Tag Archives: Vietnam War

Taliban ‘declare victory’

It is worth asking: Will the Taliban, who have “declared victory” against the United States, assume a more charitable relationship with their former battlefield adversary … in the manner that Vietnamese have done with former American servicemen and women?

Our military engagement in Afghanistan has ended. The Taliban have pranced around Kabul and other cities proclaiming that they “defeated” the United States. I get how they can make that declaration, even though their battlefield losses were horrific during the 20 years we fought them. Then again, so were the Vietnamese pounded on the battlefield back then, too. Yet they persevered and were able assume control of a government we fought to defend and preserve.

The Taliban have declared victory. Now they must reckon with a country freefalling into chaos (msn.com)

I don’t know about any parallels between then and now. The Taliban are driven by a deep religious fervor steeped in Islamic fundamentalism. The North Vietnamese were driven by a communist ideology that had nothing to do with religion. 

In 1989, I had the honor of returning to Vietnam 20 years after I reported for duty in that long-ago war. The editors with whom I was traveling and I flew from Bangkok to Hanoi for the first leg of our Vietnam tour. We then flew a few days later from Hanoi to what once was known as Saigon but is now called Ho Chi Minh City … named after Uncle Ho.

I remember getting off the plane, boarding a bus and then riding to our hotel. I got off the bus and was greeted — along with my traveling companions — by a gentlemen who asked some of us if we had served there during the Vietnam War. Some of us said “yes,” to which the gentleman said — while smiling broadly — “Welcome back to our country.” 

I found that to be a moving welcome and it portended the kind of relationships we were able to build during our brief time touring Vietnam.

Will any of that be available over time to returning Afghan War vets? Time will tell. I hope for their sake they are able to return to a country that so saw much hell over the span of time we fought there.

That will depend, of course, on whether the Taliban can set aside their religious fervor. Therein lies a fundamental difference between then and now.

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Sirhan gets parole … wow!

This bit of news is going to take some time to sink in.

I am still processing the announcement that Sirhan Bishara Sirhan will be paroled from the California prison system 53 years after he shot my first political hero to death in a hotel kitchen.

Sirhan murdered Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968 moments after RFK declared victory in California’s Democratic presidential primary. Sen. Kennedy would linger for a day before succumbing. Robert Kennedy was 42 years of age and well might have been elected president of the United States. Hmm. Do you think his tragic death might have changed history’s trajectory? We were fighting a terribly unpopular war and Sen. Kennedy wanted to end it.

Let me stipulate that this recommendation does not make parole a done deal. It needs further review and final approval by the governor. However, the absence of any objection from prosecutors and the support of RFK”s family members suggest to me that it’s likely to occur. That Sirhan will walk out of prison.

Oh, my. How does one deal with this?

Two of the senator’s surviving sons, RFK Jr. and Douglas, both argued on behalf of Sirhan’s parole Douglas Kennedy said it is time to give way to grace and forgiveness. How in the world does one argue with the logic from the son of one of U.S. history’s more revered political figures?

I had hoped the 77-year-old Sirhan would spend the rest of his life behind bars. That won’t happen. He reportedly will live with his sole surviving brother.

No word, of course, yet has come from Ethel Kennedy, the slain senator’s wife who was there in the hotel kitchen when her husband was struck down; she was pregnant in that moment with the couple’s 11th child.

I am still trying to roll this one around. I cannot yet reach a decision on how I feel about Sirhan’s pending parole.

All I am feeling at this moment is renewed pain over the loss I felt at that moment when we got word at home in Oregon that RFK had been shot. I remember watching the returns from California. The networks declared Bobby Kennedy the winner and I went to bed a happy young man. I had the pleasure one week earlier of shaking the senator’s hand at a chance meeting in a restaurant parking as he finished campaigning in the Oregon Democratic primary.

Then my mother woke me up. She told me to come downstairs. I watched the horror of the event unfold in real time.

I am not going to express joy for Sirhan Sirhan’s release. I am saddened all over again.

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No repeat of Vietnam?

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

U..S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said today that the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban is “manifestly not like Saigon” in 1975 after the North Vietnamese army took control of the country where more than 58,000 Americans died in battle.

I beg to differ.

The image of Taliban fighters pouring into Kabul reminds many of us precisely of what happened in Vietnam. President Biden said that it would be “highly unlikely” that the Taliban would control everything. Hmm. It didn’t work out that way, Mr. President.

Now comes the remaking of a government in the mold of a harsh regime run by men with a dastardly history of subjugating women. The Taliban, you’ll remember, gave safe haven to the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11.

I happen to believe it was time to end our battlefield involvement in Afghanistan. To that end, President Biden made the correct policy decision. The implementation of that decision, though, leaves plenty of questions to answer.

Why didn’t the military apparatus we supposedly trained to defend the country resist more fervently? Why wasn’t there a strategy laid out for caring for the personnel who aided us during our nation’s longest war? How can we protect our interests against the Taliban terrorists who well might begin plotting to do harm to us? What will Afghanistan look like when the Taliban establish the government?

Secretary Blinken is an honorable man. However, what we have witnessed today is absolutely similar — indeed, it is virtually identical — to what occurred in Vietnam. He needs to change the narrative.

No ‘They died in vain’ rhetoric

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Forgive me if I am getting ahead of myself, but I want to lay down an important marker while the world watches the Taliban take control of Afghanistan provincial capital by provincial capital.

If the worst comes true and the Taliban seize control of the Afghan government, I am going to predict we’re going to hear critics of President Biden’s decision to pull our forces off the battlefield say something akin to this:

“Our young men and women we lost in that war will have died in vain.” 

Can you hear it, too? Of course you can.

I want to say that no matter how this tragedy ends that none of our gallant and brave warriors died “in vain” on the Afghan fields of battle. They died while fighting terrorist monsters who used Afghanistan as a safe haven while they plotted attacks against us. Those attacks culminated in what occurred on 9/11.

Indeed, the “died in vain” mantra we likely will hear from right-wing critics of President Biden’s decision denigrates the service of the thousands of young Americans who perished in defense of our nation and in defense of the Afghan people.

We heard after the Vietnam War that the 58,000 young Americans who died in that conflict did so “in vain.” It enraged me when I heard it then. I lost colleagues in that war. Their deaths, while tragic, occurred as they were upholding the oath they took when they joined the military. That oath compelled them to follow lawful orders and to defend the nation against our enemies.

That is in no way “dying in vain!”

Nor did the Americans who died in Afghanistan die “in vain.” They died heroically and with honor. That is how they must be remembered.

Do right by these translators

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

The effort to shield the men and women who worked with our fighting forces in Afghanistan is a noble effort that must be pursued at full throttle.

President Biden’s expedited withdrawal from the Afghan battlefield carries enormous risk. The Taliban will show no mercy to anyone left behind as we pull our forces out of there. Biden’s plan so far seems to lack the coherence one would expect from a seasoned political hand such as the president.

This isn’t the first time our nation has been forced to deal with the future of those who fought with us on these foreign battlefields.

I am thinking at this moment of a fellow I met in Vietnam while visiting that country in 1989. He drove what they call a cyclo — a motor scooter the Vietnamese use as taxi cabs. I hired this fellow for a day and we became friendly during my time in what used to be called Saigon, but which the government calls Ho Chi Minh City.

What made this guy so special is that he served with the 9th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. He worked with the locals in the Mekong Delta and fought alongside our soldiers. We pulled out of Vietnam in 1973; the South Vietnamese army couldn’t hold off the North Vietnamese, who then conquered the nation in April 1975.

We didn’t rescue my cyclo driver friend. He ended up in what they called a “re-education camp,” a euphemism for prison.

I wrote about this fellow at the time of my visit. I couldn’t use his real name, as he was thought of himself as a marked man in Vietnam. He deserved better than what he got from the government he assisted during that long-ago war.

May the individuals who aided us in Afghanistan get the protection they deserve.

Biden keeps key promise

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

One of the few policy notions from the 45th president of the U.S. with which I agreed dealt with pulling out of “endless wars.”

He made the pledge while running for the presidency in 2016. He kept saying he would do so while serving in the office. He didn’t quite deliver on the pledge.

Today, his successor — President Joe Biden — announced that our involvement in the Afghan War ends on Aug. 31. Period. Full stop.

There will be no more U.S. troop presence on the battlefields there, President Biden told us.

And so, our nation’s longest war — which commenced our war against international terrorism — is coming to an end. There will be no victory declaration. Nor will there be, as Biden told us, any helicopters lifting off from rooftops as there was in Vietnam in April 1975.

Biden has pledged to help provide shelter for the Afghans who helped our military effort during the two decades we fought there, although the plan for providing that aid hasn’t yet been fully developed.

I endorse the pullout. The time has come for the Afghans to defend themselves. We have trained an army, provided an air force and are leaving them with resources to fight the Taliban terrorists who do present an existential threat to the government in Kabul.

Our longest war is about to end. It fills me with relief.

Memorial Day: not a ‘happy’ holiday

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Many millions of Americans are taking an extra day off from work while the nation honors the sacrifice that allows them to take day off.

I am retired, so I don’t get that extra day; indeed, every day is a “weekend” for my wife and me. But I digress.

Memorial Day came into being as Decoration Day. We honor the sacrifice given by those who fell in battle over the course of our great nation’s history.

I came of age during the Vietnam War. I graduated from high school in 1967. Many of us went to Vietnam not long after walking across the stage at our high school football stadium. To the very best of my knowledge, we lost no one in our high school class in that war. Thus, none of my classmates paid the ultimate price in defense of our country and for that I am grateful.

However, I do know about the significance of this holiday. It’s not a happy occasion. So, when a gentleman saw my “Vietnam War veteran” ballcap over the weekend, and extended his hand to thank me for the service I performed, I was a bit taken aback when he wished me a “happy Memorial Day .” He meant well and I hold no hard feelings toward him.

I just want to express my own sincere gratitude for the millions of Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion to the country we all love.

Yes, I am a happy fellow today because I can enjoy the gift that those men and women bequeathed to me when they fell in battle.

About that girl …

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Does the name Mary Ann Vecchio ring a bell with you? Does it strike a familiar note? Hmmm … ?

It didn’t hit me, either, until I opened up a story online from the Washington Post Magazine. I read about Mary Ann Vecchio, who as the author of the Post piece described her, was the most well-known mystery person on Earth.

You’ve seen the picture, yes?

That’s her, kneeling over a young Kent State University student who had just been shot by National Guard troops on the Ohio campus. The students were protesting the Vietnam War on May 4, 1970. I had thought all along that Vecchio was one of those student protesters. She wasn’t.

She was just 14 years of age when a photographer — Kent State senior John Filo — captured this image for the ages. She had run away from her home in Florida to escape her continually quarreling and fighting parents. She ended up in Ohio and, as her very bad luck would have it, she found herself in one of the landmark occurrences of the 20th century.

I didn’t know that Vecchio was just a girl. I had thought all along she was one of the Kent State students who got caught up in that protest and who saw her friend gunned down in the melee.

She also found her image captured for eternity by a student photographer whose picture would win him a Pulitzer Prize.

The girl in the Kent State photo and the lifelong burden of being a national symbol – The Washington Post

I have attached the Post magazine article to this blog item. Take some time to read it. You will be mesmerized by the woman who tells her life story, about her failed marriage and her journey through a tumultuous life that has returned her home from where she fled all those decades ago.

Wow!

He was truly ‘unforgettable’

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Reader’s Digest magazine has a regular feature that tells of the “most unforgettable characters” in people’s lives.

Many of us have met people who fit into that category.

Well, the most unforgettable character in my life has passed on. I got word of his death tonight and I want to share a tale or two with you about him.

His name was Henry L. Quisenberry, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. He was my commanding officer for a time while I served in Vietnam. He died Jan. 31 at his home in Enterprise, Ala.

I reported for duty in Vietnam in the spring of 1969. I was assigned to the 245th Army Surveillance Aircraft Company at Marble Mountain, Da Nang, with orders to report for duty on a crew assigned to service an OV-1 Mohawk.

Col. Quisenberry showed up eventually to assume interim command of the 212th Aviation Battalion. As I recall, our CO was on R&R and Col. Quisenberry was filling in. While he was there, he called me to his office. I had no clue what he wanted.

He was sitting behind a desk. He offered me a cigar and invited me to sit down. “I see here that you’re a Mohawk repairman,” he said. “Well, I am a Mohawk driver.” He told me the Mohawk is a reliable bird and he enjoyed flying it.

He then told me he needed me to report on a temporary duty assignment with what was called the Army Aviation Element, based at the I Corps Tactical Operations Center in Da Nang. My duties would include running a radio, and clearing aircraft to land at a helipad nearby. We scheduled flights for officers and scrambled troop lift and fire support missions for Army helicopter units based at Marble Mountain.

Col. Quisenberry was a fantastic officer. He was loyal to his men and always had our backs. He was serving his third tour of duty in Vietnam and he confided in me that it would be his last tour, that he intended to retire as soon as he returned home. He was a great story teller

An incident occurred that illustrates how reliable he could be in a pinch. A pilot sought to land on our helipad. I was on the radio at the time. I couldn’t quite give him clearance to land; I cannot remember the circumstance. We began arguing over the air about my reluctance to clear him to park his bird. I mentioned Col. Quisenberry over the air, referring to his call sign. The pilot then said, “You better tell Check Pull Alpha Six to get his sh** together,” at which time Col. Quisenberry — who was standing behind me and overheard the entire exchange — grabbed the radio receiver and said, “This is Check Pull Alpha Six. Park your bird and report to me … pahdnuh.

The colonel then chewed the pilot out royally and told him to apologize to me for being an ass over the air.

There you have it. Col. Quiz embedded himself at that moment as the most unforgettable character I ever met.

Trump lost Arizona all by himself

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Right-wing radio gasbag Marc Levin took it upon himself to fire off a Twitter message aimed at Cindy McCain, wife of the late Vietnam War hero U.S. Sen. John McCain.

Cindy decided during the presidential campaign to endorse her husband’s dear friend Joe Biden, favoring the Democrat over the Republican who serves as president of the United States, Donald Trump.

What did Levin say to Cindy McCain? “You cost us Arizona,” he said, complaining about the apparent victory Biden scored in winning Arizona in the still-developing election result.

Umm. No, Mark. Mrs. McCain didn’t cost the GOP a state that had been in reliably Republican for many years. Donald Trump did it. All by himself!

He did it by denigrating Sen. McCain’s heroism while being incarcerated for more than five years during the Vietnam War. He castigated McCain repeatedly, even while he was fighting the cancer that eventually would take his life.

Arizonans had elected McCain to the Senate over many years for a simple reason: They respected his lifetime of service to the nation and the sacrifice he endured while being held captive during a time of war.

What’s more, he delivered valuable public service to the constituents he served in Arizona.

My advice to blowhards like Levin is simply to stop looking for others to blame for Donald Trump’s likely loss.

POTUS’s own big mouth did him in.