The plane roared down the runway until the speed necessary for lift-off was achieved and the wheels left the surface. One second after lift-off, two hundred ten men broke into a deafening roar of spontaneous, and surprising, relief. Our year in Vietnam was over. We were alive. A twelve month tension was suddenly gone. I found myself cheering at exactly the same moment as everyone else.
Those moments of elation are gradually replaced with other realities and priorities. As leaving Vietnam gets more in the past, more pressing current situations alter the priorities. But now its been forty years since that day. On July 26, 1971, I left Vietnam on that DC-10 with the roaring GI's. Nostalgia drives another level of focus on this anniversary. What is the meaning of Vietnam? What did I learn? What did we learn as a nation?
I gathered a few books from my home library to review various Vietnam perspectives:
Achilles in Vietnam by Jonathan Shay; On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman; On Strategy by Col. Harry G. Summers; The Legacy edited by D. Michael Shafer; The War Managers by Douglas Kinnard; Counter-Insurgency Warfare by David Galula; Where We Were in Vietnam by Michael P. Kelley; Chickenhawk by Robert Mason; As I saw It by Dean Rusk; The Soldier and the State by Samuel P. Huntington; The Vietnam Reader edited by Walter Capps; The Living and the Dead by Paul Hendrickson; In Retrospect by Robert S. McNamara; Dereliction of Duty by H.R. McMaster; Argument Without End by Robert S. McNamara; Ending the Vietnam War by Henry Kissinger; Patriots (The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides) by Christian G. Appy; Vietnam Guidebook by Barbara Cohen; Vietnam Now by David Lamb; Vietnam A History by Stanley Karnow; The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990 by Marilyn B. Young; The Long Gray Line by Rick Atkinson; Duty, Honor, Vietnam by Ivan Prashker; Vietnam at War by Phillip B. Davidson; Both Sides of the Wall edited by Remy Benoit; School for Soldiers by Joseph Ellis and Robert Moore; The Vantage Point by Lyndon Baines Johnson; The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam; Duty Honor company by Gil and John Dorland; The Army Officers Guide 49th Edition by Ltc. Keith E. Bonn, USA (Ret); Combat Leader's Field Guide by James J. Gallagher; American Generalship by Edgar F. Puryear; Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevic and Taking the Guidon: Exceptional Leadership at the Company Level by Nate Allen and Tony Burgess.
I have a few more books that relate to Vietnam, most importantly is a volume of poetry by nurses who served in Vietnam. Reading through parts of these books during the last several weeks leads me to read more, and to feel discouraged. I have forgotten a lot, so I'm getting refreshed on the context of America and Vietnam in the "war years".
I feel disappointed as I read the McNamara books and three more that aim at McNamara, the Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He applied production concepts from his experience at Ford to warfare with disastrous results. The betrayal of the troops is reviewed from a unique perspective in Achilles in Vietnam by Dr. Shay, a psychiatrist. On and on the Vietnam story goes. America lied to itself about Vietnam. It won't go away. Will we learn from it faster?
I'll find the poetry book and move ahead, hoping to reflect a bit and flush a bit. History isn't what it used to be. It's becoming what it's becoming. The exhilaration I felt with my comrades when our plane left Vietnam faded with the realization that many didn't return and maybe we as a nation didn't learn the lessons yet. Peace to all.