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THE FORGOTTEN SOLDIERS OF THE VIETNAM WAR
While exchanging emails with a correspondence friend in Europe, I found some touching anecdotes about the ARVN soldiers that the friend mentioned and I would like to share with you by posting his email below. Actually, those were the social facts that most South Vietnamese would perceive during the wartime. Unfortunately what we used hear (especially in the Vietnamese music) or read on the fate of ARVN soldiers at that time were all the "sugar coated" songs and embellished articles. Sometimes, it was too "sweet" to the point of mockery and irony. Let's put it back in the reality so we can see how the ARVN soldiers have been neglected then and forgotten now for all the sacrifices they made and the sufferings they bore.
Many thanks for sharing your opinion about the Vietnam war.
By reading a lot of Vietnam war books, most of them written by 3 sides: US,
Republic of Vietnam and Democratic People Republic of Vietnam, I just want
to share with you some of my point of view about our ARVN combativity in
that war. Argument about Vietnam war is a multi-facade subject without end
but here are some:
1/. Soldier's life: Few book written about the ARVN's life, in the 2nd
Indochina war from 1954-1963, a pay for a soldier was about $40,00
USD/month, this pay reduced to $19,00 USD/month at the end of 1975 due to
the inflation of the Vietnam Economy. This problem had effected to the moral
of ARVN, soldier could not handle the rifle when his wife, his children
haven't had nothing to eat... and housing problem for his family, few of the
ARVN leaders had made an effort to build and securize the soldier's
accomodations, the last battles in 1975 shown this problem: many soldiers
deserted the combat unit to save their family, and belong to that time:
medecine, fuel and material stolen to sell on the black market for buying
food. The punishment for the lack of discipline by some leaders, I'd ever
seen a Battalion's commander had hit a soldier with a club as he beat a dog!
"You can not defend to the death, when every week you hear from your family
that they don't have enough food to eat. And you look to Saigon, the rich
had food, liquor, they have money, they relax, have a good time. Why fight
to the death? For whom?" as an ARVN Marine said to the Rand Corporation's
survey for the US Deparment of Defense.
A long war over 20 years had been unbearable to the soldier's life, they
weared-out spirit, endless inquietude for the future of their children: born
to die! No politic warfare to apply on their moral, no material supply to
help their poor condition of life... Fighting to defense the country was a
noble cause but be trivialized by low income: no food, no clothes, no
house... Die for the nation was a "job" likes others: their sacrifice had
never equitably compensated; a flag, a coffin, some medals... and forgotten
quickly when the rich and high-ranking men in the country had sent their
boys overseas to avoid their call on duty, having a safety life.
The noble cause was stolen when the first US Marines unit landed on China
Beach 1965 (Da nang), the presence of the foreigner on the country wiped out
this noble cause. And US government quickly turned a "civil" war between
North and South Vietnam to an "invade" war between USA and Vietnam.
2/. S.Vietnam Economy: from the 4th exportation of rice's country in 1959,
S.Vietnam became the importation of rice's country from Thailand in the
beginning of US involvement in 1965. The most importance in fighting against
the N.Vietnam Communist was rising not only the army strength but also our
productivity and economic capacity - I remembered a lot of visits that my dad
had brought us to see in the early sixties: The Ha-Tien Cement Factory, the
Hiep-Hoa Sugar factory, the Cogido Paper Manufacturer, The electric power
plan Da-Nhim, etc. the most impressive visit for me that the Carbine M1/M2
and Garant M1 ammunition manufacturing's experience in the ARVN Engineer
Dept. at Go-Vap but then abandoned after the Diem's coup in 1963. From 1965,
S.Vietnam became a Consummer Country, most of the product for that time
imported from USA, France, Italy, Germany, Japan... the only automobile had
made in Vietnam with french parts was the Citroen "La Dalat", a light, easy
to repair car based on the french Citroen Mehari.
I also remember the war effort at that time, we could manufacture the
dehydrated rice, canned food, combat fatigue and equipment for the army.
From a light industrial country, S.Vietnam became a consummer country
without ressource, all imported product was paid with dollar of the US
assistant program. Moreover, the presence of US soldier with their money, 20
time or more compared to a vietnamese middle-class pay, this problem turned
up side down the vietnamese life - a working teacher at day became a
Honda-taxi at night to drive the bar girls to the night clubs...
The N.Vietnam did some military loans to China and Russia, they must refund
these loans after the end of Vietnam war - Why President Thieu sent Nguyen
Tien Hung to begging for the US Military Supplies in 1975? Did they have the
financial plan, after Paris Accord, to support the war and after-war or just
only counted on parole of President Nixon?
3/. S.Vietnam Leadership: Few of valuable leaders in the ARVN. In effect,
from Ngo Dinh Diem's assassination in 1963 because he committed a big
mistake: he had said NO to US Goverment, US Policy needs all "Yes-men" to do
the job in Vietnam, if you say NO meaning that you are uncooperative or as
you said for these Yes-men as "kiss-ass attitude." Why don't say YES to
please to the Boss? You don't need to worry about economy problem in the
country: you could not plan the rice? No problem, we can buy rice from
Thailand. - You don't need to manufacture the rifle and ammunition, we can
buy them from Colt & Remington factories, etc. Building a government based
on US Economic & Military Aid, S.Vietnam leaders did not care to swallow any
anti-headache pill and doing the war on the American way till the best ally
"cut and run". The Vietnamese second republic high-ranking leaders were
military men, most of them were educated from the french school with the
feudal society, they were not taught to build a healthy country in economy.
I remember the 12 warlords time between 1964-1966, the clowning of General
Nguyen Khanh with his Vung-Tau Charter - the dispute between high-ranking
generals for leader at that time and forgot entirely to fight against
N.Vietnam Communist and modernize the army. The result of the warlords
period conducted Nguyen van Thieu to use the high-ranking military leaders
based on royalty, fidelity but not on military knowledge and fighting
capacity; moreover, Thieu did not respect the military chain of command, he
interfered in the military operation as he was a commander of the 5th ARVN
Division, the debacle of the Lam Son 719 (I lost a friend in the Artillery
of VN Marines unit) following the final battles of Ban Me Thuot, Pleiku &
Kontum; the abandoning of the I Military Corp (as the Normandy Landing in
1944, General Von Rundstedt, Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Defense has
had waiting for Hitler's wake-up to request for using 2 SS Panzer Divisions
to push the Allied off the shore... Too late!). Thieu usually left General
Cao Van Vien behind by giving commandment directly to the MR Commanders
without consulting the JCS, showing the lack of command in the Easter
Offensive at Quang Tri with General Hoang Xuan Lam in 1972. Was General Vien
just a decorative object or just showing that Thieu didn't trust to anybody?
The case of General Do Mau: his education level was on Primary School but he
kept in the last end career as Vice-Minister of Education, he was
subordinated by President Diem and worked as Military Security Director with
the rank Colonel but he turned back to against Diem cause of the General
promotion's list, when Ngo Dinh Nhu said: "Don't promote the warder Mau to
general, North Vietnam Communist will laugh at us! Colonel was his top
level." - To wash his hands off from Diem's blood, many years after in USA,
he (wrote?) a book with his callsign in Can-Lao Party "Hoanh Linh" saying
that Diem policy was buddhist repression (Viet Nam Mau Lua Que Huong Toi)
then sent a request as a vietnamese buddhist to Pope John-Paulus II to
cancel the Pope's visit to Vietnam and more spectacular at the end of his
life, he came back to Vietnam, shaking hand the communist! Betrayed Diem,
committed in the death of Captain Do Tho, his nephew; tried to retablish the
Buddhism in Vietnam as National religion as the Ly & Le Dynasties? (Roman
catholic, muslim, protestant or buddhism are all imported religion) What
kind of man he was? A good S.Vietnam leader, wasn't he?
4/. ARVN Training: the training program for ARVN was quite good in general
from the new Quan Doi Quoc-Gia Viet-Nam etablished in 1950 under Emperor
Bao-Dai, reformed in 1956 under the 1st Republic of Vietnam, there was more
20 Military training centers and Military Academies : Military Academy of
Dalat, Military Academy of Thu-Duc, Naval Academy and Air Force Academy of
Nha Trang then the Polwar Academy of Dalat to respond to the Officer need in
the Army. In the first day of the young ARVN, training was based on the
french training program, platoon to company commander for the officers and
with additive training programs, they could be able to command a Batallion
or a Regiment but few of them could handle a full division without talking
to use his unit in a tactical operation or to combine his unit to the other
units for a strategy campaign - the need was accomplished by the opening of
the Command & General Staff College.
Beyond of some counterinsurgency programs for ARVN Officers in the early
sixties in Malaysia and Philippines, unfortunately, the US Military training
program and US advice did not take effect to the ARVN training for an
anti-guerilla war but based on the conventional war in WW2 or in Korea,
almost US Military advisers did not have experience in the guerilla war.
This training way was good then in the Vietnamization but too late to apply
in a combined battle when you don't have no more ammunition for howitzers,
no more fuel for aircraft, no more battery for the PRC-25 radio...
Unwilling to fight, cowardice, unfitting... that were things that our best
ally sticked on the head of the ARVN. These judgments may be right in some
case but wrong in general, remember how many US unit disobeyed to fight in
the WW2 and in Korea? For me, the worse thing that was happened with COL. JOHN PAUL VANN (click here to learn more about John Paul Vann), he interferred directly in the Ap Bac Hamlet Battle 1963
with the 7th Infantry Division, to cover his mistake by dropping some H-21
"Banana flying" helicopters in the VC zone, to save some US pilots, he
compelled the VN M-113 Armor carrier captain to head straight his unit for
rescuing the helos crew, but more 6 gunners in the Armor carriers were KIA
cause of they didn't have any steel plate to protect them in action (since
that battle, all M-113 was equiped the protection for gunner but no one said
thanks to these KIA gunners), then to defense his mistake after mistake,
just shouting that ARVN didn't fought as the way it would be (american cow
boys?) to the American News reporters. Did he remember the adviser role in
Vietnam that time was only giving his advice? not interferring in the
battle! the Captain of the VN M-113s was then General Ly Tong Ba and he met
again John Paul Vann in the MR 2 in the Easter Offensive 1972.
To have a well trained officer, 4 years in the Military Academies of Dalat,
1 year at Academy Thu-Duc - ARVN would have many problems to resolve in the
Vietnamization program, understanding that ARVN must set up 2 or 3 time more
officers to fulfill the need of leadership.
5/. ARVN Equipment: From 1954 to 1968, ARVN had used WW2 vintage weapons:
unfitting to the little asian body type, excepted the light Carbine M1/M2
rifle. But with these WW2 weapons that the ARVN had used well in combat
alone from 1954 to 1963 without US ground troop, eventually very good in the
Tet Offensive 1968 although the VC had used the automatic rifle AK-47 since
M-2 & M-3 Armored vehicles and M-24 Chaffee tanks were used in the early
days, replaced in 1963 by M-114 (unfitting on the field, abandoned after the
test) and M-113 carriers then M-41 Walker Bulldog, and M-48A3 Patton after
Lam Son 719 Operation in the Vietnamization program but without recovering
S.VN Navy had been equiped mostly with WW2 ships, VNAF with the main A-1
Skyraider from 1961 till the Vietnamization with A-37 Dragonfly and F-5 for
tactical air support but without strategy high altitude bomber and tanker.
These military equipment was unfitted when VN Navy had fought in Paracel
Islands against Chinese Communist Force in 1974, VNAF could not do anything:
fighting aircraft without air-surface missiles and refuelling probe, no
tanker. US Military equipment for ARVN was focused on the defense position
but not be able to launch an attack outside of the South Vietnam.
In the Enhance Plus program in 1973-74, most of the equipment that US Army
left behind was useless or had needed to repair and replace with new parts
but abandoned in field till the fall of Saigon because lack of spare parts.
Take a look on the VPAF (Vietnam People Air Force) today, they were equipped
with the modern fighter-interceptor Sukhoi SU-27 Flanker as the Russia or
China Air Force - Many VPAF pilots killed in Russia in training with Aero
L-29 aircraft during the Vietnam war but no VNAF pilots killed in training
flight in USA. Saying that ARVN could not handle US Modern Military
equipment was a false argrument when US Government just wanted to end the
war at all cost and abandoned the South Vietnam.
"Better they do imperfectly than you do it perfectly, for it is their
country, their war and your time is limited." - T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence Of Arabia) -
Vietnamization program was too late to save the South Vietnam.
And more... but time is limited, remember, when US military men said that
Vietnam was an unwinnable war, they were also exposed their incompetence to
handle a war!
"Quand ils savaient qu'ils ne peuvent pas gagner la guerre, pourquoi
balancent-ils la merde dedans?"
(When they had knew that they could not win the war, why did they thrown the
Happy new year!
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
George Santayana (1863 - 1952)
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