DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
12 Nov 96

TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT OUR VIETNAM VETS

11 November, Veteran's Day, has passed once again.

Across this free land -- made free and kept free by past and present soldiers' sacrifices -- Veteran's Day means different things to different people. To a non-vet New York City elevator operator, it means time and a half and a fatter paycheck; to a boy in Georgia, it means an exciting extravaganza complete with marching soldiers and colorful bands; to a vet in Oregon, it means a day spent with war buddies at a picnic assaulting a beer keg or two.

But for other Americans, it's a time which brings back the pain of bad days: a knock on the door announcing the loss of a loved one, a flag-draped casket, a color guard, rifle volleys, the haunting sound of taps, the carefully folded flag and the words: "On behalf of a grateful country…"

Without the sacrifice made by our vets, this great republic would not enjoy the liberty many of us -- especially many American youth -- take for granted.

Of all our living war vets, from those who served in the trenches of WWI to our heroes of WWII and Korea, from the valiant warriors who served in the Cold War, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf and Somalia to the new vets now being forged in Bosnia and the Middle East, none have taken a worse rap than the 2,594,000 vets who served in South Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War -- which divided our nation like no conflict except the Civil War -- Peaceniks such as Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda said those who fought there were baby killers and murderers. Upon returning home, our soldiers were abused, spat upon and in many cases accused by their WWII and Korean War veteran fathers of being yellow bellied punks who caused our country to lose its first war.

I'm sure the Haydens, Fondas and the wrongheaded fathers are now sorry they attacked the young men and women who dutifully went when the nation called. Just as most of the 13,000,000 young Americans like Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich and Phil Gramm who didn't do their duty and go, choosing instead to dodge the draft, now regret that decision. And no doubt Jane Fonda laments going to the enemy's capital and allowing herself to become a photo op with a North Viet gun crew while her countrymen were fighting and dying on the orders of their president.

For the infantry grunt, Vietnam may have been America's toughest war. For most -- unless they went out on a litter or in a bodybag -- Vietnam meant 365 tormented days where contact was imminent from hit and run opponents who fought from the shadows, and every time they took a step, they didn't know if a mine would take their foot, their leg or their life (20 percent of the 211,454 U.S. casualties in Vietnam were from mines and boobytraps).

Most Vietnam grunts ended up with more days in combat than any other living American war vet except the heroic members of two WWII Army units -- the Japanese-American 442nd Regiment and the 3rd Infantry Division.

One of the ugliest myths concerning the much maligned Vietnam vets is a fable irresponsibly sown by Pauline Laurent, who has written, "Since the end of the Vietnam War, approximately 150,000 veterans have taken their own lives."

Michael Kelley, a disabled Vietnam vet and a man who knows how to do exacting analysis (he's a tax assessor), blasts the press for passing on this rumor from self-claimed expert Laurent as fact.

After extensive research, Kelley says, "Your money would be safe if you took odds that the total (of Vietnam vet suicides) falls somewhere between 8,500 and 10,000," which is well within the nation's 1.7 percent norm for suicide. "Of that, I have the confidence of a Christian with four aces."

Hear this, good people: put the word out to spike this atrocious lie about our extraordinary, but badly maligned Vietnam Vets.

And have no doubt that our Vietnam vets fought well and stood tall. That bad war was not lost because of them but because of lousy U.S. senior leadership.