Viet-now, The Aging Warrior


August 12, 2009 by David Gillaspie



Not everyone staying at DG’s B&B shares the same point of view.  We don’t have a questionnaire to fill out, just a little kindness and understanding.  When that’s not enough we grab a blanket.  One guest read a column from Veterans of Foreign Wars editor Richard Kolb.  

“The problem Mr. Kolb doesn’t address in his writing is found in the numbers he uses.  Is he writing about a chasm between Woodstock and Da Nang or compiling demographic interpretations of the Vietnam War.  That’s one way of doing it, but it is distasteful. 


Mr. Kolb uses numbers the way war managers used body counts to gauge progress.  I don’t think he wants to do that.  Numbers don’t tell the tale of Vietnam now any more than Robert McNamara’s fire bomb analysis over Japan tells that story.   

A better angle would have been interviews with hippie Vietnam vets who went to Woodstock.  There has to be at least one.  A recent story told of a Japanese man’s business trip to Hiroshima when the first nuclear bomb dropped.  He was injured and went home to Nagasaki just in time for second nuclear bomb.  One guy takes the front row seat no one wants.  

War is the enemy, but, (and there’s always a ‘but’), if war is the enemy, and it is conducted with incompetence, who is the real enemy.  Why not look at the chain of command for Vietnam?

LBJ picks bombing targets from his toilet?  Nixon pushes the Christmas Bombing button to show he’s tough?  Does this sound like military action designed to win a war?  How do you win using soldiers to draw fire so you can call in air strikes?  The evidence is in the books.  You don’t. 

Until we embrace the shared stupidity that spans the chasm between Woodstock and the war, we’ll never lose the ‘them and us’ mentality.  Individually we either come to grips with our actions or we don’t.  Instead of spewing numbers of disdain to make a point of our war dead, why not find a better way to honor their memory?

I was in the first wave of the all-volunteer Army, September 1974.  My range masters were Vietnam guys.  My drill sergeants were Vietnam guys.  My captain was a Vietnam guy twice, enlisted the first time, a ninety day wonder the second.  These guys all stayed in.  Why?  They wouldn’t leave the Army in the shape it was in.  They told us it was our duty to make the Army better. 

All vets know the Army of 1974 was in trouble.  President Nixon resigned in August 1974; Army Chief of Staff General Abrams died in September 1974; Vietnam was closing down.  Race and drugs got out of hand.  The Army had to get better, and I like to think the hippie characters I joined with did their duty.  Once they got the haircut and a pair of boots dropped on their uniform pile they were soldiers on the outside, but hippies to the core. 

Hippie soldiers saved the Army from going further down the drain in 1974.  Those are the guys who crawled out of the chasm between Woodstock and the war.  They knew the difference between the two.

I’ve been a caregiver for someone who’s kids call him an ‘Archie Bunker’ type, an ‘America, Love It or Leave It’ guy.  Did it matter by the time he got to me?  Not at all.  Once Parkinson’s takes hold, politics plays second fiddle, maybe third.  Here was a WWII Marine, a motorcycle rider with a T-top Trans-Am, a guy who liked to say “if man can build it, a man can fix it.”  We wanted the same thing.

No one fixes Parkinson’s, the same way no one fixes an attitude.  You accept Parkinson’s, but try to understand an attitude that trots out the ghosts of Hanoi Jane, stoned out hippies, and our guys from Vietnam. 

I’ll tell you this much, Mr. Kolb can preach to his choir, but the congregation sings a different song.  Enough water has passed under the bridge since Woodstock and April 30, 1975 for aging hippies and lurps to find common ground and clean it up.  They don’t need to stick a fork in it to know when it’s done.  And Mr. Kolb doesn’t need to salt the wounds that never heal.”


5 thoughts on “Viet-now, The Aging Warrior

  1. RootDoctor says:


    My fellow Americans:

    Three days from now, after half a century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.

    This evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen.

    Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all.

    Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the Nation.

    My own relations with the Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and, finally, to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years.

    In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the national good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the Nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with the Congress ends in a feeling, on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.


    We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.


    Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.

    Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology — global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger is poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle — with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

    Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research — these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

    But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs — balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage — balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

    The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of stress and threat. But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. I mention two only.


    A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

    Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

    Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

    This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

    Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

    In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present

    and is gravely to be regarded.
    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientifictechnological elite.

    It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.


    Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.


    Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

    Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

    Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war — as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years — I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

    Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.


    So — in this my last good night to you as your President — I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find some things worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.

    You and I — my fellow citizens — need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation’s great goals.

    To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing aspiration:

    We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.

    Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960

  2. David Gillaspie says:

    My group was schooled on the difference between lawful and unlawful orders thanks to Lt. Calley. We learned to ask for the specifics if we got an order like ‘waste them.’

  3. ogmagoggle says:

    The Forty Year Flashback Circa 1969:

    Ask yourself, “What was the Least Significant Delusion?”
    Was it a tribe of miscreants, street urchins, vagabonds, and clowns gathering together for a Summer of Love or was it the clean-cut youth of America headed off to Southeast Asia to play a game that could not and would not be won. A game of Chinese Checkers with the Red Menace using some real bad military-industrial theory based on the gravitational pull of dominoes.

    Forty Years later and the wound has not healed!
    Bad Acid Reflux.
    Banded Krait venom…Black Acid.

    All will not be right until the sacrificial lambs [youth in asia] get some recognition and undue honor for being duped into sacrificing minds and lives to a war that was based on a propaganda machine promulgated by war profiteers and prophets of doom and gloom. And what for? Latex? Shale Oil? National Security?

    Forty Years later: ask yourself, “Where is the Red Menace?” and “What has become of Vietnam?” The answers are proof of the beautiful lie that bandied about in those delusional times.
    Undeclared heroes who fought an undeclared war. Mercenary or victim? Kolb needs a good upbraiding. VFW, in this case, stands for “Victims of Foreign Wars”.

    The Black Acid Flashback lives on in the hearts and minds of those that served. The Banded Krait still rears its ugly venomous head.


    • David Gillaspie says:

      It’s better to say what you are doing instead of getting busted for what someone thinks you’re doing. I’m still wondering if anyone will come forward with a coherent explanation of Vietnam.

      Thanks OG, you made the B&B a better place.

      • OldMack says:

        Both the rational for and the conduct of the Vietnam War were absurd. No coherent explanation for absurdities is possible. On the other hand, some of those Whiz Kids who counseled both Kennedy and Johnson had this notion: Since the deltas of all the earth’s major rivers have reservoirs of oil, the Mekong must also have plenty of it.

        The above theory was expounded at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in a course called “National Security Management” in 1965. My ex destroyed my library of paperbacks brought home from that school, or I’d cite chapter and verse. By then we knew that Kennan’s Domino theory was false and the oil theory was its replacement rationalization; sheit, David, we couldn’t call it what it really was, Imperialism; that was by then a tainted word.

        This is not meant to say that service men who went to that war were any different from those who went to mine or any other. The Constitution granted the Congress the right to “establish laws for the government of the armed forces of the United States,” so they came up with the Uniform Code of Military Justice; article 92 of that law makes disobedience of lawful orders a crime with heavy penalties. Remember?

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