Tag Archives: Vietnam War

One more thought on ‘wartime president’

Call it a form of “stolen valor,” which happens occasionally when individuals claim to be more heroic in battle than they actually were, or they wear medals on their chest they didn’t earn.

Donald Trump’s effort to cast himself as a “wartime president” offends me on at least two levels.

One is that he worked diligently to avoid service during the Vietnam War, getting a physician to diagnose him with bone spurs. Millions of others of us from that generation didn’t have the wherewithal — let alone the inclination — to wiggle our way out of serving our country. So we served. I served! I am proud of my service, as infinitesimal as my contribution to the Vietnam War effort turned out to be.

Thus, for Trump to seek to be called a “wartime president” offends me at that level. It’s visceral, man.

The second level deals with the timing of the assertion he made. We are in the midst of a presidential election year. Donald Trump is seeking re-election. He wants to wear that label as a cynical political ploy to persuade voters that they shouldn’t want to elect a new commander in chief while we’re “at war” with a killer pandemic virus.

It ain’t the same as being at war with an enemy government, or a vast worldwide network of terrorist organizations.

Thus, Donald Trump, in my view, qualifies as the quintessential chicken hawk.

There. On this matter … I’m out!

‘No’ on the revolution; ‘yes’ on defeating Donald Trump

I once was a wild-eyed liberal who bought into the urgency of launching a political revolt to topple a president.

The cause du jour was the Vietnam War. I had participated in that conflict, came home, and then got politically involved. In 1972, I wanted Sen. George McGovern to become the next president because he promised to end the war, bring our troops home and rebuild the nation’s tattered and shattered emotional psyche.

He didn’t make it to the White House.

Here we are today, 48 years later and the nation is flirting with another “revolution.” This one is being led by an independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, who keeps hammering at income inequality. He wants to de-fang the nation’s uber-rich, who he says are corrupting the political process.

Sanders also wants to topple the current president. He is running as a Democrat, even though he isn’t really a Democrat.

Sanders can count me out. I am past the revolutionary period of my life. I am settling instead on the “establishment” that Sanders is vilifying. To that end, I am all in with Joseph Biden Jr., the former vice president and former senator.

Biden and Sanders do share a common desire, to defeat Donald Trump. The question now becomes: Who between them is equipped to do what millions of us want? I believe firmly that Biden holds the answers.

Biden knows how to govern. His record as VP is full of accomplishment: He helped enact the Affordable Care Act; he helped push through legislation that protected women against violence; he has once reached across to Republicans and helped avert a government shutdown during one of those face-offs during Obama years in the White House.

Over his many years in the Senate, Biden chaired the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees. His colleagues respected him in the Senate and worked with him when he ascended to the vice presidency.

Bernie Sanders would, in my view, bring us more conflict of the type we have endured during the Trump years.

I am weary of the chaos. Of the conflict. Of the confusion. In my dotage, therefore, I am seeking a return to an air of normal behavior in the White House. Joe Biden can provide it.

Biden the seasoned pol is more electable than Sanders the angry revolutionary. When I was much younger, I might have attached myself to Sanders’ ideological hay wagon. That was then.

The here and now makes me yearn for a comforting presence in the White House.

‘Energy’ doesn’t always equal ‘votes’

The nation’s political punditry is telling us about all that “energy” that emanates from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ rallies.

The independent senator’s supporters are all in with Bernie. You can feel it, man! They’re going to carry the 78-year-old democratic socialist to victory against Donald John Trump in the fall, presuming of course that he gets the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

But … will he? Does that energy translate to votes?

I was part of an earlier “revolution” back in 1972. We thought we had “energy,” too, as we backed the candidacy of the late Sen. George McGovern.

I had returned home from the Army in 1970 after serving for a time in Vietnam. I was all in on McGovern’s stated intention to end the war. I enrolled in college. I became a political activist. I registered voters at the campus where I attended classes. We signed up a lot of new Democrats.

We went to rallies. We cheered loudly. We filled a downtown Portland, Ore., square when Sen. McGovern came to exhort the thousands of followers.

Hey, we had “energy.” We wanted to kick butt … by golly.

Then came the election. The networks called it almost immediately after the first polling stations closed on the East Coast.

It was over.

We were crushed under the weight of a 49-state landslide.

Don’t misunderstand me here. I want there to be enough energy to carry over that defeats Donald Trump this fall. I don’t know if Bernie Sanders is the guy to ignite the flame.

I just remain dubious of the pundit class’ penchant for hailing all the energy it feels from these Bernie Sanders rallies.

Stars and Stripes falls victim to changing media climate?

Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute.

Donald John Trump keeps yammering about how much he cares about the men and women who serve in the military, doing duty that he couldn’t fit into his own life when he was of the age to fight for his country.

Why, then, is the Pentagon — under the current president’s watch — stripping Stars and Stripes of the government subsidy on which it relies to provide news and other information to our military personnel?

Stars and Stripes, which has been published regularly since World War II, is losing its $8 million annual subsidy, ostensibly so the Pentagon can spend that money (which amounts to chump change in the total spending accrued by the agency) on other projects.

As Stars and Stripes reported: “Every day in my office as commander of U.S. European Command, I would read Stars and Stripes,” said retired Adm. James Stravidis, who served as EUCOM chief and NATO Supreme Allied Command from 2009 to 2013. “It was an invaluable unbiased and highly professional source of information which was critical to me in my role overseeing U.S. military throughout Europe.”

Allow me to join Adm. Stravidis in declaring my own intense interest in Stars and Stripes. Many of us serving in Vietnam came to rely on the newspaper to tell us of what was happening back home. We also had Armed Forces Radio, but to those of us who preferred to read the printed word, Stars and Stripes served as a sort of lifeline to the “The World.”

Are we now being led to believe that our young men and women no longer get to read the news that Adm. Stravidis said kept him informed just a few years ago?

This is an absolute shame.

Time of My Life, Part 46: Serving as ‘country coordinator’

One always should know that there are individuals who know far more than you do, who know their way around bureaucratic mazes and who can be of invaluable help when you are assigned what looks like a monumental task.

So it was back in the fall of 1989 as I helped prepare for a lengthy overseas journey as part of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, a professional association to which I belonged.

NCEW would send teams abroad on factfinding missions. That year, NCEW chose to venture to Southeast Asia: to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Several of us on that delegation happened to be veterans of the Vietnam War, which made the journey even more special.

But then came this little wrinkle: NCEW wanted individuals to volunteer to serve as “country coordinators.” What is that? Well, it meant that we needed individuals to take the lead in establishing contacts with government officials in the host countries we would be touring. One NCEW member coordinated the Thailand leg, another did the same for Cambodia. Hey, no sweat, right? Not exactly.

I signed up to be a country coordinator for the Vietnam leg of that trip. Here’s the deal: The United States and Vietnam did not have official diplomatic relations; that didn’t happen until 1995. That meant the United States had no embassy in Vietnam. We had no official U.S.-Vietnam channel through which we could communicate.

That required yours truly to work with the Vietnamese mission at the United Nations. However, we were part of a huge network of experts who knew all the contacts we needed to make with the Vietnamese government.

I called on someone I knew only by reputation. His name was George Esper, who served as special correspondent during the Vietnam War. I read his bylined stories for years during the war. He was based in Boston at the time of our journey preparation. I called him at the AP bureau there.

Esper could not have been more accommodating, nicer and generous with his time and expertise.

He gave me the names of officials throughout Vietnam that we could arrange to meet while we traveled through the country. He offered me contact information at the Vietnamese U.N. mission, through which I would be working to finalize the details of our stay in that country.

Esper cautioned me about some of the roadblocks we might face, but also told me about how the Vietnamese would treat their American visitors.

Esper’s expertise was invaluable. I cherished the relationship I was able to build with him over the phone as we talked continually about our planning.

I regret that I never was able to shake this man’s hand. He died some years ago. However, the aid he offered and made our journey into a once-hostile — but gorgeous — land even more memorable.

Trump’s belittling of brass simply stinks beyond belief

The history of Donald Trump’s pre-business history is well-known.

He sought to avoid service in the military during the height of the Vietnam War. He received dubious medical deferments citing bone spurs or some such ailment that kept him out of being eligible for military service.

He went into business. Made a lot of money. Lost a lot of money. Had mixed success as a business mogul. Then he went into politics. He ran for president of the United States. He won!

So for this current president to dress down men who have served their country honorably, in combat, thrust themselves into harm’s way is insulting, degrading and astonishingly unpatriotic.

Two reporters for the Washington Post, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, have written a book that tells just how disgraceful Trump’s conduct has gotten with regard to the military high command. An excerpt from that book tells of a meeting in a Pentagon room called The Tank. The brass sought to explain the nuts and bolts of military matters to the commander in chief. He was having none of it.

He called the generals “babies and dopes.” He has told them they are “losers” and said he wouldn’t “go into battle” with them.

I am trying imagine, were I one of those decorated combat veterans, hearing such denigration coming from the commander in chief. The entire world knows this man’s history. We all know that, when he had the opportunity to serve his country, he chose another path.

Don’t misunderstand me on this score. I do not begrudge a president who’s never worn the nation’s military uniform. Two recent presidents did not serve: Barack Obama or Bill Clinton. Neither did Franklin Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson, both of whom led this country through two world wars.

What is so objectionable is the snarky attitude this president demonstrates to individuals who have done what he sought to avoid doing. That he would speak to these patriots in such a manner is disgraceful on its face.

Attention, fellow Vietnam vets: Go back to where you served

A conversation I had this morning with a fellow member of the McKinney Sunrise Rotary Club brings to mind something I have believed for the past 30 years.

I believe it is vital for any Vietnam War veteran who is able to return to that country to see what I discovered when I was able to return there in 1989, two decades after I arrived there in service to my country.

I learned that the war had ended. It was over. The shooting had stopped. The country that had survived all that explosive bludgeoning has become a beautiful land full of generous people.

My Rotary friend had recalled a question I had asked a fellow who delivered a program at a recent meeting. I asked him if he had been back. He has not returned and the gentleman seemed a bit perplexed by the question.

I told my friend this morning about my emotional discovery when I returned there 30 years ago. I had gone to Southeast Asia with other editorial writers and editors on a factfinding mission. At the end of the official portion of the trip, I flew from Saigon to Da Nang with two fellow journalists — who also are Vietnam vets — to see the place where I served for a time so many years earlier.

Our guide, Mai, accompanied us to Da Nang. We took a cab from our downtown hotel to Marble Mountain, where I served for a time as an aircraft mechanic with the Army’s 245th Mohawk Aviation Company.

We were walking along the sandy soil. Mai told me how the Vietnamese had absorbed all that we had built there and repurposed it for their use. Pierced-steel planking had become fence material; they used lumber to build housing.

Then it hit me like a runaway freight train. The war was over! That’s when I broke down and sobbed like a child for about three or four minutes. My friends backed away, as did Mai. I cried all by myself.

Then it was over. I wiped my face dry. Took a deep breath. I extended my arms to my two friends and to Mai. I was cleansed. I had shed the emotional baggage I never realized I was lugging around.

I did not traipse through the bush. I did not fire my weapon in anger at the enemy. I performed rear-echelon duty. However, returning to that place in November 1989 reminded me that the war was raging when I arrive and it was raging when I left.

I saw that place in an entirely new context.

That is why I tell my fellow Vietnam War veterans that they, too, need to see the country is at it is today, not as it was when they left.

They, too, might be cleansed.

Love, not hate, fuels anti-Trump rhetoric

I am an old-fashioned fellow in many respects.

I love pageantry. I love singing the National Anthem. I enjoy military parades. I take pleasure in shaking the hands of World War II and Korean War veterans. I revere political tradition and decorum.

Thus, when I criticize Donald J. Trump, it is not out of hate — as some critics of this blog seem to believe — but out of love. Not for the president, mind you. But for the office he occupies and my love of the tradition he has managed to trash almost since the moment he pulled his hand off the Bible at his inauguration.

Critics of this blog purport to read my mind and delve into my heart when they accuse me of spewing hate-filled rhetoric. The thing is, they don’t know me. Some of ’em, though, do like referring to me by my first name, as if to suggest some form of faux familiarity with me. They don’t understand why I say what I do about the president.

One does not go to war for a country he hates. He does so out of love for the country. I got the call to go to war for my country in 1969. I didn’t do so gladly, but out of a sense of duty to the nation that ordered me to go far away and participate in a war that was raging when I arrived and was still raging when I left.

It’s my love of country that fuels my anger today at what I see happening to our political institutions, to our national mood, to the tribalism that has consumed so much of the dialogue between and among various segments of our vast and diverse population.

Who’s responsible for that? It has to stem from our national leadership. It comes from the very top of the political food chain. It starts in the White House, where Donald Trump now resides. It festers in the policies coming from the Oval Office, where the president makes command decisions.

Do I love what I see and hear coming from the White House these days? No! Of course not!

Hatred, though, is not the spark that ignites the rhetoric coming from this blog. It is a deeply held love of country. I want a return to the tradition that I grew up admiring and revering. It cannot happen until we get a change in the leadership at the top of the political chain of command.

I don’t expect to change the minds of critics who’ll continue to ascribe hatred to the rhetoric they will read here. However, it is how I feel. Take it or leave it.

Love, not hate, drove House to impeach Trump

The rhetoric coming from Donald Trump’s allies that those who impeached him “hate” the president more than they love the country is maddening in the extreme.

I am going to continue to hold in my soul and heart that love of country drove those who voted to impeach the president, not any hate toward the man.

That might sound Pollyannish to some readers of this blog. They are welcome to challenge my view, but I will hold fast to it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed specifically her “love of country” when she asked the House to draft articles of impeachment. I have no reason to disbelieve her, nor do I disbelieve the stated motives that steered those who impeached the president. They are concerned, as many of us out here in the heartland are concerned, about the abuses brought by Trump to the office he holds and the damage it might do to that office over time long after he vacates it.

To be sure the nation is more divided perhaps than at any time since the Vietnam War. The nation healed those wounds. It healed after Watergate. It healed after the hotly contested 2000 presidential election.

I have abiding faith in our nation’s ability to heal after Trump’s tenure has expired. I also will retain my belief in the stated motives of those who made history with their decision to impeach the president.

I believe they love our country enough to want to save it.

Just wondering: Why not Medal of Freedom for Gary Sinise?

A cousin of mine posed the question on social media. He is in the Army. He’s been serving our country for more than a decade.

He wonders why Gary Sinise, the actor and avid champion of veterans’ rights, hasn’t yet been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Indeed, my family member poses an excellent question.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor. It has gone to many worthy recipients. It also has been bestowed to many who, um, haven’t done nearly the kind of work that Sinise has done for many years.

Sinise portrayed a troubled Vietnam War veteran in the acclaimed film “Forrest Gump.” Since before that film’s release and surely after it came out, Sinise has been an outspoken advocate for veterans. He has argued on behalf of vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as those with debilitating physical wounds suffered in combat. He has raised money to benefit the families of veterans.

And yet he has yet to be honored with the nation’s esteemed Presidential Medal of Freedom. Many presidents since Sinise’s veteran advocacy has become well-known and heavily reported.

As one proud veteran myself, I want to carry that torch a little farther on behalf of my cousin who’s still defending this country.

Gary Sinise has earned veterans’ ever-lasting gratitude and deserves to be honored officially with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.