Tag Archives: Vietnam War

Gold Star controversy boils up again

Donald J. Trump has a consistent problem with Gold Star families, indeed he seems to have similar problems with men and women who’ve served in combat.

Do you recall in the summer of 2016 how he told the parents of a young American killed in Iraq that they “had no right” to criticize Trump over his views of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East? The parents happen to be Muslim, as was their son, an officer in the U.S. Army.

He once said that Sen. John McCain was a “war hero” only because he was captured by the North Vietnamese after his jet fighter was shot down. “I like people who aren’t captured, OK?” he said.

Trump contended falsely that previous presidents didn’t call the families of warriors slain in battle.

Now he’s reportedly told the wife of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger, that Sgt. Johnson “knew what he was getting into, but it still hurts.” The president has bristled at a congresswoman who said she heard Trump say it.

Do you see a pattern here?

I just cannot fathom what prevents the president from saying simply this: Please know that our nation grieves with you. We feel deeply for the pain you are suffering and we appreciate beyond measure the sacrifice your son/daughter has made in defense of the nation.

He cannot do that. He apparently is not wired with the empathy or compassion gene. Trump turns everything back to himself. He makes himself the story, either by design or by clumsy incompetence.

We are witnessing yet another manifestation of this man’s unfitness for the job to which he was elected.

Presidents are expected to deliver words of comfort. They are expected to serve as nation’s consoler in chief. Americans expect this — among other things —  from their head of state.

Donald Trump keeps failing to deliver.

Astounding.

Sen. McCain ‘tells it like it is’

U.S. Sen. John McCain received a great and much-deserved award today and said this:

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century,” the Arizona Republican said, “to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

Sen. McCain received the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center. The person who gave him the medal was former Vice President Joe Biden, a former Senate colleague and longtime McCain friend.

The Liberty Medal was given to McCain to honor him for his career in public service, which included heroic service as a Navy aviator and more than five years in captivity as a Vietnam War prisoner.

McCain speaks with profound knowledge and understanding of this nation’s role as the world’s remaining military superpower and the world’s leading economic power.

McCain stands tall

I saw the remarks and understood immediately to whom he was directing his remarks about “scapegoats” and “spurious nationalism.”

Listen up, Donald John Trump Sr. The senator, the man you disparaged disgracefully during your presidential campaign, is talking about you.

Biden paid tribute to McCain’s service during his remarks. According to CNN: “John, you have broken many times, physically and otherwise, and you have always grown stronger, but what you don’t really understand in my humble opinion is how much courage you give the rest of us looking at you,” Biden said. 

If only one prominent American, the president of the United States, could grasp the message this brave man is delivering.

Nothing positive or ‘uplifting’ about PBS series on Vietnam

I can’t stop talking about “The Vietnam War.”

Everywhere I go as I circulate through Amarillo, Texas, I encounter friends with Vietnam experience or ties to those who have such experience. Our conversation turns inevitably to that landmark, epic PBS series on the Vietnam War produced and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

Moreover, I am urging my fellow Vietnam veterans to watch the series if they haven’t seen it already. Buy it on DVD. Wait for it to be rebroadcast. Do what it takes. It’s worth your time.

One good friend of mine is married to a Vietnam War veteran. He served with the101st Airborne Division and suffered some serious wounds in the war. My friend has told me her husband suffers from serious post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his experience.

She has recorded the series for him and is urging him to see it. I gathered from a conversation we had recently that she hadn’t seen it yet, either.

“Is it uplifting?” my friend asked. My answer was direct: “Uh, no. There’s nothing positive about it. It’s pretty damn grim.”

She, too, was direct. “Well, it is what it is,” she said.

Yes. It’s also worth anyone’s time who wants to understand the nature of this conflict. Yes, we killed more of them than they did of us. It was a defeat that still pains the nation and many of those who answered their country ‘s call to duty.

As for PBS and its collaboration with Burns and Novick: The nation watched some first-rate documentary television. “The Vietnam War” was an epic production for the ages.

GOP set to self-inflict a mortal wound?

The buzz around political circles is that Republican Party “insurgents” are set to declare civil war against the party “establishment” in their effort to elect Roy Moore of Alabama to the U.S. Senate.

Good luck with that one, folks.

Moore defeated Sen. Luther Strange this week in a GOP primary runoff. Moore now will face Doug Jones in a general election later this year to fill the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions left to become attorney general.

Civil war? Is it really going to happen?

Moore is no friend of the GOP higher-ups. He savaged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell while defeating Strange, who by the way did the same thing. Both men sidled up to Donald Trump, who endorsed Strange.

Let the fight begin

Moore is a renegade, to be sure. He thinks gay people should be made criminals. He was twice removed as Alabama Supreme Court chief justice because (a) he installed and refused to remove a Ten Commandments monument on public property and (b) refused to honor a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared that gay marriage is legal in this country.

Now he’s gotten the support of former Trump senior strategist Steve Bannon, who’s back in charge of Breitbart News. Bannon is sounding the bugle to launch the civil war against that GOP establishment.

Bannon is old enough to remember the last time a major political party — the Democrats — engaged in such an internal conflict. It erupted in 1968 and continued through the 1972 presidential election. The Vietnam War divided Democrats. It was Hawks vs. Doves. The fight tore at the nation’s soul, as did the war itself.

Democrats lost the White House in 1968 and then got obliterated in 1972. The major recuperative factor that enabled the Democrats to regain the White House occurred when the Watergate break-in and subsequent presidential cover-up doomed President Nixon. They won the 1976 election, then got clobbered in 1980 and 1984. Oh, and let’s not forget about the primary battle that erupted in 1980 when Sen. Ted Kennedy challenged President Carter.

Civil war … again?

Bring it!

‘Vietnam War’ finally brings a lump to the throat

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick did it. Finally.

On the second to last night of their epic PBS documentary film, “The Vietnam War,” they brought a lump to my throat. They made me swallow hard. As in swallow real hard.

The moment struck me as I listened to a former Vietnam War prisoner tell of his release from captivity by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese.

His name is Hal Kushner. He was an Army physician who was taken captive by the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. He then was taken to Hanoi.

Kushner would be released in March 1973, two months after President Nixon announced the signing of the ceasefire that ended our combat involvement in the Vietnam War.

Kushner told of being greeted at Clark Air Force Base, The Philippines by an Air Force officer who said, “Welcome home, doctor.”

Kushner’s voice choked up as he remembered looking at the jet transport that would fly him and his fellow former POWs across the Pacific Ocean. He saw the letters “USAF” painted on the plane. “I saw this big C-141, this beautiful white bird, with the American flag emblazoned on the tail,” he said. They were going home.

The sight of those men hugging each other, toasting each other and kissing the flight nurses aboard the aircraft made my eyes well up as I watched this landmark series march toward its conclusion.

“The Vietnam War” has filled me with many emotions. Some nostalgia over my own meager involvement in that war; some anger at the way our returning warriors were treated when they came “home”; more anger at the sight of Jane Fonda yukking it up with North Vietnamese soldiers while sitting in an anti-aircraft weapon they used to shoot down our aviators; revulsion at the sight of all the carnage that occurred throughout the war.

The sight of those POWs coming home? That evoked another feeling altogether. I’m prone to sappy reactions at times, even when I watch actors portraying human emotion. I tend to forget that they’re pretending.

Not this time. What we saw was real. Man, it was good.

More bombs did not produce ‘victory’ in Vietnam

“The Vietnam War” is coming to a close this week. I refer, of course, to the landmark public television series, not the actual war.

What are the takeaways from this epic production directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and broadcast on PBS? I have so many of them, but I think I’ll focus briefly here on just one of them.

It is that the Vietnam War required us to redefine victory.

We fought the communists in Vietnam for more than a decade. We killed many more of the enemy than we lost so very tragically. We emerged victorious from many more battlefield encounters than the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese. As we have learned in the Burns-Novick epic, U.S. commanding Gen. William Westmoreland was obsessed with “body count”; he insisted that the media report that the enemy suffered far worse than our side did.

Merrill McPeak, a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War who later became Air Force chief of staff, noted correctly in the documentary that the United States dropped more ordnance on the enemy than we did in all the combat theaters of World War II. Think of that for a moment. American air power dropped more explosive tonnage on the Vietnam communists than we did against the Nazis, the Italians and the Japanese.

What we didn’t do and the reason we “lost” the war was because we lost our political will. The Vietnamese were fighting on their turf, defending their homeland, battling an enemy they considered to be “invaders.” They had more to lose — and to gain — than we ever did. Thus, it was their fight to win.

Are there lessons to carry forward as we continue to fight an even more elusive enemy, those terrorist organizations that have declared “death to America!”? Yes, certainly.

One profound lesson should be for U.S. politicians — or one in particular — to cease implying that defeating an enemy is “easy.”

We cannot just keep dropping bombs and sending young Americans into cities, killing enemy fighters and then expect the enemy simply to give up. We tried that in Vietnam. It didn’t work out well for us.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have provided a masterful piece of documentary television. Just as Vietnam was the first war to be fought “in our living rooms,” my hope is that the educational benefit that’s being delivered to us via PBS will assuage some of the pain we felt as the fighting raged.

***

Politico has provided a fascinating look at a conversation involving President Lyndon Johnson and U.S. Sen. Richard Russell. The Burns-Novick documentary doesn’t report on it.

Take a look at the story here.

Trump disrespects McCain … one more time

This doesn’t surprise me. Nothing that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth should surprise anyone, for that matter.

I’m still baffled that the president of the United States can utter the kind of cheap criticism at an American hero who’s in the midst of a life-and-death battle with brain cancer.

U.S. Sen. John McCain announced this week he would oppose a Senate Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Trump favored the GOP plan. It’s the second time in just three months that Sen. McCain has scuttled a GOP effort to repeal and replace the ACA.

So … what does the president declare via Twitter? He calls the Republican McCain a flip-flopper, suggesting that he went back on his pledge to repeal and replace “Obamacare.”

Did the president make any public mention of McCain’s battle with brain cancer? Did he salute McCain for the service he has given the country — as a U.S. Navy aviator who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, suffering unspeakable pain and torture at the hands of his captors and then as a member of Congress for three decades?

Ohhh, no! The president chose to stay on the low road. He chose to lampoon Sen. McCain’s vote just a day after the senator revealed to the nation that he has received a “very poor prognosis” from his doctors.

This kind of cheap, petulant politicking is what I suppose we should expect from the president of the United States. That doesn’t mean we should accept it. I damn sure don’t.

Shameful.

Hey, Mr. POTUS, McCain just doesn’t get scared

I have this hunch that John McCain isn’t one bit intimidated by the commander in chief, the head of state of the greatest nation on Earth.

The Arizona Republican senator has just announced his opposition to the latest Senate GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He has enraged Donald Trump. The president has responded with his usual rant about McCain being disloyal to the Republican Party and to the president.

I’m going to give Sen. McCain all the respect in the world.

He said he cannot “in good conscience” support the ACA repeal effort. His stated opposition is steeped mostly in the bum’s rush process that has pushed this legislation forward. The GOP did it once again with no help from Democrats. McCain has called for a return to “regular order.” Senate Republicans ignored one of their own.

But you see, McCain is the midst of quite an important battle that has not a damn thing to do with politics. He is fighting for his life. McCain has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer. He is undergoing some therapy to battle the disease. But he’s back at work. He is standing up for himself, for his constituents in Arizona and against the president.

You know, of course, about McCain’s other big struggle that has nothing to do with politics. He was a Navy pilot in 1967 when he got shot down over Hanoi, North Vietnam. He was taken prisoner. He was beaten incessantly and suffered many other forms of physical and emotional torture for more than five years.

Does anyone in this country really believe that this war hero is going to be intimidated by a politician? Moreover, does anyone further believe that this man — who’s currently engaged in the fight of his life — is going to be cowed by threats over a decision he has made regarding a mere public policy initiative?

I have not always been a fan of Sen. McCain. I did not vote for him in 2008 when he ran for president against Barack H. Obama. I haven’t always liked the tone he has taken in criticizing his former presidential campaign foe.

However, I’ve never lost respect for the life he has lived and the service he has given to this country. Nor have I ever stopped respecting the extreme hardship he has endured while serving the country he loves so much.

He has stood up to the head of his political party, the president of the United States. Sen. McCain is setting an example of leadership.

Count me now as one of this man’s biggest fans.

Now the ‘Vietnam’ series is getting serious

PBS is taking a couple of days off leading us down the trail of tragedy that was the Vietnam War.

Episode Four aired tonight and I was gripped by a brief segment contained within it. I’ll need a couple of days to catch my breath before the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary special returns Sunday night.

“The Vietnam War” is walking us through the war year by year. Tonight it took us to the end of 1967. In January of the following year, the Tet Offensive erupted — and it changed everything.

Tonight, though, we saw a brief segment of a young Navy aviator being questioned by his captors in Hanoi. The aviator was lying on a bed, telling the world that he loved his wife. He was in great pain, having been injured when he parachuted from his stricken jet fighter into a Hanoi lake.

John McCain III would spend more than five years as a prisoner of war. He would be tortured, beaten to within an inch of his life. He would be put in solitary confinement. He would be offered an early release, but would refuse it because he didn’t want to give the enemy a propaganda tool, given that his father, Adm. John McCain Jr., was a senior Navy officer. Nor did he want to dishonor himself in the presence of his POW brethren. He would be tortured anew for his refusal to be released early.

And, yes … I thought of how the current president of the United States disparaged McCain’s heroic Vietnam War service while he was running for the presidency. Donald John Trump Sr. didn’t serve in the military during that terrible conflict, yet he blurted out that McCain was a “hero only because he was captured; I like people who aren’t captured, OK?”

I am reminded of a brief segment at the 2008 Al Smith Memorial Dinner featured Sens. McCain and Barack Obama, who were in the middle of a tough campaign for the presidency. The event is done in good fun and it raises money for the Roman Catholic Diocese in New York in memory of the late New York Gov. Al Smith.

Near the end of his hilarious comic riff, Sen. Obama took a moment to tell the audience that “few Americans have served their country with the distinction and honor” that John McCain has demonstrated.

The PBS documentary and the segment with Sen. McCain lying on that Hanoi bed was tough to watch. It simply reminded me, though, of what heroism looks like.

Recalling a chance meeting with an architect of tragedy

Watching the PBS documentary series “The Vietnam War” brings to mind a chance meeting I had in late 1995 with one of the villains of that national tragedy … Robert McNamara.

I like telling the story, so I’ll provide it here knowing, of course, that it involves only two people — and one of them is dead.

Morris Communications Corp. had convened a meeting of newspaper editors and publishers in Washington, D.C., to discuss how the group had planned to cover the upcoming 1996 presidential election. I was editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, so I got to attend the meeting.

One Sunday morning right after we arrived, we had a day off. I took the time to walk from the hotel to Arlington National Cemetery. The morning was quiet. Traffic was light. Streets had few pedestrians.

I waited at a corner for the light to turn green so I could cross. I noticed an elderly gentleman walking toward me from another corner. He was carrying a shopping bag full of groceries.

I looked and then looked more intently at the gentleman. It was Robert McNamara, secretary of defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He had just published a book, “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.”

In the book, McNamara acknowledged that he knew as early as 1963 that the Vietnam War was a lost cause. He also admitted that he kept quiet about what he believed at the time. He continued to advise Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to keep sending young men to die in Vietnam.

I was one of the young men he allowed to go to Vietnam; I got my orders in the spring of 1969 and reported for duty at Marble Mountain, Da Nang, to work on Army surveillance aircraft.

I was filled at the time of the book’s publication with anger that McNamara would have kept those thoughts so damn private, that he wouldn’t have spoken out in real time about what he believed about the future of that tragic conflict.

He approached me on that quite D.C. street that Sunday morning. “Mr. Secretary,” I said, “I want to introduce myself. My name is John Kanelis. I live in Amarillo,Texas and I just want to tell you how pissed off I am at you after learning about what you wrote in that book you just published. I was one of those men you sent to Vietnam.”

McNamara smiled and said, simply, “You are a very observant young man.” I smiled back at him and offered a conciliatory follow-up. “I am glad that you finally came clean,” I said.

He thanked me. We shook hands and he walked away.

I continued on to Arlington National Cemetery and paid my respects to President Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy.

And I felt better for getting those thoughts off my chest.