Monday, May 16, 2016

Brothers in War / The Boys of ’67;’ and Some Personal Memories

Although it was first screened on the National Geographic channel, I watched “Brothers in War” on Netflix just recently.  I highly recommend it.  What can I say?  It’s graphic, disturbing and it will touch your heart.  It brought tears to my eyes.  Some of you will remember the Vietnam War.  For some of the younger folks, it’s just a much maligned, misadventure by our American military.

That said, “Brothers in War” is a very personal account from those actually there.  It’s history.  Everyone should watch it.

“Through gripping first-person accounts and digitally remastered archival footage, including the soldiers’ own home movies and personal audio tapes, Brothers in War recounts the harrowing combat experiences of the men of Charlie Company — one of the last American combat infantry companies to be drafted, trained and sent to fight together in Vietnam.”

I served in Southeast Asia during the war (’68 – ’70).  But, I must admit, with some residual feelings of guilt, my experiences were nothing like those of Charlie Company.

I was a Team Commander for the First Mobile Communications Group (USAF).  Our motto was ‘First In, Last Out.’  Although the First Mobile was stationed in the Philippines, our mission was to deploy and set-up tactical communications equipment and navigational aids, as well as conduct necessary training for the subsequent, long-term operators - often members of the Army or Marines.  When the Marines or Army were finished with the equipment, or it had been destroyed, we would again deploy to recover what was left.  The equipment often contained classified equipment and codes.  Some members of the First Mobile spent time in extreme combat assignments, including Khe Sanh.  I did not.  I was lucky.

My experiences, my hardships were nothing compared to Charlie Company.  While at Chu Lai, I did experience a Viet Cong ‘rocket’ attack.  The Viet Cong efforts were, generally speaking, remarkably inaccurate.  They did score an accidental direct hit on the base PX (photo above), but it was at night and there were no casualties.  Marine Corps’ spotters, during the hours of darkness, watched the jungle hillside which was some distance from the base.  When they saw a flash, they would immediately hit the siren.  Those of us sleeping in the base hooches had a few seconds to sprint to the nearest bunker – usually right outside the door – before the rocket hit.  American helicopters were scrambled to ‘light-up’ the general area from which the rocket originated – efforts that were almost always unproductive.

Personally speaking, an incoming rocket, or the far more frequent false alarms, did disrupt an otherwise sweat-drenched effort to sleep.  But, it was a small sacrifice compared to Charlie Company soldiers’ sleepless nights in a mud-hole.

One Vietnam experience has stayed with me.  I once hopped an ‘in country’ transport on a C-130 moving Marines to their new base – from which they would be deployed.  The pilots and Load Master were Air Force; but, other than myself, the rest were young Marines.  I sat in the back in the jump-seats with this very solemn group of young men, all Marines.  Nobody spoke.  They looked so young.  God, they looked young.  As they say, wars (at least in those days with the military draft in place) were not fought by ‘John Wayne types.’  I wanted to say something to the young man next to me, but what could I say?  Good luck?  I don’t think so.

Back to the documentary, Charlie Company took considerable casualties – killed and wounded.  Upon completion of their one year tour, they (what was left of the original contingent) were flown back to the States.  When they arrived in the U.S., happy to finally be home and to be alive, they were met by anti-war demonstrators who cursed them, threw things at them and spit on them.

They were just boys – often draftees.  They had nothing to do with the politics of the Vietnam Conflict.  And did you know that some were actually ‘conscientious objectors,’ who acted as medics and carried no weapons – but, nonetheless, died trying to save others.

If you were one of those demonstrators, how do you live with yourself – the shame of it?  Well, you might say, ‘I was young, perhaps a little thoughtless, but just joined a crowd of my friends and peers.’

Sorry, I don’t buy it.  Who would buy it?  Your wife?  Your kids?  Your grand kids?  I doubt it.

PS:  Incidentally, the above documentary was based on the book by Andrew Wiest, ‘The Boys of ’67.’  A good book if you care to read more about these young heroes.

True Nelson
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