Tag Archives: Vietnam War

An ’embarrassment’? Yeah, do ya think?

Chuck Hagel isn’t your run-of-the-mill Donald John Trump critic.

He once served as defense secretary for President Obama. Oh, but wait! The man isn’t a squishy liberal. He also is a former Republican senator from Nebraska, one of the many states known to be rock-ribbed, red-state Republican bastions. Hagel also is a Vietnam War veteran, serving there in the U.S. Army. He’s been in battle and knows its consequences.

So, when Chuck Hagel calls the president an “embarrassment” to the nation, well, I tend to listen to him.

Hagel sat down with the Lincoln (Neb.) Star-Journal in which he unloaded on the president. He tore into him for his reported “sh**hole countries” comment describing Haiti, El Salvador and nations in Africa that account for many immigrants coming into the United States.

“Donald Trump is doing great damage to our country internationally,” Hagel told the newspaper.

He said lawmakers take an oath to defend the Constitution and not stand blindly behind any individual or their political party. “I was philosophically a Republican with a conservative voting record,” Hagel said, “but that did not mean I would always go along with the party.”

So, he’s not going along. He is speaking from his heart and telling us what’s on his mind. Moreover, he is speaking for a lot of his fellow Americans — such as yours truly — when he tells us that the president is embarrassing us.

I happen to be embarrassed — and ashamed — by the conduct of the man who is our head of state.

Thus, I share Secretary/Sen. Hagel’s pain.

‘The Post’ reminds one of how it used to be

I saw “The Post.” This won’t be a review of the film, except that I simply want to say it was gripping to the maximum degree.

It reminds me of how it used to be in daily print journalism.

I had some trepidation about seeing it. Some of my fellow travelers in the journalism craft had expressed dismay at seeing the film and lamenting what has become of a proud profession. I had a glint of fear that I might share their gloom. I mean, look at what has happened to newspapers all across the nation. They’re shrinking and withering before our eyes as publishers grapple against forces that are overwhelming them: the Internet, the plethora of “news” sources, cable television.

That fear never hit me. Instead, I reveled in the story it told and rejoiced in the victory that The Washington Post scored in the effort to censor it, preventing the government from invoking a prior restraint on a free and unfettered press.

“The Post” tells the story of the paper’s effort to publish the Pentagon Papers, a report written during the Vietnam War. The Papers told of the deception perpetrated on the public by several presidential administrations: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Officials all told of supposed “progress” in the fight against the communists in Vietnam. They lied to the nation. The Pentagon Papers revealed the lie.

The New York Times obtained the papers from Daniel Ellsberg. It got the story out first, then the Nixon administration persuaded a judge to prohibit further publication of the Papers, citing national security concerns.

Post editor Ben Bradlee didn’t see it that way. He eventually guaranteed publisher Katherine Graham that no American fighting man would be harmed if the Post published the rest of the damning document.

The matter ended up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which then ruled 6-3 against the Nixon administration — and in favor of the First Amendment guarantee of a free press.

The film tells that story in gripping fashion.

In a larger sense, though, the film reminds us of the value of press freedom and the good that the freedom brings to a public that needs to know the truth about the government that works for us.

It also reminds us of journalism’s value to a nation that promotes liberty. Indeed, given the current climate and the fomenting of hatred against the press that’s coming from the current presidential administration, “The Post” comes across as profoundly topical and relevant.

I cheered during the film when Graham gave the go-ahead to publish the Pentagon Papers in The Washington Post. The sight of presses turning over brought a lump to my throat.

I worked proudly in that craft for nearly 37 years. I never had the opportunity to cover a story of the magnitude of the Pentagon Papers. I did, though, have my share of thrills about getting a story into print and feeling the impact of that story on the community our newspaper served. I would derive the same satisfaction as I gravitated to opinion journalism and wrote editorials or signed columns that challenged the sources of power in our community.

“The Post,” therefore, didn’t sadden me.

It made me proud to have taken the career path I chose.

Free press: enemy of dictators, not the ‘people’

John McCain speaks with authority when he discusses freedom, the media, authoritarian regimes and liberty.

He lost more than five years of freedom at the hands of captors who held him in bondage during the Vietnam War.

He came home and stayed in service to his country, entering politics. He now serves in the U.S. Senate; he ran twice unsuccessfully for president of the United States. He now is held in high regard for his wartime heroism, his principled public service and his brave battle against cancer.

Comments he made earlier this year were rebroadcast today. He told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd that Donald Trump’s assaults on the media are destructive to our democratic system and they undermine one of the principles on which this country was founded.

Sen. McCain noted that the president’s bullying of the media and his habit of calling out individual journalists is counterproductive in the extreme.

He joked with Todd that he might “hate you,” but the country needs the media to be free of intimidation and it must be allowed to do its job without the kind of bullying that’s coming repeatedly from the president and his White House team.

Yet, the president insists on attacking the media. He continues to curry favor with the Fox News Channel while condemning the work being done by other media. Why? It’s obvious that Fox tilts toward the president and declines to ascribe much critical analysis of his policies. The network appears to many eyes — mine included — to be fulfilling Trump’s insatiable desire to be complimented, to be admired.

That’s not the role the media are supposed to play. The nation’s founders said a “free press” must not be controlled by the government in any fashion. They wrote it down, codifying it in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This independence enables the media to do their job. It allows them to hold public officials at all levels accountable. If they speak untruths, the media are compelled to call them on it.

Finally, they cannot be coerced into shying away from their responsibility because politicians — even the president — like to label them as “fake news.”

John McCain is far from the only contemporary politician who understands this tenet. The problem is that the country’s most powerful politician — the president — is poisoning the political process by trying to intimidate the media, which must remain free of such pressure.

As Sen. McCain told Todd: Trump’s bullying of the media is the conduct of a dictator.

Wall serves to remind us of darker time

These toddlers don’t yet know what they’re seeing. They don’t yet know what those names engraved on that black wall symbolize.

My sincere hope is that Grandma and Grandpa will tell them one day. I hope, too, that when they show the children pictures of them standing next to that wall that they’ll explain the names and tell them what their presence on that wall means.

I ventured to John Stiff Memorial Park in southwest Amarillo this morning to pay my respects to the 58,000 men and women who died in the Vietnam War. “The Wall That Heals” is here through the weekend. The miniature version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., will be open 24 hours, enabling Vietnam veterans — if they so choose — to visit the wall and to reflect quietly on what it symbolizes.

I had hoped to talk to vets about their emotions, perhaps to share with them how I was able to heal my own heart in 1989 by visiting Vietnam 20 years after I reported for duty at an Army surveillance aviation battalion at Marble Mountain, just south of Da Nang.

It didn’t happen. I chose to keep my distance from those men. I don’t regret failing to engage them in conversation, as I am confident they have had The Talk with other peers, family members and strangers.

The wall, though, always is worth seeing. It provides a “welcome home” to those Vietnam veterans who didn’t get that simple greeting in real time as they were coming home from war.

Too many Americans did the unthinkable back in those days. They took their anger at a deeply flawed military and foreign policy on the men and women who merely were following orders. They did what their government ordered them to do. For that they were scorned.

It was a moment that will live in eternal shame.

I was among the more fortunate veterans, as I didn’t witness any of the spitting and name-calling, let alone experience it.

We all know it happened.

Time does have a way of making people — and nations — wiser. It did so with our national relationship with Vietnam War veterans.

The Wall That Heals is a demonstration of those evolving attitudes.

Let us hope as well that the children pictured with this post hear also from their elders about how the nation has grown up.

‘Wall That Heals’ comes to Amarillo

They call it “The Wall That Heals.”

It has been brought to Amarillo, Texas. It has been placed at John Stiff Memorial Park in the southwest corner of the city. It is a replica of one of the most powerful memorials ever built: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

I intend to visit this wall. Maybe it’ll be Friday. Maybe on Saturday. Maybe both days.

Allow me this bit of candor. It won’t “heal” me. It won’t bind any emotional wounds. It won’t bring me peace that was lost long ago.

But I want to see it. I want to visit with some brethren who’ll be there to pay their respects, perhaps to one or more of the men and women whose names are etched on that wall. It contains the names of more than 58,000 mostly young Americans who died during the Vietnam War.

I’ve had the extreme pleasure of seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. I’ve seen it three times. The first time was in 1990; the second in 1996; the third time just this past June.

But here’s the thing: My healing, my emotional reckoning occurred the year prior to visiting The Wall in 1990. It arrived in November 1989, while visiting Vietnam two decades after being deployed there as a young soldier.

The moment of healing occurred while I and two friends were walking along the sandy soil at Marble Mountain, just south of Da Nang, where I served as an Army aircraft mechanic during the Vietnam War. I served in a secure area. It bristled with Army, Marine Corps and Navy equipment and personnel. We shared an airfield with the Marines. The Navy had a big logistics base across the highway from our battalion.

Our guide was walking with us that day in November 1989. She told us how the Vietnamese swallowed up all that we left behind when our military involvement in Vietnam ended in 1973.

That’s when it overcame me. I started sobbing. I cried hard, man! It lasted about two, maybe three minutes. Then it was over. I wiped the tears off my face. I took a deep breath.

Then I realized it: The war is over!

That was my healing moment.

I hope this weekend to share that experience with fellow vets who haven’t had the honor I received when I returned to that beautiful land. I also hope the wall will heal them them, too.

Are we more divided than ever?

I am old enough to have lived through some deep national divisions.

* We have the Vietnam War that tore us into two camps: Hawks vs. Doves. The Hawks wanted to fight the war to a battlefield victory; the Doves wanted out of that conflict. Riots erupted in our streets. Blood flowed.

* Then came Watergate. A team of goofballs sought to break into the Democratic National Committee offices. They were arrested and charged with burglary. Then it went downhill from there. President Nixon’s re-election committee became involved. The president sought to cover it up. Republicans stood behind the president; Democrats wanted his political head to roll. The president resigned.

* After that, President Clinton faced impeachment. Why? Ostensibly it was because he lied to a grand jury about his relationship with That Woman. Republicans were looking for a reason to impeach him. The president gave it to them. Republicans detested Clinton from the beginning of his presidency. Democrats stood firmly with him. The Senate acquitted Clinton.

* And then we had the 2000 election. President Bush was elected despite getting fewer popular votes than Vice President Al Gore. It came down to Florida’s results. They started recounting the ballots. The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 to stop the recount. Bush was elected with 537 votes to spare in Florida. He won the state’s electoral votes. Republicans hailed the victory; many Democrats never quite got over it.

All of those prior divisions seem to pale in comparison to what we’re witnessing now. Donald J. Trump won on a platform that preached nativism, nationalism, populism. It’s us against them. He vowed to “put America first” and to “make America great again.”

He also vowed to “unify” the nation.

The president has done nothing of the sort. Indeed, it strikes me that he’s deliberately sought to do precisely the opposite. He keeps re-litigating the election, which he won! He keeps picking needless fights with pro football players who protest police practices, with media representatives, with Gold Star families.

This is how you unify the country?

Just today, the president lined up with a GOP Senate candidate who’s been accused of sexual assault on children. Why is that? Because he’s not a Democrat! The president’s base adores this kind of rhetoric. It doesn’t matter how divisive it is and how it contradicts what the president himself vowed to do after winning a bitter, contentious, hateful campaign.

I can speak only for the eras I have witnessed. This era’s division seems deeper than anything I have watched in the past 50 years.

The worst element of this division is that its catalyst occupies the White House.

WT set to honor vets who gave their full measure

I am proud of West Texas A&M University, even though I never attended the school; nor did either of my sons.

My pride stems from the decision to erect a memorial on the WT campus that honors those grads from the school who have given their full measure of devotion in service to their country.

They broke ground the other day, with several dignitaries on hand to turn some dirt over to symbolize the start of construction.

This project exemplifies in my mind the nation’s continuing redemption toward the way it treats those who have served in the nation’s military. It wasn’t always this way, as those of us old enough can remember.

I was struck to see Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell (second from left in the picture attached to this post) among those breaking ground. Houdashell is a buddy of mine and he — like yours truly — served in Vietnam during the war that tore the nation apart. The national reaction to that war sank the nation to its emotional nadir as it related to its treatment of veterans. I know that Houdashell remembers that time, because he has told me so.

That was then. The here and now brings loads of respect and affection for the men and women who have answered the call.

As for the WT memorial, it will bring additional honor to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in every war this nation has fought since 1917, when we entered World War I.

Times do change. So do attitudes. It’s part of a national maturation. Indeed, the nation hasn’t always acted maturely where its veterans are concerned.

We’re doing so now — and that’s all that really matters.

Vets are bound together by common experience

I heard an interesting analysis on National Public Radio about the dysfunction that has troubled the U.S. Congress in recent years.

It is that so few members of Congress — House members and senators — are veterans. The analyst noted that today, about 20 percent of congressmen and women are veterans; that total used to be around 70 percent.

Do you see where this is going?

We’re about to celebrate Veterans Day and I thought that observation was worth noting as a way to suggest that military service has contributed to a better-functioning Congress than what we have today.

I think of the World War II veterans who came home from completing their mission to save the world from tyranny. They went about rebuilding their lives. Some of them chose careers in public service. The ran for the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. They won and were thrown together on Capitol Hill.

They forged partnerships and friendships. They had a common bond. Their friendship crossed the partisan divide. Democrats and Republicans all had been to battle. They all had fought a common enemy.

Congressional lore is full of legendary friendships that bridged that partisan divide: Republican Bob Dole and Democrat Daniel Inouye; Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy; Republican Barry Goldwater and Democrat George McGovern. These men were political opponents, but they each respected each other. They had earned their mutual respect because of their service in defense of the nation they all loved.

The Vietnam War produced a similar bond among brothers. Republican John McCain and Democrat John Kerry became good friends during their time in the U.S. Senate. They worked together to craft a normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. Republican Chuck Hagel returned from ‘Nam to serve in the Senate, along with Democrat Bob Kerrey.

The Vietnam War generation, along with the World War II and the Korean War generation, contributed mightily to a government that actually worked.

That kind of camaraderie appears to be missing today. Yes, Congress is sprinkled with vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. They, too, belong to both major political parties. I don’t sense that they have yet made their mark on the larger governing body. Perhaps it will come in due course.

The veterans who have served first in the military and then in both chambers of Congress have done demonstrated the value of common experience. It translates into political comity and collegiality … a lot more of which we can use today.

Hoping we don’t pervert Veterans Day

The nation is going to celebrate Veterans Day soon.

There will be parades, speeches, statements of gratitude and expressions of pride and thanks for those who have served in the military.

Our oldest veterans are in their 90s now. They saved the nation from tyranny. Those who answered the call in the decades since World War II also served to protect our national rights and liberty and the aspects that make this country so unique and special among the roster of nations around the world.

Of late, we’ve seen a perversion of what we’ve all sought to honor and salute. I was one of those vets who spent some time in the Army. My country sent me to Vietnam during a much different time, when we weren’t so grateful for the service performed by those of us who did our duty.

We all served to protect our special liberties. They include the right to protest our government policies. That right is protected stringently by the U.S. Constitution. The perversion has come from those who have castigated U.S. citizens who happen to be profession athletes; those athletes have chosen to protest certain government policies by “taking a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem at the start of sporting events.

Even the president of the United States has weighed in, saying those athletes are “disrespecting” the flag, the nation and those who served the nation in the military.

I beg to differ with the president. There’s no disrespect being shown toward any of what’s been described. As a veteran, I take not one ounce of personal affront to those who kneel to express their political point of view.

Indeed, I believe we all served to guarantee them the right to do what they have done … and continue to do.

So, as we prepare to honor our veterans yet again this year, let us be mindful of the rights we have and of the Americans who have fought — and died — to guarantee we can exercise them without fear of recrimination.

This vet got one heck of a surprise

FOUNTAIN, Colo. — I am about to offer a brief illustration of just how far this country has come in its treatment of Vietnam War veterans.

It has come a long way from the bad old days when vets from that conflict were treated with maximum disrespect and, dare I say, dishonor.

We ventured to this city to meet with good friends. They recommended a place they were anxious to try out. It’s called “Sarge’s”; it is owned by a U.S. Army veteran and it caters to vets. Its walls are decked out in military insignia, pictures, knickknacks, this and that.

The owner of the place came to our table to chat us up. I didn’t get his name, so I’ll refer to him only as “Sarge.” I asked him about his career: He retired in the summer of 2016 after 23 years of active duty; he was an infantryman. “Oh, you must have seen combat,” I said. Yes, he answered, reeling off deployments to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then I mentioned that my last duty deployment was with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which formerly was based in Fort Carson, Colo., just up the road from where we ate our dinner; I served with the unit when it was based at Fort Lewis, Wash. I told him I had trained as an aircraft mechanic and then served in Vietnam with an Army aviation unit and then was sent to serve as a flight ops specialist at the I Corps Tactical Zone operations center in Da Nang.

“The Army, in its wisdom, then sent me to the 3rd Cav and let me drive a five-ton cargo truck,” I said. “Hey, it makes perfect sense me,” Sarge said with a laugh.

Then he summoned one of his employees over, whispered something to him and then declared he was reducing our dinner tab by 50 percent. “I take half off for all Vietnam and Korean War vets,” he said.

I … was … stunned. What none of us realized at the moment was that he discounted the tab for all four of us.

“Don’t I have to show you proof that I served in ‘Nam?” I asked. “Oh, no. You just said it without missing a beat,” he said. “That’s good enough for me.”

This likely would not have happened in 1970 when I returned home from my Army service. Please understand that I did not suffer the indignity inflicted on many other of my Vietnam War brothers. I merely watched it unfold in real time as we all sought to start our lives as we returned to “The World.”

I merely wanted to mention how Sarge has exhibited with a simple act of kindness to someone he didn’t know who merely said he had served in a long-ago conflict.

America, you indeed have come a long, long way.