have you reached out to connect with other Vets?
I just received confirmation that I may use photos for my book from David Douglas Duncan, the world famous photographer. He was a combat photographer for three wars and was at Con Thien in September and October of 1967. This was the same time I was there and so his photos are especially relevant. He had the cover and lead article for Life magazine in October 1967 about Con Thien.
The more I look into it the more I realize that the use of letters home, my memories and newspaper articles (and other historical references) hammered into a compelling narrative is a unique device for nonfiction. It is a triangulation of the truth, Using my memories I have added an emotional element to the understanding of what had transpired. The memories alone would not be believable. The letters documented what was happening within the zeitgeist of that time. They are good supporting material but may have been subject to a systematic bias and a youthful view. The historical references provide a documentation of what others perceived was happening thus giving boundaries to the reality of experience..The narrative moves along touching on the issues of the time but never leaving the action for long.