FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Echoes From the Past; Nightmares in the Present

A recent radio report from western Iraq included interviews with soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry. When I heard it, my mind drifted back to another time and place, another time of blood, death and fire and another place far from home and deep in the bowels of hell. That hell wasn’t desert, however. It was jungle; thick and impenetrable and mountainous and the Currahees of the 506th were among the toughest and the bravest and the bloodiest of American soldiers deployed to Vietnam.

When the pages of the emotional diary that recounts my days in Vietnam start to flip, I never know where it will stop. But when I heard the words of this new breed of combat soldier detailing the butcher’s bill they are paying for their deployment, the album in mind stopped on a page that found me in the hospital, the 34th Evacuation Hospital in Vung Tau as I recall. I had been shot twice in the right knee, one bullet breaking my leg and the second bullet arriving two hours and two inches away from the first, shattering my kneecap and exposing the joint to a raging infection. Still, I was one of the lucky ones in my rifle company. An enemy battalion had ambushed us and five hours later, my company ceased to exist. Virtually, ever soldier was killed or wounded in the battle. Gen. Barry McCaffrey (US Army, ret.) was a company commander tasked with reinforcing us that day. But helicopter rockets fired in support of our company started the grassy meadow on fire, precluding any support from anywhere. Then-Capt. McCaffrey would later say that listening to our battle on his radio would make that the worst day of his military career.

In the bed next to me was a village police chief from a town in the Mekong Delta. He had been shot four times in the torso and once in the leg during a gun battle with the communists in his village. Five bullets tore up his body but they did nothing to destroy his spirit or deny him a sense of humor. Indeed, his spirit did a lot to keep me from falling into a black hole of despair as I contemplated the possibility of a future without my right leg. We communicated in a jigsaw of his scant English and fluent French juxtaposed against my even scanter Vietnamese and high school French. I had long ago given up hope that the war that was destroying the lives of so many Americans (on both sides of the ocean) would end well. But as I listened to this wonderful guy talk about his country, his war, and our friendship, I was beginning to have second thoughts about my pessimism.

That’s why I was stunned three days into our budding friendship when “The Chief” dropped this bombshell on me. “Time come for GIs go home,” he said. I thought he must have been joking. Here was a guy who had sacrificed so much to rid his country of “it’s enemies;” a guy we Americans were all so invested in helping. He couldn’t possibly believe we should leave with the outcome of the war still in doubt? When I questioned him about his contention, he was adamant that the continued presence of Americans was the trigger for the continuing violence. When I reminded him that if the GIs left, his side would lose the war. Probably, he admitted, but the fighting and the killing and suffering would stop.

I think about that exchange a lot these days when I hear people talking about how “an arbitrary deadline” for American withdrawal from Iraq would embolden the enemy.

I thought about it when I heard those brave soldiers from the 506th talking about “finishing the job” in Iraq.

I think about it as I think about how much blood will be shed while we searched for a common definition of “finishing the job.” I think about it when I remember that Americans died in Vietnam, officially, for 14 years. We were told that our mission was to prepare the Vietnamese army to defend democracy. And I remember that after almost a decade and a half after the lost of more than 58,000 American lives after the wounding of more than 300,000 GIs and after the death of more than a million Vietnamese, the army we trained, equipped and supported crumbled and disintegrated in a matter of weeks when the enemy attacked.

Today, after all the lies and deceit, all the killing and suffering, all the death and destruction, Vietnam seems to be doing quite well with Vietnamese in control of their own country. None of that cheapens the courage, the commitment and the dedication of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam. But it does make you wonder about the quality of those who led us into war and into an open-ended commitment that bled us of money, materiel and men.

The NCO interviewed on the radio scoffed at the notion that it was time for Americans to come home, saying “it is easy for people sitting in air-conditioned offices; people who have never been on the ground here; to make those decisions.” That comment is pretty ironic when you realize that many of those who have had their boots on the ground in combat are saying “bring them home,” while the guys in the air-conditioned offices making the decisions think they were born to command but were loathe to serve.

STEPHEN T. BANKO served in the 1st Cavalry Division and was wounded in combat four times. His decorations for heroism include two Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars, the Air Medal and four Purple Hearts. He has long been active in veteran’s affairs.. He can be reached at: banko@counterpunch.org

 

 

More articles by:
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail