Vietnam Guilt Trip
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  1. #1

    Thumbs up Vietnam Guilt Trip

    Understanding the Vietnam Vet

    It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I began to openly talk about my Vietnam experience, that is to say, feel comfortable talking to those who did not share my experience.

    I had pretty much kept my experience a mystery to others, as many of us Nam Vets have done, after all, our war wasn’t very popular.

    I guess there were a lot of emotions we’ve all had to deal with, but for those of us who went and fought, there were multiple issues of guilt, betrayal, hate, anger and devastation to deal with, long after the War ended.

    I my case, I first experienced guilt when I arrived home from the war in mid 1966. I felt guilty, because I had left my best friends, my brothers, behind to fight and die, while I was safe at home in the real world. I felt that I had betrayed the only people who I could really trust, entrusted my life to and whose lives were entrusted to me.

    Again, when the war finally ended, I felt guilt when the U.S. left Vietnam with its tail between its legs and condemned the Vietnamese people to Communism. My Brothers and I fought, lost blood and lives to avoid such an end. And at that time I felt betrayed by the very system I had sworn to protect & obey.

    We were U.S. Marines, Man for Man, we were and still are the toughest fighting force in the world, but we failed to overcome the communist threat, and for this failure, I felt ashamed and guilty.

    By the late 70’s I began to feel guilt and devastation for my personal part in the damage and human suffering caused by a war that never should have ended with the disgrace of those who fought it, or never should have been fought at all.

    Later in life, with a wisdom that is only achieved through maturity, I have come to a middle ground with my emotions. The guilt will never be completely resolved, but living with it has become easier through the years.

    Understanding the Vietnam War, why we went there in the first place, and how we ultimately screwed up and lost, has helped to put all of these emotions in their proper prospective.

    Many Nam Vets, justifiably, blame their government, the Generals, Congress, McNamara and especially President Johnson for the demise in Vietnam.

    After all, it wasn’t our fault. We were trained to win and we went to Vietnam to win. Loosing never entered our minds. How then did we loose?

    The simple answer to this question would be, we didn’t loose, we gave up. I’ve seen bumper stickers that read, ”We were winning when I left” A truer statement would be ”We were winning when we all finally left”

    Let’s face it; the Vietnam War was a bad war! That’s what all the Journalists called it, “A Bad war” I contend that there is no such thing as a “Good War” But then the Journalists basically wrote the script for the Vietnam war didn’t they, Vietnam was the first “made for television” War.

    I was in Vietnam just short of (4) weeks when on August 2nd 1965 Dan Rather (a CBS field reporter at the time) came into the field and did a piece for the CBS nightly news.

    Although Mr. Rather was only party to the aftermath, and reported only hearsay, (he showed up several hours after the incident, and only after the area had been secured) he was the expert as far as the average American television viewer was concerned. However, Dan Rather did not report all of the facts, and what was reported, made the Marines of G Company 2nd Battalion 9th Marines look like barbarians.

    (Dan Rather’s segment was aired on the CBS nightly news and again in a CBS series titled “Vietnam The 10,000 Day War” and allegedly exposes US wrongdoing in the Village of Cam Ne) For the truth, see my story (Assault on Cam Ne)

    Unfortunately, the Press interfered greatly with the process of winning, by brining the War into every living room in America and using the War for television ratings. War is tough enough on those of us who fight it, it has different and sometimes more overbearing effects on those who observe it.

    (Americans quickly became disgusted with the scoreboard, the daily body counts)

    It was the American public, tired and disgusted with what they were seeing on television, that through protest, finally put a stop to the war. And yes, some of our politicians were way out of control. Presidents do not fight wars, soldiers fight wars, and generals control the battlefield. President Johnson tried to control every aspect of the war and failed.

    I liken President Johnson to Adolph Hitler, hovering over the battlefield map, planning the next military action or response.

    Our Communication systems at that time were slow at best, there were 12 to 24 hours lag time between the Whitehouse situation room and my CO on the battlefield. By the time Johnson and his henchman issued their response, the battlefield conditions had changed to the degree that the new orders were obsolete before they were ever issued.

    Johnson declared in early 1965, that if he was going to have to take the heat, he was going to make all the decisions. As a result, the Vietnam War became a Whitehouse board game, and Johnson had all the Field Generals so involved with his politics that they failed to lead.

    If American soldiers in Vietnam had leaders like Chesty Puller, George Patton & Douglass Macarthur, the War would not only have ended with a win. The Vietnam Wall would be a much narrower monument (far fewer names).

    The Vietnam War was lost because President Johnson, just like Adolph Hitler, played Field General. And while Johnson was playing General, 40,000 American soldiers died on his battlefield. By the time Nixon came into control, it was too late, the American people lost their desire to win and only wanted it to stop.

    LOOSE, no my Brothers we didn’t loose, we fought hard, over 1 million of us were wounded and 58,000 of us died, but we won every battle, No we didn’t loose. Our country, our leadership and our fellow citizens gave up. No we didn’t loose, we performed our duty with HONOR! We've earned the right to be Proud!

    I no longer hate those who made me feel guilty, with the exception of Jane Fonda and President Johnson.

    It is still my belief that Fonda should have been tried for Treason, not sure about Johnson!

    I believe that the War needed to end when it did, but I also believe that we could have won it in the 60's if the Brass had stood up to the President and taken control of the battlefield!

    Today, I am not sorry that I went to Vietnam, It was the right thing to do when we went in. I am proud of my Brothers, proud of my myself, proud to have served, and proud to be a member of the greatest brotherhood in the world, the United States Marine Corps.

    It has taken a long time to resolve these emotions, talking to other Vietnam Vets has help, building and maintaining my web site has helped, all of your forum posts, guestbook posts and emails have also helped.

    Thanks for your support

    Semper Fi

    Bob Neener
    Golf 2/9 Lima 3/3
    3rd Marine Division
    Vietnam 1965-1966

  2. #2

    We won the war, but lost the battle!

    Talk about a guilt trip, my first expereince with that was before I experience the war. Upon my arrival in vietnam.

    From my book
    Dreams of Glory;
    A sense of guilt, upon landing at Da Nang.

    “Since those of us who had loaded the sea bags on board were seated up front, we were the first to disembark and were assigned to the unloading of our sea bags. When we finished, we were reassigned to loading on board the sea bags of the Marines going home. Noticeable was the heaviness of our sea bags compared to those of the homeward-bound Marines. Our olive-drab canvas sea bags were large, bulky clean and crisp. Those we loaded on board were light, scrawny, faded, dirty, dusty, and torn. I wondered if mine would be just as faded and worn after my tour of duty or if the sea bag would be sent back home alone.”


    You have well said, how proud you were to have served our country, but what most people do not realize is that we felt the need to help others have the same freedom and liberties we enjoyed at home. Freedom to be masters over your own destiny. To chose whom to be your representatives in government. To choose their own form of government.

    We were betrayed not only Dan Rather, who never finished Marine Corps boot camp but also Walter Crockrite who’s liberal views failed to realize the real need of the South Vietnamese people was. As well as President Johnson who did not have the guts to see the war won under the terms promised the Vietnamese by President Kennedy.

    Even Hanoi today acknowledges that we won the war in South East Asia, if only we had stayed the course but our politicians did not have the drive or the determination to do what was right in face of those who were demonstrating for other means.

    If we failed in Vietnam it was not because you and I did not do our part, it was because those we entrusted with higher power failed to do theirs.

    Where do we go from here? Only inward and acknowledge that we did all we could with what we had to work with and support those at war when the media says its not popular to do so.


  3. #3
    Registered User Free Member GarvinRay's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Vietnam Guilt

    Great posts Bob and Sparrowhawk. I too am proud of my Vietnam service but am ashamed that we did not get the support that was so deserved. I am ashamed of the demonstraters (some are now our representatives in Congress), ashamed of the ones that fled the country to escape serviing their country, ashamed of our media reporting, and ashamed that our field commanders (who were very capable) did not get the support from Washington that was necessary.

    All that staff planning doesn't necassarily always work in the field as we all know. I didn't like the idea of taking ground and then leaving it to be taken again at a later date. (That didn't make sense to me).

    I didn't come home with a guilt feeling. Don't know if it was because I was from a different generation (I was a Gunny) or what. I am damn pround of all Marines that served in country, especially those that lived out of their pack and mud holes. They did their job and served with honor. I am sorrowed by the fact that so many did not get to come home to the good times and that so many others came home with ghost of the past. May God Bless them all and grant them peace. As someone said, "No man is an island". We were in it together and no one person should shoulder the blame. What has been done can not be undone no matter how many "welcome homes" we receive. We all must put our pasts behind us the best we can and focus on our future and the future of our great country.

    I do know that my personal emotions are more sensitive since my Nam tour.

    Okey, I will step off the soap box. Next!

  4. #4

    Back to Vietnam


    Back to Vietnam


    In Afghanistan, American soldiers working with local tribes employed lasers to guide bombs. But even when massive firepower is not used, we should not underestimate the psychological effect of placing American soldiers among local forces. I found that out when I recently returned to a village 400 miles north of Saigon, where decades ago I had patrolled with a Combined Action Platoon -- local militia combined with a Marine squad.

    As the saying goes, the village was "contested." During the day, the Americans visited the market to eat peanuts and duck eggs. At dusk, the village militia would nervously gather at the fort, where the Marines would pair off with farmers and set out on patrol. Sooner or later, there would be a scurrying noise or a burst of fire. The fights were by sound and flash, and might last 10 or 15 minutes. In the midst of hundreds of thatch houses, no artillery was called in, no gunships, no air strikes. So it went night after night -- a flurry of fire, then silence.

    Price of Knowledge

    After six months, the Marines knew the village elders, where each militiaman lived, which hamlets were most dangerous, how much to pay for a meal. The price for that knowledge came high. Seven of the original 15 Marines were killed. No American unit in Vietnam, Korea or World War II faced worse odds. Before it ended, more Marines had died in those anonymous hamlets than in Desert Storm.

    In late 1967, after 17 months, the fighting ceased. The Viet Cong pulled back to the mountains, the farmer militia took charge and the Marines left to fight the North Vietnamese. In the decades since, I often wondered if that American squad had made any difference. So did Charlie Benoit, who also patrolled in the village and who speaks flawless Vietnamese. The two of us went back to the village at Christmastime.

    The winter rains had eroded all roads into the village, which lies south of the abandoned Chulai airport. So we walked for several kilometers, sharing mud trails with water buffalo and cows. Looking at all the people, trails, alleys and ambush sites, I wondered if our military today would plunk down one squad among thousands of villagers and issue the same order: Control the area, day and night. Use rifles, not artillery or air strikes.

    Based on preliminary inquiries, we were doubtful whether anyone would risk acknowledging that Americans had lived there. But when we asked an old man, he immediately pointed to a small yellow building. A crowd gathered as I scuffed around the foundations of our old fort, now a kindergarten.

    A farmer stepped forward. "Welcome back," he said in Vietnamese. Photos from 1966 were passed from hand to hand. English came creakily, a gate not opened for many years.

    "You know Mister Bill? . . . Marines number one . . . Where Larry? . . . You know Monty? . . . Bob, he throw bomb. VC no get him . . . You now old, dai uy."

    Once a dai uy, or captain, I had returned as the Ancient Mariner. Most in the crowd were born after I had left. Whatever they had heard about the Marines had been passed down. Most were smiling, even with a Communist Party cadre in the crowd. People tugged at our sleeves, inviting us to their homes.

    Some village history was filled in. The village chief, Trao, had drowned while fishing. The village medic, Bac Si Khoi, had lost his wife and moved away. Joe, the 10-year-old orphan who lived with the Marines, was shot dead in 1975. Suong, the village military leader, had been killed the previous year. It was his 12th year in combat. Professional military units stand down between engagements. For Suong, the village militiaman, there was no rotation, no surcease. He had completed roughly 2,000 patrols, 20 times more than an American soldier. He died because the war went on too long. No man, no matter how skilled, can survive continuous combat. Sooner or later, the bell will toll.

    From the fort we walked to the central market. Some old women stopped us, giggling as they grasped Charlie by his shoulders and asked if he needed a Vietnamese wife. Again we were invited to dinner. Here they were, grandmothers, their grandchildren gawking as they flirted, taken back to their youth when young Marines walked through the market, stopping to talk and joke. They looked at the photos from long ago. A teenage boy, peeking over their shoulders, was smacked on the ear. These weren't his memories.

    The next day, Charlie and I went to My Lai, four miles to the east, where American soldiers had massacred over 100 villagers. A place of pitiful statues and gruesome pictures, My Lai is an official memorial to the American presence. Throughout Vietnam there were instances of Americans, terrified and ignorant, killing in the hamlets. Some soldiers with poor leaders believed every villager was a Viet Cong, ready to throw a grenade. Some Americans were filled with fear of the unknown. Others weren't.

    "That Marines in that squad couldn't destroy their own village," Charlie said. "What would they say? Sorry, we forgot we know you? Sorry, we forgot we live here?" The Marines deployed 100 such squads in villages, but the concept was not expanded countrywide. Misguided policy and a constipated military strategy ignored innovative tactics.

    Back in the village, we had lunch with a dispossessed landowner living in four bare rooms with a dirt floor. His extended family clustered around as we sat down to rice, green sprouts, pork, tea and bootleg rice wine, all grown on his half acre. His father had been the village chief, until assassinated. He had done two years' "service" after 1975. After lunch, he walked ahead of us, joking that the Americans had taken him prisoner.

    "I'm taking them to Quat and Suong," he said, referring to the Party chief and to the widow of the man who fought fiercely for 14 years against the Party. That sentence summed up the skein of village politics.

    Marines had a saying: "If the VC were on our side, we'd wrap the war up in a week." Nothing personal. The same basic, tough soldier was on both sides. As in Korea, communism in Vietnam wasn't a better way of life; it was a better military system because it insisted upon sacrifice without end.

    Like everyone else, the Party chief lived in a small house; the old term was "hootch." Polite and plain-spoken, he explained the village had grown from 6,000 when we were there to 12,000. Every child went to school, but after that what? The land hadn't expanded and there were no jobs in the cities.

    His family grew impatient with talk about infrastructure. "You know Bhill?" asked his older sister. She was one of the women who had flirted with us at the market.

    "Phil," corrected the Party chief. "Ppp." His sister made a face. She was 18 when Cpl. Phillip Brannon was killed in the village; her brother had been 10. Guess who had spoken with Phil.

    Before we left the village, I asked about a cement marker placed in front of the old fort in remembrance of the Marines. The villagers said the guerrillas had moved it. Why they didn't dump it or break it into pieces was not explained. A stone's throw north of the marker is the village shrine with its bright burgundy altar, where each year the villagers pray for good crops. Behind the building is a well bearing a Vietnamese inscription to the Marines who built the shrine in 1967.

    The villagers led us to the marker between two palm trees, overlooking an expanse of paddy as green as the world's finest golf course. It seemed fitting for Cpl. Brannon and all the others who fell there. We looked out over the deep green paddies as farmers half a world away from the United States talked about Americans dead 35 years.


    A few miles distant, there is another memorial to the Vietnamese who died at My Lai. These two memorials symbolize the contrary faces of America in that tragic war, the one fearful in white marble, the other resolute in stone-strengthened cement.

    W.H. Auden once wrote, teach the free man to praise. America has surely praised the generation of World War II. But of their Vietnam progeny, pictures and print have projected a face filled with fear, unworthy of praise. It is left to others in unlikely places to remember the faces that were stalwart.

    Mr. West, an assistant secretary of defense in the first Reagan administration, served in Marine infantry in Vietnam. He is author of "The Village."

    Updated January 29, 2002 9:57 p.m. EST

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