Thirty five years ago today the United States of America abandoned its embassy in Saigon as the North Vietnamese — soon to be just “Vietnamese” — Army tanks crashed the gates. The vast majority of US personnel had left much earlier, but hundreds of residents of the area formally known as South Vietnam were still trying to get rides on helicopters out to American carriers in the South China Sea. They had backed the wrong horse after all and it was time to get out of Dodge or there would be Hell to pay. As you can see from the picture, all those people on that roof are not going to fit on that UH-1 so I can only imagine the amount of Hell paying in store for those left behind.
10,000 days; 153,452 wounded, 1,740 missing; and — most damning of all — 58,236 dead Americans later we were leaving Vietnam in a whole lot worse shape than how we found it.
Now Wham blood has been spilled in every American conflict from the Revolutionary War through the present “War on Terror” in all its forms. I say that so that the four or five of you who read this will understand how I feel about America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. If you disrespect a soldier in uniform in front of me, one of us is going to tote a butt-whipping. It may very well be me, but you’ll know I was there. I am passionate about the men and women who serve my country. Every drop of their blood is immeasurably precious to me and so I take exception to those who send our men and women off to where that blood may be spilled to no mighty purpose. Vietnam was one of those places and I believe a special circle of Hell awaits men like JFK, LBJ, and Robert McNamara because they spent the blood of our nation’s pride and I challenge anyone to point out ONE positive thing the United States of America received in return.
You may wonder why I am so hung up on Vietnam so I’ll give you the simple answer. The Vietnam War robbed me of any chance I may have had at a good, meaningful relationship with my Daddy. The chubby, blonde 17 year old boy who married Mama before leaving for Southeast Asia never returned. In his place was a stranger plagued by nightmares and flashbacks of day after day of Hell on Earth. In the boy’s place was a man who no longer loved my mother because he no longer loved himself. The boy, who had hardly ever taken an aspirin for a headache, was now a man who, thirty years later, depends on a windowsill full of pill bottles to get him through each day in some semblance of normalcy.
And so help me God above I am proud to be his son. Our relationship may stay in the toilet. We may go months without speaking and he may possess the ability to make me so angry I cannot see straight, but in the midst of it all burns a pride no one can really understand but me because you see, my Daddy went and fought. My friends’ fathers got deferments or used connections to join the National Guard and stay safe from the war . . . like a former President I could name. Not my Daddy. It wasn’t Omaha Beach where Papa waded ashore to free the world from Hitler, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t ask if it was a just war or a stupid war, he just went and did his duty. Whether we can ever talk rationally to each other or not, the fact remains that I AM PROUD OF MY FATHER for going off to war when he could have gotten out of it. My daddy can be difficult for me to like sometimes, but he has always been easy for me to love.
Thirty-five years have come and gone since Vietnam ended, taking a great deal of American pride with it. I wonder if some far future historian might not someday look back at 1965 as the high water mark of the United States, the point at which we began a decline to a country that can send fighting men off where they have no reason to be, but can’t afford to educate and feed its children. I don’t know. I just know that we are in a war now that threatens to rob more boys and girls of their fathers, either by the grave or by the memories.
I don’t have the answer. Love and clean feet can’t solve everything.