My brother Mike was a Vietnam Veteran. We lost him on August 29th. On September 4th we buried him with military honors. I had the hard task of giving his eulogy. The day before I finally found out how he won his bronze star. Mike rarely talked about his personal experiences in Vietnam. While clearing my Dad’s file cabinet I found a couple of letters he wrote. The second told of an attack on his unit that cost them 25% of their people. The only thing he would say in later years is that he wanted to go back and visit because he loved the people. A couple of people remarked they heard him speak on Vietnam but never about the battles themselves. His only daughter found the outline of a speech he gave for one of his classes and later to his church. These are the notes he spoke from exactly as he wrote them. He told Bernadette that he wanted to visit the Vietnam War memorial with her but he passed away before they could go. I had always hoped they could make it and he would find some closure but it wasn't meant to be.
Personal experience speech
Viet-Nam. Just the mention of the word brings out so many different reactions in so many people. Feelings range from pride to revulsion.
I was there. I spent 18 months trudging the fields and paddies of that land – observing, talking with my fellow G.I.'s, talking as best I could with the Vietnamese people.
I am not going to tell you any war stories. We have a saying: those who tell war stories haven't seen it. Those who have seen it don't want to talk about it. I do, however, want to give you my impressions of a war, a war that despite excellent news coverage, most people know little about. A war that most people think of as helicopters and marching.
Recall waiting to go over,
the shots, the movie “Why Vietnam?” believe.
the long flight – nothing but blue
the first blast of humid heat
the creeping crud
the first action – the fear after it was over
The people, our G.I.'s refering to them as Gooks, slopes, dinks – How do you win their minds?
We use elderly to fill sandbags.
turn children to beggars.
We bomb entire villages & count each dead man woman & child as confirmed VC
The people scouring garbage dumps.
The Vietnamese army that refuses to fight, while we take casualties.
The beauty of the countryside from the air
The awesome power & thunder of a B-52 raid
The whorehouses that appear within 3 days.
The open graft of the Vietnamese army officers.
The marine who got 30 days for rape.
The Lieutenant who cowles behind a rock & gets the Silver Star.
My first Vietnamese meal.
Teaching English to 20 Vietnamese children in one schoolroom.
The misery of amoebic dysentery.
I came home. I was disturbed by what I had seen. I had no answers to some very pressing questions. Was our presence there worth the brutal assault on the Vietnamese culture? How could we defend the freedom of a people who weren't free to begin with?
Things weren't as I was told they were. Was our government lying to us? I pray that this isn't so, but if they aren't, I'm left with only one other conclusion. They don't know. They just don't know.