Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Long Time Ago ... In a Country Far, Far Away ...

A strange anniversary this week, marking the end of a war ... a very different sort of anniversary, being observed in a markedly different manner from the ends of other conflicts we have celebrated.

This Saturday, April 30, will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of South Vietnam's capital Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1975, ending the Vietnam War and reuniting North and South Vietnam.

Needless to say, there are all kinds of anniversary features running everywhere in the media, and that includes the blogosphere. You name it ... multi-part series, historical features and retrospectives, electronic journals from participants in that original conflict as they return to that troubled part of the world ... it's all out there right now.

Among those many, many topical features, is one produced by a member of Midland's own part of the blogosphere, Wallace at Streams. Wallace's life included a tour of duty in Vietnam during the war. But, in addition to his own insight, we are treated this week to postings from a friend of his, Joe Galloway, who spent the better part of five years in Vietnam as a journalist with UPI. You may not recognize Galloway's name, but you're probably familiar with the Mel Gibson movie, "We Were Soldiers," which was adapted from his writings. Streams this week also features a few stories about other acquaintances of Wallace's who served in Vietnam ... all-in-all, a good stop for those trying to understand that conflict, and the era which it defined.

My own recollections of that era would be a little different. I was busy graduating from high school the spring that Saigon was overrun. Me? I was looking forward to going to college in the fall. By that time, America's involvement in the Vietnam War had already been reduced to near-zero. We still registered for the draft, but most of us realized that there was less and less chance of us being called-up. If America had still been mired in Vietnam? ... I don't know. My father had already served two tours in Vietnam, and was pretty adamant that we would NOT have two generations of our family fighting there. One part of our family or another had been serving in the armed forces since the 1770s. But very few of us had gone to college. That was something my father and others of his generation were out to change.

But I was probably better-informed than most kids my age ... all of us military brats were, really. Still, though, it's a little unsettling to realize things that were a common part of our country's shared knowledge and vocabulary - even among civilians - seem to have been totally forgotten by just about everyone under the age of 40. Tonkin Gulf Resolution, Quang Tri, Hue, DMZ, Ho Chi Minh Trail, Mekong Delta, My Lai, ARVN, VC/Charlie ... what is all that stuff, anyway?

Important? Maybe. At least, if people are going to argue whether or not the Iraq War is Becoming another Vietnam War, maybe they should have a little more knowledge of one to compare to the other.

I like to think, though, that maybe we learned some things from the Vietnam era. Even those who oppose the Iraq War today, at least support the men and women sent over their to fight. A far cry from the response soldiers received in America back in the 60s and 70s ... not just the name-calling and spitting from protesters, but also the incidents where some local chapters of veterans organizations declined to welcome Vietnam vets, afraid they might have to rub elbows with some youngster strung out on dope and rock'n'roll ... who wasn't really in a war, anyway, but a 'police action' ... and who lost it, to boot. And are you old enough to remember the days when just about every police drama on television - from "Hawaii 5-Oh" to "Streets of San Francisco" - had an episode where some Vietnam vet would freak out and start killing everybody around him?

Next time, let's do better.


Pancho said...

Thanks for the mention....and more importantly the mention of the anniversary, something indeed probably lost in the clutter of history to the younger crowd.

I suspect Galloway will be in town in the next several months, in addition to Bruce Crandall who was portrayed by Greg Kinnear in the movie. Bruce was also the aviation advisor on the film. Bruce and his wife stop by to see us twice a year and we usually have a little "get together" for them. I'll put you on the invite list.

ET said...

I have a huge interest in the Vietnam War after taking a graduate class on Vietnam Literature a year ago, so I am happy to see that I am not alone in thinking that Vietnam needs to be taught, remembered, and learned from (not repeated). I also agree with you that we must support the members of our military, even when we disagree with the war. The terrible treatment of soldiers returning from Vietnam is one of the lowest moments in U.S. history, and these soldiers still bear the scars from their time away from the World. It is too bad that we cannot hold accountable those who really are, but we should at least make others aware of the war, or police action, or whatever you want to name it. And to your list of terms that everyone should know, I think we should add one more: My Lai.