I actually started writing this to let folks know that there’s an event at the Congers Railway Station on May 3, 2016 at 5 p.m. Sean Magee, a local vet, has been working on this program called, “Carry the Load”, which helps us to remember the significance of Memorial Day.
BY JERRY DONNELLAN
Director, Veterans Service Agency, Rockland County
Vietnam ended for me on October 24, 1969 in a deafening orange fireball. Officially, for the rest of the world, the war in Vietnam ended on April 30, 1975. I’ve always contended that we were winning when I left – but that’s up for debate.
The beginning of the war in Vietnam was not really clear. Most people point to the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August of ’64. However, we had had advisors and special forces in Vietnam for years before during the Eisenhower administration. So most folks fix the actual start of hostilities, if we’re going to call it that, on November 1, 1955.
There’s been and will continue to be discussion on whether we won or lost the war. It seems to still be up for grabs as far as arguments are concerned.
As a soldier of that war I can tell you we never lost a major battle. Many point to the Tet Offensive as a turning point, which it was, but not because we lost. We won every battle of that Offensive. Even Khe Sanh, which began on January 21, 1968 that actually started about nine days before what’s known as the Tet Offensive, which began on January 30, 1968.
Khe Sanh was basically a head fake by General Giap, the head of the North Vietnamese Army, that then President Johnson fell for thinking he had to win or it would become his Dien Bien Phu, which was the 1954 battle that ended the French occupation of Vietnam, with the Frenchmen finding out the Vietnamese were pretty much unbeatable.
When I say Johnson fell for it, he moved troops, and equipment north to make sure we held Khe Sanh, which was near the DMZ in Quang Tri Province – thereby leaving other parts of the country shorthanded, which was just what general Giap had expected. He thought that after hearing Johnson’s speech the month before almost boasting that we were winning and it would be over shortly. The quote that comes out of that speech was Johnson stating that he “could see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Once Johnson mobilized things north, General Giap hit a number of other major cities on the Lunar New Year – January 30, 1968 known as Tet.
American troops beat back the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in every case. Thus, the infamous Tet Offensive was a decisive military victory for the US. However, on the homefront it was a decisive failure politically for Johnson, causing the country to turn away from its soldiers, seeing them as losers even though they hadn’t lost a battle.
Then President Nixon promised if elected, “I will end the war in Vietnam.” His former boss, Eisenhower had said the same thing about Korea – the difference being Eisenhower did it.
So in 1968 I voted for Nixon, thinking he’ll end the war and instead in 1969 he sent me to Vietnam and continued to send young Americans until Vietnam ended. Johnson and Nixon had a nice bipartisan loss. But we the soldiers of that war took the hit. We were the first American soldiers to lose a war since the Confederacy. We were called baby killers, drug addicts, spit on, all manner of vile things thrown at us coming home.
Yes, it’s all true. There were some truly awful things that were done by the anti-war folks, many of whom had conned their way out of the Draft. Things like sending nice notes resembling sympathy notes to the parents of soldiers who had been killed. They would comb the obituaries, find a soldier had died, and send a nice looking note, which said many vile things – calling their son a war criminal, saying he deserved to die, and you can imagine some of the others.
Not that anyone wanted to go. But you had to be honest with yourself. You could tell the rest of the world you were a pacifist this week.
I had and have some good friends who are pacifists but the difference is they are real pacifists and not just when it’s convenient.
In those days it was easy to beat the Draft – a note from a Doctor or working your blood pressure up past the point, or faking a hearing test. It wasn’t hard unless you had a conscience. I knew if I didn’t go, someone else would take my place. That slot was going to be filled one way or another by some other mother’s son.
Could you live knowing that you sent someone else to their death or perhaps being badly maimed? I couldn’t. I still hear people bragging about how they beat the Draft. I guess a conscience isn’t as common as I thought.
At this particular run, they will be honoring Vietnam veterans. Our office has agreed to help. Vietnam vets will be given pins. However, they need to register with our office.
We’ll need to see a DD-214 and a copy of a Driver’s license as proof of residency. You don’t have to have served in country but you need to have served on active duty between November 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975. That information can be faxed, emailed, or dropped off at our office before April 25, 2016: