Serving in military still an honor [UPDATED]Published 9:17am Friday, March 15, 2013 Updated 11:21am Friday, March 15, 2013
This was the presentation I was going to make when the portable Vietnam Memorial Wall came around. I didn’t give it. I instead spoke from my heart. Yet, I don’t want to discard this effort either.
When I got my draft notice, I was numbly surprised, after all this time of considering its arrival, and all that its arrival meant, that my country could so alter my life; that anyone might have such power that could cause such an upheaval to so many people: parents, siblings, neighbors, landlords, schools, and friends. I was solidly trapped by my upbringing, my parents’ upbringing, neighbors, friends, into the solid knowledge that I could do nothing about questioning this call to service.
When your future is far off, it is a basket full of things you might do. But when that draft notice came, and it started: “Your friends and neighbors have selected you….”, then and only then is it apparent that your future just arrived.
Your future is there in your hands, and the basket full of other things that you might do, then and only then do you finally, truly, realize that those other things are gone. Then there is truly only one thing you are going to do. You are going to go to a small country with a jungle, for reasons that the same society which is sending you is uncertain about.
When I arrived in Vietnam in early 1969, the army told me we were winning. Before I got there, the President of the United States had told me the same thing. The light at the end of the tunnel, etc., etc., etc.
Then I saw Hue, and the devastation that it had gone through in the Tet offensive in 1968, and I began to realize that no one wins a war like this.
It wasn’t until years later that I fully understood how the big story and the big details were being withheld from nearly every individual unit, company, battalion, whatever. Two units operating within a few klicks of each other never knew what the other one was doing, or experiencing. Worse, at the time, we thought someone above us did know. That belief cost a lot of us our lives. When all was said and done, it cost us the war.
No one knew who was winning, but suspicions ran high that not only was no one winning, but we were losing.
We, the youth of America, had been enlisted in something very like a football game where the quarterback doesn’t know the plays, the line doesn’t know the quarterback, maybe there aren’t any plays, the other team looks like our team, no one has the ball, and just to make it more interesting, when one deadly play doesn’t work very well and you get creamed on it, 13 months later, a new quarterback shows up and does it again, and yet again.
They kept changing the quarterbacks, the running backs, the coach, and most confusing of all, even the team.
There won’t be many winning plays in a game designed like that.
I’m not here because we lost. I’m not here because my team’s individual members — you and me — didn’t try their very best. We did. I’m here because in the America in which I was brought up, serving in the military was, is, and always will be the very greatest honor known to me. I’m proud of what I did. I’m proud of what we did.
I’m proud enough to be here today to tell you about that pride. I wish I could be here as a representative of a winning team. I don’t think it’s any news to you vets out there today that I’m not.
But I am here today because they cannot take away the honor that is ours. We won that the hard way. It’s mine. It’s yours. We paid dearly for it, and no one is ever going to take that away. We fought for our country. A lot of people cannot say that.
We fought for our country.