Tag Archives: Vietnam War

Young man shows respect

CLINES CORNERS, N.M. — If you think today’s younger generation is going to hell, I want to tell you that I met a young man today who is being taught well by his mother.

I stopped at this tourist stop-truck stop east of Albuquerque today. I was wearing one of my ballcaps that identifies me as a Vietnam War veteran. The store was crowded; folks were jammed in there shoulder-to-shoulder.

I walked toward a young woman who was with her son, who I figure is about 12 or 13 years of age. She looked at me, noticed my cap and turned to her son and said: “What do you say to this gentleman?”

The boy looked at me and said, “Thank you for your service.”

I was, um, taken aback. I thanked the youngster, shook his hand and patted his shoulder.

I should have thanked Mom for teaching her young son to show respect for his elders. But … I let that lapse. I mean, it’s not as if she needed any affirmation from a stranger.

It was a remarkable moment, fleeting though it was. It merely confirmed what I have noted a time or two on this blog, which is that I believe we older folks are leaving this world in good hands.


On another matter at this very location, I was getting ready to climb back into my pickup to continue my journey west when I noticed another truck with a bumper sticker that read (get ready for it!): Trump Won Demos Cheated.

I laughed. Out loud. The driver or other occupants of the vehicle weren’t around to hear me. I wish they were around. I would have laughed even more loudly. I might even have pointed to ’em and told ’em they were nuttier than a Snickers bar.

I hereby am going offer my hope that the young man I met at this busy spot on the side of the highway will be able to dismiss the crap he sees from the grownups who still walk this Earth.


Love it or leave it? Hardly!

Something has been stuck in my craw ever since I became politically active … which occurred a long time ago. So, I am taking a moment to spit it out.

I came of age politically during the Vietnam War. Those of us who opposed conduct of the war were shouted down by those who hollered at us to “love it or leave it!”

You know what they meant, right? They meant that we should accept the United States for all its flaws and room for improvement or just plain leave the country.

Well … I want to explain myself on that one.

First of all, I donned an Army uniform for my country in August 1968. The Army then trained me to be a soldier and then sent me to Vietnam to take part in that aforementioned war. I did. I came home. But you know what? I was just as confused about why we were there as I was when I got my orders.

I wanted to improve the country of my birth. I wanted it to be a better place.

Do not misunderstand me on this. I love my country, flaws and all. I served my country honorably for two years when I went to war. However, I never have begrudged those who resisted service in the military for reasons that only they could feel. We all have principles. War resisters acted on their own set of values and I honor that belief.

The nation today seemingly is even more divided now than it was a half-century ago. The divisions are not so much along the line separating war and peace. They are marked by whether we are loyal to a politician or to the country and its Constitution.

I do not hear as much of the “love it or leave it” mantra that was all the vogue in the previous century. However, I know it’s still out there.

Accordingly, my craw is now clear of what had been stuck in there since my fellow Americans sought to get America’s critics to leave the country we all love as much as the faux patriots who sought to evict us.


Blast from violent past

The tumult and tempest arising from the arrival of immigrants and, yes, refugees from Latin America have in their way taken me back to an earlier time in Texas when such new arrivals spawned violent protests and outright hatred.

Republican governors have taken great joy in sending migrants to Democratically held jurisdictions in a ploy to stick it in their ear. You favor welcoming these folks? Here, you can have ’em!

The Vietnam War ended in 1975 and with the end of the shooting in Vietnam thousands of refugees fled from Southeast Asia to the United States. They didn’t want to live under communist rule, so they found their way to the Land of Opportunity.

Many of those refugees settled along the Texas coast, seeking to resume their lives as fishermen and women. They sought to capitalize on the shrimp harvest opportunities. Not everyone welcomed them.

The Ku Klux Klan reared its ugly and evil head, raiding the Vietnamese shrimp fleets, cutting their nets and threatening the newcomers with violence if they didn’t leave the country. There was violence. Klansmen were charged with bringing physical harm and death to the Vietnamese.

Over time, though, the violence subsided. Today, in communities such as Port Arthur — with its substantial Vietnamese-American population — you find the influence of the descendants of those refugees in a most remarkable way. Check out the honor rolls of public high schools and you see plenty of names such as Nguyen, Phang and Lam. Yes, the children and grandchildren of those refugees excel academically and take that excellence with them into successful careers as adults

Do we really want to deny the current refugees — who flee communist tyranny in places such as Nicaragua and Venezuela — the same opportunity to succeed?

Let’s get real.


Public service or sacrifice?

It is virtually impossible to find any situation equal to what public servants are experiencing in this era of petulance, but I might have a close example.

Gillespie County, Texas, no longer has an elections department because its officials have resigned over the harassment they have received in light of the 2020 presidential election. Teachers have quit their jobs because parents have grown intolerably angry over mask mandates and other requirements imposed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The closest example to this I have experienced in my lifetime occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Americans turned their anger over the Vietnam War to those of us who participated in it. Our military personnel were following lawful orders but when they returned home from that war, they were treated in many cases like war criminals.

We grew out of that anger … eventually.

My hope now is that we can outgrow what is occurring now.

As the Dallas Morning News noted in an editorial:

This needs to stop. We believe in an America where people are willing to listen to each other, where they are willing to see the humanity in another person, where we are willing to admit maybe there is another side to the story.

That’s called maturity. It’s something that’s in too short supply these days. Some growing up would do us good.


RFK … oh, how I miss him

Robert Francis Kennedy died 54 years ago today.

He had been shot the previous day just as he declared victory in the California Democratic Party presidential primary. Sen. Kennedy had righted his campaign and well might have won his party’s nomination later that year in Chicago.

He also might have been elected president of the United States in the fall of 1968. Alas, fate had other plans for RFK.

He fought for his life for 24 hours before succumbing to his wounds.

RFK left behind a nation full of those of us who remember fondly his promise of a new day of peace. He wanted to end the Vietnam War, a war he once supported on behalf of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. The carnage on the battlefield and the lack of a winning strategy became too much for RFK.

He wanted American forces to leave Vietnam and he vowed to do whatever he could do as president to ensure that day would arrive much sooner than it eventually did.

I was in my late teen years when Bobby Kennedy died. I would venture to Vietnam the following spring. I came home later as confused as I was when I reported for duty. I kept asking: What was the point, the mission, the end game? I didn’t know and I couldn’t find a senior military officer who knew the answer, either.

I wanted, therefore, to take a brief moment to recall the grievous loss of a political titan who well could have delivered us from the misery we were about to endure.


Honor the fallen

Americans take time each year to honor those who died in battle. They died to protect our freedom at home. I join in honoring their sacrifice and thanking them for the liberty I continue to enjoy.

I was fortunate at many levels. I came of age in the 1960s. My generation faced the prospect of fighting a war in a faraway land. I found myself answering the call to duty in Vietnam, arriving there in the spring of 1969 to maintain Army aircraft in a place called Marble Mountain, just south of Da Nang.

One level of good fortune is that no one in my high school class died in service in Vietnam. We have lost many of them over the years to an assortment of accidents and illness.

Nor did I lose any “buddies” in Vietnam, although one young man with whom I was acquainted died in June 1969 while ferrying soldiers on what intelligence said would be a “routine” troop lift. It turned out to be nothing of the sort. Jose De La Torre died that day in a horrible fire fight.

I honor his sacrifice and truth be told, I am wondering at this moment how his loved ones in California are feeling this weekend as the nation honors his supreme sacrifice.

My hope is that we honor these Americans every day, not just a single day or a single weekend. I try to do my feeble part simply by offering quiet expressions of thanks for the service they performed.

I am doing so at this very moment.

With that, let us all go forward and enjoy the Memorial Day holiday while remembering why we’re still able to do so.


Can he declare victory?

The late U.S. Sen. George Aiken, a great Republican from Vermont, once lamented that the nation could conclude the Vietnam War simply by saying: “Let’s just declare victory and go home.”

The war was going badly, even though American forces were winning on the battlefield. Our victories were overshadowed by protests at home as Americans grieved over the casualties we suffered for a mission that no one at the Pentagon was able to articulate.

Russians are facing possibly the same the dilemma. Their forces invaded Ukraine months ago. The idea was to subdue Ukraine quickly, tossing out the government led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and installing a pro-Moscow puppet to dance to the tune called by Russian despot Vladimir Putin.

It didn’t happen.

The Ukrainians are fighting for their survival against Russians who are fighting to soothe the ego of a dictator.

Can the Russians now just “declare victory” the way Sen. Aiken saw many decades ago? It’s all right with me.

I want the bloodshed to end. I am sickened by the destruction brought to Ukraine. I am heartened, though, by the courage that Ukrainians are demonstrating — under Zelenskyy’s leadership — in fending off the invaders.

As for Putin’s possible victory declaration, I want to stipulate that none of that would preclude an international trial on charges of war crimes being leveled against this monstrous tyrant. By any measure one can make that charge against Putin, given that his forces have struck soft targets — schools, hospitals and apartment complexes — in direct violation of the Geneva Accords meant to govern the rules of war.

Let the bastard declare victory and then then commence a trial to convict him of crimes against humanity.


Is he ‘best’ we can offer?

I happen to believe in public opinion political surveys, even if they produce results that confound me. I am no expert on polling, but I do know that the best surveys are done without bias and they seek to reach the broadest sample of respondents possible.

That all said, I am officially beyond all reason at surveys that continue to show Donald J. Trump to be Republicans’ favorite for the 2024 presidential nomination. Why the confusion, the bafflement, the dizzying emotions?

Allow me to list some aspects of The Donald’s life in and out of politics. To wit:

  • He has admitted to mauling women, to assaulting them sexually because of his “fame.”
  • While campaigning for president, he mocked a physically disabled New York Times reporter.
  • He denigrated a Gold Star family, whose son died in combat during the Iraq War; the family happens to be Muslim.
  • Trump also denigrated the late Sen. John McCain’s heroism during the Vietnam War because, he said, McCain was a “hero only because he was captured. I like people who aren’t captured, OK?”
  • He has admitted to cheating on his first two wives and was accused of taking part in a one-time tumble with a porn star shortly after his third wife gave birth to the couple’s son.
  • He claims to be a man of faith, but denies a basic Christian tenet of seeking forgiveness; he said he never has sought to be forgiven for any sin he has committed.
  • Trump told a former associate that anyone who served during the Vietnam War was “stupid,” because the war was so politically unpopular at home.
  • He cannot tell the truth; Trump lies about … everything.

I am likely missing something, but you get my drift, I am sure.

It is this, for those to whom I should explain: If we are going to insist on restoring American “greatness,” is this the man we should follow down that path? Does this individual appear to the best we have to offer?

No! A thousand times no! He embodies the worst among us and for that reason I am totally and completely baffled as to how this cult leader manages to hold such sway with so many Americans.

I am shaking my head in disbelief.


Russia: third-rate power

Barry McCaffrey knows military matters better than just about anyone on Earth. I mean, the guy served combat tours in Vietnam, then rose through the ranks to get four stars pinned on his uniform. He served was a division commander and then led the Central Command in the Middle East.

So … when retired Army Gen. McCaffrey describes Russia as a “third-rate military power,” I tend to believe him. He does offer an important caveat, which is that Russia possesses a first-rate nuclear arsenal. As for its conventional fighting prowess, McCaffrey isn’t impressed with the way the Russians fight conventional battles.

All of this is my way of suggesting that McCaffrey could be onto something when he suggests that Ukraine might be able to earn enough of a battlefield stalemate against the Russian aggressors to force the Russian despot Vladimir Putin to seek some sort of “exit ramp” off the field of battle.

I have said all along — and I don’t proclaim to have any special knowledge of this — that Ukraine isn’t defenseless against the Russian onslaught. Ukraine does have a significant army and air force. It has been shooting down Russian aircraft and it certainly has inflicted a significant number of casualties among Russian personnel.

Putin well might have deluded himself into thinking the Russian armed forces would waltz into Kyiv, declare victory and then set up a puppet government all in short order. That ain’t happening.

Which takes me back to the start of this post. If the Russians are a third-rate conventional military power, what is their dictator thinking when he sends his personnel into battle against a force determined to protect its homeland against naked aggression?


A remarkable man passes on

I hate getting news like this, but at my age I fear they are becoming more frequent.

A friend of mine in Amarillo called this morning with news that a mutual friend of ours has died. Most of you don’t know Gene Gifford, but I’ll take a brief moment to acquaint you with a truly remarkable man.

He grew up in Amarillo. Gene, to borrow a phrase, was an “acquired taste,” but once you acquired it you learned to love this man. My wife and I loved him dearly.

He played football at Tascosa High School. He went on to attend the University of Texas-Austin, where he continued to play football. He warmed the bench for most of his time at UT while the Longhorns played football for the legendary coach Darrell Royal. Gene talked openly about his time at UT and laughed at himself because he lined up at practice against his teammates, rarely getting to play against opposing teams.

Gene then went into the Air Force, graduated from officers’ candidate school, went to flight school and earned his wings after learning how to fly high-performance jet fighters. Then he got his orders to Vietnam to fight in the war. When he arrived in-country, Gene got a serious surprise. He wouldn’t fly the high-performance jet on which he qualified. The USAF would put him in a slow-speed reconnaissance plane, a propellor-driven O-1 Bird Dog, and he would serve as a forward spotter for artillery units. Gene would become a sitting duck for enemy gunners. He got through it, came home and became a financial adviser.

Gene Gifford was known as “Dirty Giff” to his friends and his grandchildren. He was a man’s man, as hard-bitten a conservative as anyone I ever met. He wore his politics on both sleeves and was unafraid to express his opinion on anything at any time and to anyone who was within earshot.

We met Gene Gifford not long after we moved to Amarillo in 1995. We became friends, but only after I told one time after he needled me about some political issue: “Gene, I am convinced that you don’t believe half the crap that flies out of your mouth.” I recall that he was caught flat-footed by that rebuke.

Our friendship blossomed after that moment.

Gene suffered personal tragedy; his son died in an auto accident years ago. He was an avid horseman but suffered a serious injury when a horse fell on him. He fought through his heartache and his physical injury.

Gene was ill for several years. The call that informed me that Gene had died came from one of his former colleagues who loved him as much as we did. In a strange way, it was a call I half-expected to get. When it came, though, it still hurt deeply.

Then again, we are reaching that stage in life when we should expect them more often.

Still, I will miss my friend.