Thursday, November 7, 2019

Viet Vets talk - Listen and hear them (Part 2)

I belong to a social media group that enables Vietnam veterans to “swap their experiences” and voice their memories. No politics allowed, nor profanity, nor disrespect. I have found their comments to be stimulating, filled with passion, tears, pride and great sensitivity. I thought I should try to highlight the themes these men and women present.

This is Part 2 of an expected 3.Part 1 is located at

The vets who belong to this group find great emotional and psychological rewards through sharing their experiences. Many have never done this before. I have eliminated all references to names. While I hope Vietnam Vets not belonging to this group find some benefit from reading this compendium of short memoirs, I very much hope that those who did not serve in Vietnam read this to better understand what these men and women have gone through, then and now.  

One point I have noticed is that very seldom do they talk publicly about actual battles, even within this group. At most, they might skirt around them. They tend to focus on their lives outside the battles and after they served, and they do bring back memories, some sad, some funny. You also will see that good ol’ GI humor that only GI’s can articulate.

Daily Greetings
“Just an old soldier looking to be in the company of other old soldiers.”

“RIP Brother.”

“I’d be glad to put my boots on the ground, but now at 71 with health not so good I guess I wouldn’t last long. That young man is gone and this old disabled man is all that’s left. I will stand my ground as long as I can. I’d rather die for something than die for nothing.”

“Good morning my fellow brothers and sisters! It's cool here in da bayou state! Baton Rouge Louisiana! Have a great day! Keep up the fight! You are never alone! We will always stand side by your side in our cause. Love you guys! You're the best!”

“Calling it a night brothers, sisters and family! You all rest well and pleasant dreams! Coffee will be on if anybody wants to stop by!” …. “Good night brother. Sweet, restful sleep …. “ I pray you have a relaxed and peaceful night’s sleep.”

“My dear Family...thank you again today for your beautiful words on the music. There is peace here....there is comfort here...there is understanding here...but most important...there is unconditional love here. Thank you all for being here and for your love. I love you all! G`nite and blessings to you all!”

“Today's morning message is for all of my Vietnam Veterans. Many blessings are being sent to you for a peaceful Monday. As one of those who has been protected by you, I will never know what you have experienced. What I do know is that I am forever grateful for each and every one of you. It's truly an honor and privilege for me to be able to thank you for serving our country. You will always have a special place in my heart. Welcome Home, my Veterans, Welcome Home! With much love and respect.”

“Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe. Wishing everyone a nice, peaceful Tuesday.”

Their pride

“For those that will fight for it. Freedom has a flavor the protected shall never know.”

“I read these posts on here and I am continually amazed at how many experiences and stories parallel mine and how they point out why we are all truly brothers and sisters for having served in Vietnam. I never worn any symbol of my service. I was in the Air Force and although I had been attached to the 101st, spent a year at beautiful Camp Evans and spent a month at Khe Sanh enduring some pretty heavy artillery, I really did not want to offend someone that had spent a year dodging bullets, mines, bungee sticks, and eating cold food from cans, sleeping on the ground, and going through what must have been a particular kind of hell. But in 2010, on a trip to DC, my friend said that I should wear my ribbons. And she was right. Here's what happened. Waiting on the shuttle near the Lincoln Memorial, a big, strapping guy, about my age, got right in my face, looked at my ribbons and stuck out his hand. Where were you, he asked. I told him. I asked him where he was and he proceeded to tell me that he was an Air Force fighter pilot, F-4's, made it a career and retired as a light colonel. We chatted a while and he told me that even though he had been stationed at Langley, had been in DC hundreds of times, and was now standing just up the hill, he had never been to the Wall. Just can't go, he said. I was amazed but as we talked I began to realize why he didn't want to go. He had told me about the bravery of combat troops on the ground, calling in air support right on top of their positions, and how close his ordnance would be to them. I felt that he held himself personally responsible for names on that wall. I said, Colonel, you got to go. For yourself, for them. We talked a little more and then we all got on the shuttle. I had spent the morning at the Wall and was not getting off, but I heard the Colonel behind me say to his wife and friends, 'Let's get off here.' When he walked past me, he clapped his hand on my shoulder and got off the bus. Had I not worn my ribbons that day, none of this would have happened. We are all brothers and sisters of Vietnam. Regardless of the duty.”

“We would have stood our ground, but every time we took it, they moved us off of it.”

“Vietnam 1967: My Nam buddy. He spent 6 months with the 9th ID in the Delta and 6 months with A Co 1/12th 1st Cav Div-- He always made us laugh even when things were bad and still makes us laugh today. One heck of a soldier in the heat of battle. I’m proud to have served with him and to call him a friend.”

“A pretty young blonde girl, no older than twenty, ran out and pressed a cold bottle of beer into my hand, whispered ‘Thanks, sailor,’ and kissed my cheek. I winked, took a swig, and passed it along to the next man.”

“Finally we approached the town square, which was strangely quiet. The reviewing stand was filled with town officers, military officials and (I found out later) visiting Soviet military officers. As the first Vietnam veteran put a boot in that square…

“In 1967 when I returned from our Westpac deployment it was less than it might have been. But don't weep for me or feel badly, for on that hot July day on the shores of Narragansett Bay, I got my ‘welcome home.’ We all got our welcome home.”

The pain

Clearly many vets, perhaps most, continue to feel a range of pain from the war, over 40 years later. “Hello darkness, my old friend,” one posted. Another, “The sounds of silence.” They offer their brothers and sisters enormous compassion. They urge people listen and hear.

“I met a Navy fighter pilot who served in Nam, 1968. He said he saw lots of NVA in a rubber plantation advancing on our troops. He could have killed most of them. The command told him to abort the mission. The tire companies back here owned the rubber plantation. The bombs would have taken the oxygen away from the trees.” … “I know we could not make gun runs there in our ships. Lai Khe. Michelin Rubber Plantation.” … “Lai Khe was built in the middle of a rubber plantation. The Army had to pay for every damaged or destroyed tree. As I recall it $125 each.” … “I was told by a pilot who flew for the 1st Infantry Division, that the Michelin company would call the Army and request that they get the VC out of the rubber plantation. They would go in and clear the place out. Then Michelin would present the Army with a bill for all of the damages. He refused to put Michelins on his BMW.” … “I don't think the temporary loss of oxygen was the issue... simply the physical damage. I heard that we had to notify the plantation management like 3 days in advance of operation. This gave Charlie (Viet Cong enemy) plenty of time to move out therefore minimize any rough stuff in the rubber... Bin Sonh was in our BearCat area.” … “The Michelin Tire Company's rubber plantation was reimbursed whenever a track vehicle ran over a plant and they also paid off the VC (Viet Cong enemy) to leave the place alone.”

A British Soldier who served nine tours in Southwest Asia said each time he was welcomed home with great fanfare. He asked the Viet vets if it was “true you lads were treated like crap by the public.” One response said, “It was like we came home to a foreign land. I was very confused about it all at first, then the rage hit.” Another, “Some of the past was very hurtful and still lingers.” Yet another, “Yeah, not so much that I was mistreated, but the lack of respect, and indifference by everyone. No acknowledgement, nor sense of accomplishment from anyone.”

“When we walked alone as soldiers it was during the Viet-Nam war. Had a bunch of protesters that hated the soldiers specially the colleges.”

“Another thing that changed for me in Vietnam. I could sleep through a tornado before I joined the Army. When I came back from Vietnam I could hear an ant crawling on cotton at 100 yards.”

“On this day in 1968 Bravo company 1/20 11th L.I.B. (Light Infantry Brigade) in Quang Ngai conducted a Combat Assault with 2 VC KIA and 3 VC detained and (then we were) sent to LZ Dottie. While setting up night position 2 Bouncing Betty's (anti-personnel land mines that when detonated launch into the air for about three feet and explode) were set off resulting in 5 WIA and 2 KIA …I still have nightmares about that horrible day.”

“Sometimes I feel guilty because I made it and some of my men died … I salute you all my brothers, dead and alive.” … “Yeah buddy, the survivor guilt thing hits me once in while,, though I was just a SP/4 … still, some of my pals, squad members didn't make it, my brothers …”

“We saw death and know how final it was......Easy to do, but please count to your age and think about all who will miss you. Life is life..., but it is life. The Lord will call you when it is time to go...all you can do is the best you can while you are here. God Bless!”

“They sent me and my friends and my generation to Vietnam to die, and some of us did. The rest of us have been dying in bits and pieces since the first day they sent us home.”

“I think it was the Indians that had a saying, ‘The eyes of a man are the windows to his soul,’ and I think maybe that saying was true. Did you ever look into the eyes of a combat veteran? There was always a dark secret hidden behind their eyes. The secret was always just a little out of sight like a curtain had been pulled and no man could see past it. There was a sadness to their eyes that would haunt them for the rest of their lives and it showed in those eyes. And then there were the people that had never seen combat. Their eyes were as clear as glass and when they laughed their eyes sparkled like diamonds, their soul was free of pain and it showed in their smile. For a long time those eyes made me sick to my stomach. It was like I had been kicked in the gut. Just to know those eyes were upon me made me feel dirty. For years I had a hard time looking into a man’s eyes, always afraid he would see what was in mine.” ... “I hope you are able to find peace in your soul Brother.” ... “A very meaningful and insightful commentary. What you said is true. We have often pulled the blinds down over the windows to our souls. I have often been told that I have sad eyes. Since I came back from Nam, I have never been quick to smile. It has been hard to make friends. Because I fear they will find out what the real me is about. I have often envied those who could seem so happy, and carefree. I am still fighting battles 46 years after the war. Thanks for sharing Brother.”

The resulting diseases

It is heartbreaking to read how many of the men are suffering today from diseases they believe are the result of the environment experienced in Vietnam. 

One huge topic of discussion is the use of Agent Orange, AO. There is tremendous anger about the use of Agent Orange and how it affected them. Agent Orange was a powerful mixture of chemical defoliants used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, as well as crops that might be used to feed them. 

“Sprayed and betrayed. Vietnam Veteran Agent Orange exposed. I was killed in Vietnam, I just haven’t died yet!”

 “My Father, a master sergeant, Vietnam Vet, died in 1988. Had 13 tumors on his brain. Started as melanoma. Turned down by the VA had to go to civilian hospital. Agent Orange.”

“My father passed away this January 5, 2013 from Agent Orange. He was in Vietnam 67-68, E-5 in the 1st Air Cavalry 2/5. They told him that they were spraying for mosquitoes but he said the bug spray he had would knock off a leach. He died of lung cancer, bladder cancer, diabetes, cancerous tumors on the brain and they spread thru out his body in the end. He had both hips replaced. That was his second round of cancer. And the VA denies him full disability. He was only 65 yrs old.”

“Those responsible for the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War will burn in Hell after God judges them. I am an American and Vietnam Veteran and Christian and am supposed to forgive them on the millions that have died from our exposure to Agent Orange. I can’t forgive.”

 “I’m still waitin’ for a brain transplant” … “I need a whole body transplant.”

 “Lost my friend yesterday to AO (Agent Orange), no apologies from the government. They only throw us a mere pittance and consider the subject closed” followed by the book cover, Waiting for an Army to die, the tragedy of Agent Orange by Fred A. Wilcox

“Four years ago today I lost the love of my life to AO. Seems like 100 years. It is hard and I miss my best friend as many of you do, also — feeling heartbroken.”

“Good morning brothers and sisters. Yesterday I had a ultra sound on my liver. Doctors found a spot there, there is another spot on my left lung. I am scheduled for another CAT scan on my left lung. In 2010 I had stage four throat cancer from our exposure to Agent Orange while serving our country in the Vietnam war. Agent Orange, 22 million barrels were sprayed on us and Vietnam by our own government and this deadly chemical was bought from Monsanto and Dow Chemical companies. I never smoked, swear to God. Both our government and chemical companies knew this chemical would be deadly to human beings. This chemical was sprayed so it would kill the triple canopy jungle so we could see the enemy. Well it did kill the jungle one day later after being sprayed on us and Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The stage four throat cancer has been in remission by God. My guess over one million Vietnam War veterans have died from our exposure to Agent Orange since the war ended in 1975. Out of 2.5 million heroes that served in country in the Vietnam War, my guess only 900,000 of us are left alive and Agent Orange has killed most of us. Those responsible for the use of Agent Orange have avoided prosecution. I am keeping a positive attitude. This cancer has not returned. It’s in God’s hands now. God bless you all.” 

“I have asked for prayers before for my brother in law Paul who is a Vietnam Veteran 69-70. He is back in the hospital with his lung cancer and blood problems tonight. If you could please remember him in prayer it would be deeply appreciated. This man has been in my life almost 50 years and is my friend and personal hero. He deserves better than what he has suffered for over 40 years from all the problems associated with Agent Orange. I thank you for him and my sister, as well as the rest of our family. God bless all of you and welcome home.”

 “Hello Brothers and Sisters. Wednesday I went for another Endoscope at the Ann Arbor VA, and they found more AO cancer in my esophagus. They once again scraped it out, and now I go to the University of Michigan medical facility (they have more sophisticated equipment) for a resection of the esophagus on 11/11 (Veterans Day, ironic? Maybe). Anyway, please, if you were exposed get to your closest VA facility and get checked out. Also encourage any others to do the same. Love you all for your service.”

 “Agent Orange is alleged to be a Monsanto product. Monsanto is now developing GMO's (genetically modified organism) for public use ... If they are like AO, in another 40 years we will know what the GMOs did.” ... “It’s just sad that so many of our Vietnam Veterans are dying today from the effects of a war they fought so many years ago and so many are not getting and help and are dying before their ‘paper work goes through,’ a real shame! God Bless All our Veterans!”

And then, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

“Just to know that so many of my brothers are willing to speak-up and tell us so many things that we forgot about many years ago...This is a great thing, that we can communicate...This is the end of PTSD (Post traumatic stress syndrome) …That we can share and learn from each other, is the beginning of healing! Keep talking! If not to someone else then to me!...At least we are talking!!! This starts the healing process!!! I am here for you brothers!” 

“The V.A. didn't recognize PTSD as a disability until 2003. They started the study in 1983. I think after two years it would have been a given in the twenty years it took the government’s brightest to figure it out. Untold numbers of Veterans committed suicide. Twenty-two veterans a day are committing suicide inexcusable.”

The Veterans Administration (VA)

“Wednesday I went to my local VA clinic for breathing difficulty. I have emphysema and was unable to complete a breathing test last month because of low O2 levels. My doc at the clinic put me on some meds and put an order in for oxygen. This morning the Ft.Wayne VA hospital calls me and tells me my doc at the clinic does not know what he is doing and his order for oxygen is crap. He tells me I need to come to Ft. Wayne for a battery of tests next week. They can bite me. I trust my doc at the clinic and I won't step foot in Ft. Wayne. If that means no oxygen so be it. They wonder why nobody trusts the VA well this is why.”

 “Bay Pines (VA) just called to give me an update on my PTSD Appeal that I filed December 2013 - 25,000 claims in, I have 12,800 ahead of me but he did wanted to emphasize that I had 11,000 + behind me.” 

“What a bunch of as&*&^ working at the VA Claims Office in Florida. I filed a notice of disagreement Oct. 2012. I called June, Aug and Sept this year and was told claims is in the process. Today I get a letter from these as&*&^ and they now tell me the original paperwork is lost. The letter continues to tell me to fill out the enclosed form but no form enclosed. Can you spell idiot? You call the 800 number and told all lines are busy try your call later. I got thru and the knuckle-head tells me, all he tells me is the same thing. You cannot talk to any one in call center but they can have someone call me within 10 days.”

“ May depend on your region. I'm in Buffalo region, filed June 2013 through Purple Heart. Took 10 months to get a C&P review, one month later I got my rating for PTS, money, including back pay, came shortly thereafter. Then PH filed for Individual Unemployability; she said it could be a year before I heard - one month later, I had it. Should be the same all over the country, but apparently, it isn’t.”

Memories generated by old photos

A lot of the vets dig out their old photos from the war zone and share them with stories and pride. Many will comment about how young they were and how young they looked. While they enjoy this photography, some will comment about how the photos can cause a tear. 

A group of Soldiers disembarking from a Huey helicopter in the field, ready to fight. One said, “That quiet and that feeling in the pit of the stomach when the chopper's sound was fading in the background. We were on our own!! Survival instincts had kicked in.” Another, “Who can forget a Hot LZ (landing zone with enemy nearby).”

Nothing better than a stand down at their home camp, enjoying a “few hot black label beers (Carlings Black Label), A/2-506 101s Airborne.” Three guys just sitting there, all smiles, sucking up those hot beers! One remembering the old tabling, “Mabel, Black label.” Another saying, “When there was no ice, you learned to like hot beer. Even today, I still drink hot beer.” ... “Vietnam Nov. 1967 Dak To-- Our forward supply Sgt. Chuck Suggs sent enough hot beers for everybody in the company to have one.”

A squad of Soldiers walking through water up to their knees. One commenter took a friendly jab at the Navy, saying, “Quite a contrast to the carrier pilots whose ‘feet wet’ meant that there aircraft was over open water.”

“Let it rain.” ... “Where's the Condos you all were promised when signing up?” ... “I feel miserable just looking at the photo.” ... “As we sat there getting soaked, we joked about all the ‘wusses’ back in the world who were sooooo afraid to get wet and would be running for some place. Weren't we all so damned ‘hard core.’” ... “I like to sit and watch the rain but I want something more than a poncho to sit under. It was a good way to get drinking water.” ... “Settin’ in a foxhole waist deep of water and mud with a 20mm.” ... “The plus side was that if you sat there long enough it would rinse off some of the mud.” ... “This was some of the most miserable times I remember. Pretty hard to keep your feet and socks dry.” ... “After the rain came the mosquitos!” ... “And after the rain stopped, we had to deal with the clay mud. It clung to those grooves in the soles of your boots and made it damn hard to walk!”

“Think I've said this before, but will repeat myself. In all of the pictures from the Vietnam War, none of the soldiers appear to be overweight, in fact, most look downright skinny. Wish I could be in that shape again ... 6'2" 165. Came home 130 with 3 bullet holes ... “I went to Nam at 136 lbs. Stayed that weight till I hit middle age. I can’t complain, from then on I'm only 154 lbs at 5' 11" ... “I stayed the same weight, but I wasn't humping the boonies all the time. The chow hall wasn't bad, either.” ... “I have even had old high school friends make comments about how skinny I am in my profile picture. 6' 4" and 138. 9 months after I returned I got married and weighed 153.” ... “I was drafted at 5’9” and 110 pounds and left for Vietnam at 125. I came back to the 105 pounds. I too wish I could be in that shape.” ... “My husband was so skinny that when I hung his clothes outside my neighbor asked if I had a little boy!” ... “I went over weighing 145 and came home weighing 112.” ... “I’m in shape.....round is a shape!” ... “I went in at 130, discharged, at 155 but my weight yo-yoed, now I’m 210. I was also only 5 ft 6 in at enlistment, came out 5' 8”.” ... “I went to Nam and weighed 180. I'm 6'1" tall. When I came back weighed 165. Now I need to lose at least 20 lbs. Because I weigh 216 now!” ... “I landed in Vietnam at about 180 lbs and probably came home around 150 which was up about 25 pounds from my lowest. ‘What,’ may you ask ‘was the secret to losing so much weight?’ It wasn't Nutrisystem, I assure you ---it was Amoebic dysentery something I don't want to experience again.” ... “Some kind of parasite ran rampant for awhile in our Company. Practically took up residence in the outhouse. Our SGM (sergeant major) had it the worst. Medicine our medic gave us was worse than the effects of the parasite. Was truly thankful when it finally ran its course.


Great Life Magazine cover photo of a trooper on the radio while his colleagues were nearby. He has a serious look, but one vet commented, “I want to order 46 pizzas.” Another commented, “And don’t forget the beer,” while another said, “…and a dozen Playboy Bunnies.”

“This man was a USMC 1969. Steel pot stop a round.” ... “A friend at our VFW post had a bullet spin around inside his helmet. He was a medic.” ... “ I had a buddy in A Co, 2nd Bn, 14th Inf Reg, 25th Infantry Division, that had the same thing happen, sometime in April 1968. He has a ‘permanent part’ in his hair.” ... “Vietnam March 1968- Ron and Doc. Ron was shot in the helmet with an AK-47 round which took the top of his ear off and he never left the field. A few months later Ron was KIA 5/6/68 while walking point in the Ashau Valley -- A Co 1/12th 1st Cav Div. RIP Brave Soldier.”

The men have posted plenty of photos of their Hueys all shot up. Here’s a few.

“Now that’s the true meaning of ‘taking fire, taking firm taking hits.’ Said that a few times but never that bad. Oh my God.” Another called them “Grunt Angels in I Corp.” A few other guys showed no sweat, saying “Minor patch up for the windows.” … “A little Bond-O and a coat of paint.” In other words, no big deal. ... “A good aircraft could make a running landing…just as long as that big blade is turning and he can hold at least 40-50 knots.”

"I think that one of the greatest bonds ever was the bond between us grunts, and you Huey (helicopter) boys. The perfect symbiotic relationship. We relied on you Huey guys for everything......even for our lives. Thanks for being up there. I got a little payback once when my squad rescued a chopper pilot who went down. He sure was happy to see me running towards him carrying my M-60 gun.”

Here’s a trooper unpacking the C-Rats, the “groceries” as they were often called. One member said, “Yeah, we got them the same war, humping that shit was heavy…We did not know how long we would be there. 30 days every time and we did not leave any behind.” Another guy said, “I will call the picture, ‘Lookin’ for beans and wieners.” One opined that anything would taste better if it had some cheese mixed in there!

“Dennis (Denny), USMC, 1967-1969. Silver Star, 4 Purple Hearts. Grandson of Joseph, French Foreign Legion. Denny was classified 4F (medically unqualified for the duty and the draft) and fought all to enlist. 10 days after Graduating Mater Christi H.S. June 1967,in NYC, he left for Parris Island. At the tender age of just 17. Denny lost his right leg on Mutter's Ridge, June 2, 1969. Denny died from his wounds on August 26, 2000 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. RIP Den your family is so so proud.”

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