11-29: Vietnam, in the Beginning

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece which comes from History.com for November 27, 1965.]

[Wars Cause PTSD. Whether tomorrow, a decade from now, or 30 years down the line, the war experience today will torture a soldier’s mind. It is not necessary to argue, debate, or fight about our reason(s) for going to war; it is the act of war that attacks the psyche. End the wars, end the suffering.]

As frequent visitors to this space know, I was drafted in October 1965. Thus, the events reported below, which occurred November 27, 1965—more than a month-and-a-half later—intrigue me.

Pentagon Wants More Men in Vietnam

The Pentagon informs President Johnson that if General Westmoreland is to conduct the major sweep operations necessary to destroy enemy forces during the coming year, U.S. troop strength should be increased from 120,000 to 400,000 men [worldwide].

Dates Don’t Jive

When I and the 196th Light Infantry Brigade landed at Vung Tau during summer 1966, U.S. troop strength in-country ballooned to about 50,000. By summer 1967 the number bloated to about 500,000. Virtually all of the grunts in the 196th were draftees, having been plucked from the so-called real world and assembled at Fort Devens, Massachusetts in October. Somebody knew something before November 27.

VC Release Hostages

Also on this day: The Viet Cong release two U.S. special forces soldiers captured two years earlier during a battle of Hiep Hoa, 40 miles southwest of Saigon.

That puts U.S. special forces soldiers in Vietnam in 1963.

At a news conference in Phnom Penh three days later, the two Americans, Sgt. George Smith and Specialist 5th Class Claude McClure, declared that they opposed U.S. actions in Vietnam and would campaign for the withdrawal of American troops. Although Smith later denied making the statement, U.S. authorities announced that the two men would face trial for cooperating with the enemy.

How about that? We had an “enemy” even before we had a war … and freed American POWs “would face trial for cooperating with the enemy.” Where was the outrage?

Protests Begin

Also on this day: In Washington, nearly 35,000 war protestors circle the White House for two hours before moving on to the Washington Monument. Dr. Benjamin Spock, Coretta Scott King, and activist Norman Thomas were among those who gave speeches.

Funny, we troops didn’t hear about this while training for war in the jungles of the Great American Northeast … in the fall/winter. I can say unequivocally that on this day in history I was in the middle of basic training: no newspapers, no radio or TV, no phone calls home. We were preparing for a war not yet declared—and never to be declared—while citizens were already protesting.

Many of my fellow “Chargers” find pride in knowing that the 196th was the first full brigade to deploy to Vietnam and was the last to leave in 1975. I feel more numbed than chest inflated. Nearly 60,000 names are etched into the “Wall” on the mall in Washington, D.C. None of them got to hear Spock, King, or Thomas. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. We/they had an enemy to defeat.



The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

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