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Sharing Stories

By Carlton Sherwood

       Thirty years ago, Americans were transfixed by the chaotic images flickering across their TV screens. Hordes of frantic South Vietnamese men, women and children desperately clinging to the U.S. Embassy fence in Saigon, pleading for escape. Chinook helicopters teetering precariously on the Embassy roof, evacuating the last Americans even as North Vietnamese Communist Army tanks rolled into the outskirts of the city. Huey gunships, the very symbol of American combat power in Vietnam, commandeered by fleeing South Vietnamese Army pilots, either ditched into the sea or pushed overboard from the decks of crowded American aircraft carriers.

If the film footage wasn't compelling enough to make the point, all three television networks, the only sources of broadcast news in the last days of April 1975, made certain their audience got the message. This undignified, ignominious retreat, they reported, marked the end of the Vietnam War, a shameful chapter in U.S. military history, "the first war America lost."

Even today, that same theme is echoed by one of those network news anchors, CBS's Walter Cronkite. "We knew we had lost in Vietnam before we saw that final day," he said in a recent interview marking the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon. "It taught the military a very important lesson that I think it has begun to forget in some ways, that it could not fight an unpopular war. We were clearly not omnipotent. We shouldn't be arrogant about our power and the use of our power."

You could almost hear Cronkite's familiar sign-off, "And that's the way it is." But was it, really? Did the U.S. military lose the Vietnam War? If not, who was responsible? And what about the Cronkite's remark: "It taught the military a very important lesson that I think it has begun to forget in some ways, that it could not fight an unpopular war." Unpopular with whom, the dominant leftist media?

Perhaps a more important question: Is it the fog of war or the dense smoke of over three decades of political, anti-military propaganda that continues to confuse and divide Americans about the true history of Vietnam?

Certainly, Vietnam is used routinely today to accuse the U.S. military in Iraq and to question America's Global War on Terrorism. But is that rhetoric based on fact or on so much 1960s anti-war revisionist bunkum, more the stuff of Hollywood fantasies than the real, documented history of those who served in Vietnam?

Now, thanks to a distinguished group of Vietnam combat veterans, the American public is beginning to hear different, far more factual answers to those questions and many others. This time, they will get it straight from those who know Vietnam best, former POWs, American pilots held in North Vietnam prison camps for years, in places like the infamous "Hanoi Hilton," where they were brutally tortured, beaten, starved and sometimes murdered by their Communists captors.

Earlier this year, the former POWs created the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation (VVLF), a non-profit educational organization designed, in part, to "separate truth from fiction, to expose the myths about Vietnam and those who perpetrate them and, to do so, factually and accurately."

The chairman of the VVLF is Col. George E. "Bud" Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and Air Force pilot who was held prisoner by the North Vietnamese Communists for six years. Other VVLF Board Directors include POWs Col. Kenneth Cordier, CMDR. Paul Galanti and Marine pilot James Warner. Mary Jane McManus, the wife of former POW Kevin McManus, is also on the board, along with Army combat veterans Robert A. McMahon and Wallace Nunn, who also serves as Chairman of the Medal of Honor Foundation.

Last week, the VVLF launched its new Web site, www.vietnamlegacy.org, which contains full bios of each Board member and several links to other informational Web pages and references for scholarly works on Vietnam history.

If the names of Col. Day and others on the VVLF Board seem familiar, they should be. Last year, they were among the handful of Vietnam combat veterans who publicly denounced Sen. John Kerry for his post-Vietnam activities, for his "slander and betrayal of all those who served in Vietnam."

First in Swift Boat TV ads and later in the documentary "Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal," the VVLF Board members excoriated Kerry for his 1971 testimony before the U.S. Senate, where he accused the POWs and other Vietnam combat veterans of genocide, deliberately "murdering" and "torturing" hundreds of thousands of innocent Vietnamese civilians.

At the time of Kerry's Senate testimony, all of the VVLF POWs were still being held in North Vietnam prison camps under constant threat of execution as "war criminals." In "Stolen Honor" they vividly recall the reaction of their Communist captors to Kerry's accusations and the demoralizing effects of propaganda by such anti-war activists as Jane Fonda.

"Stolen Honor" was scheduled for airing in early October 2004 on 62 Sinclair Broadcast network stations. However, the Kerry Campaign, the Democratic National Committee, 18 U.S. Democrat senators and several "Old Media" national news organizations launched an all-out, concerted effort to have the documentary censored from the airwaves and banned from being shown even in privately owned theaters.

Eventually, however, "Stolen Honor" was seen across American in the closing days of the election, when it was made available for free on the Web site www.stolenhonor.com.

Frustrated by the political Left's determination to silence them and concerned about the public's lack of understanding about Vietnam history and those who fought in that war (most Americans alive today were not born before 1972), the POWs hope to provide a counter-balance to the propaganda that still permeates the media and public education today.

For example, contrary to the assertions of Cronkite and others in the mainstream press, the American military had nothing to do with the fall of Saigon, much less losing the war. The last American combat unit left Vietnam in August 1972, nearly three years before the 1975 Communist invasion. The U.S. military remained undefeated in battle throughout the Vietnam War.

Instead, it was Congress – more specifically, the nearly 2-to-1 Democrat majority in the Senate (61 to 37) and the House (291 to 144) in 1975 – that voted to cut off all military funding to the Saigon government that was directly responsible for the defeat of South Vietnam.

Congressional Democrats literally abandoned our South Vietnamese allies and it was they, not the U.S. military, who were responsible for the carnage that followed, the slaughter, imprisonment and forced "re-education" of millions of innocent civilians throughout Southeast Asia by an avenging North Vietnamese Army.

There's another little-known fact.

Several months after the last U.S. ground combat forces left Vietnam in 1972, the North Vietnamese Communists and the Viet Cong signed the Paris Peace Accords, promising, among other things, to cease all hostilities and to NOT invade South Vietnam, much less conquer it, as they did in 1975.

Then and now, 30 years later, rarely is there ever a mention of this diplomatic treachery. Broken treaties, even ones for which the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, apparently aren't worthy of mention in the evening news, certainly not in history textbooks, at least not when it comes to Vietnam.

As for the popularity of the war, among Walter Cronkite's friends and colleagues in the "Old Media" and the anti-war community, the war became "unpopular" in 1968, immediately after Democrat President Johnson announced he would not seek a second term and Republican Richard Nixon, who vowed to "bring peace with honor" to Vietnam, was elected.

For his efforts to withdraw American troops, eliminating the draft in the process, Nixon was rewarded with a landslide re-election victory in 1972 (521 to 17 electoral votes), burying his liberal Democrat opponent, Sen. George McGovern, who advocated a "cut and run" policy, a complete and immediate withdrawal from Vietnam.

If the only accurate polls are those taken in the voting booth, Nixon's lopsided re-election victory (46 million to 28 million votes) clearly demonstrated that an overwhelming majority of Americans still supported the war in Vietnam at least through 1972, probably much longer.

Media polls taken prior to the November 1972 election somehow missed tens of millions of Americans who supported the Nixon administration's war policies – the so-called "Silent Majority" – much as last year's media exit polls apparently failed to count a majority of Americans who had just voted to re-elect President Bush.

Those are but a few Vietnam myths spawned by political propagandists and the mainstream media, ones the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation hopes to dispel.

While protecting and preserving the "honor and reputations" of those who served in Vietnam is paramount for the VVLF, their "mission" today is to prevent an inaccurate history of Vietnam to erode U.S. national security. They do not want history to repeat itself, provide "terrorists" a political victory in the halls of Congress or on the streets of America that they could not possibly achieve on the battlefield, much like the Communists did in Vietnam three decades ago.

Nor do they believe that the media, academics and show business entertainers should be allowed to go unchallenged when they regurgitate enemy propaganda and advocate the wholesale defeat of the U.S., as John Kerry, Jane Fonda and numerous other Leftists did while Americans were still fighting and dying on Vietnam battlefields and in Communist prison camps.

"The false history of Vietnam has been used to endanger and demoralize our troops in combat, undermine the public's confidence in U.S. foreign policy and weaken our national security," Foundation chairman Col. Day said. "Radical leftists such as Sen. Kerry and Jane Fonda lied about the war 35 years ago and are lying about it today. The goal of the VVLF is to continue the work of countering more than three decades of misinformation and propaganda, and set the record straight."

Carlton Sherwood, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, decorated Marine Vietnam combat veteran and producer of the documentary "Stolen Honor".



       There was no such thing as a typical day in Vietnam, Mac Wilkes told students at Southeast Bulloch High School Thursday night.
"You were scared all the time," he said. "It was all a shock to the senses."

Wilkes was one of dozens of veterans from the "unappreciated generation" who spoke to students as part of Project VET, which stands for Veterans Educating Teenagers.

"When we were in combat, we weren't fighting for our country," Wilkes said. "I was fighting for the guy next to me and he was fighting for the guy next to him. All we wanted to do was live."

While speaking to the students, the veterans' memories were recorded on video to be preserved for future generations.

This was the third year for Project VET–World War II was the focus two years ago and Korean War veterans were honored last year.

Hearing the stories of the veterans helped the students understand more about the wars they fought in.

"You can only learn so much from a text book," said Ashley Akins, a junior at SEB who served as student project director. "It makes me realize how important our freedom is. I couldn't imagine not knowing these stories."

Phil Oliver, coordinator for the project, said the gathering of Vietnam veterans might be the largest group ever assembled in Brooklet.

He said the stories of all the veterans will be transcribed and made into a book that will be distributed to schools in Bulloch County. Also, he said all three Project VET books would be compiled into a single book that will be placed at Georgia Southern. Also, Dr. Kemp Mabry is working to have the finished product sent to the Library of Congress.

Phil Crowley, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, said he felt it was important to have veterans tell their stories to the students.

"I think people need to know the story of the Vietnam War from people like myself who were there," he said. "I think more and more of us want to tell their stories and set the record straight. We weren't baby killers or any of the other names they called us."

Crowley called the work done by the students at Southeast Bulloch "overwhelming" as being together with veterans and seeing various memorabilia brought back memories.

Prior to breaking into small groups, the names of the soldiers from Bulloch County who died in the Vietnam War were read aloud, followed by the playing of Taps. Outside of the school, a replica of the Vietnam War memorial with the names of soldiers from Georgia who died etched in the wall.

That was a touching moment for Eddie Hutchins, who said one of those who died was a friend of his who died on Hutchins' birthday.

"Every time I have a birthday, I think about what he's missed and what he was never able to enjoy," he said. "Seeing that wall, sometimes I think my name ought to be on it."

Despite the sad memories, there were also times of laughter among the veterans as they recounted their happiest moments from the war.

Holmes Ramsey told of the time he received a call saying there was a "Captain Black" who needed to see him.

Ramsey thought it was strange that a captain would call to see him and began making his way to the place he was supposed to go.

"When I got about three-fourths of the way there, I saw one of my best friends from Statesboro," he said. "I didn't even know he'd joined the Army."

"I wish someone could have taken a picture of us running towards each other and hugging each other," he said.

Before breaking into small groups, Four-Star General Tom Ryan Jr. addressed the crowd of students, veterans and family members. He said the lessons of Vietnam have been learned as the members of the military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were hailed as heroes, unlike the reception many veterans received when they returned from Vietnam.

Oliver said the class would begin transcribing the interviews and compiling the information into a book as they did with the interviews from World War II and Korean War veterans.

Oliver said the mission of the project was to not only educating the students about the Vietnam War, but to capture the memories and stories of the veterans before they pass away.

VN Medal


By Ai Viet Nguyen

       Some people have called on Vietnamese-Americans to ``put the Vietnam War behind'' and not protest Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai on his visit to the United States. These wishful thinkers should ask themselves if any of these protesters would protest Khai if he were a democratically elected leader of a free Vietnam. The answer is a resounding no. If he were, the Vietnamese-American community would give him a red carpet welcome. Many Vietnamese-Americans who are protesting are young people who have little or no memory of a war that ended 30 years ago. We believe that only a democracy, with respect for human rights, can steer our homeland to a future of humane and sustainable growth. We are fighting for that future.

If anybody is still hung up on the past, it is the Vietnamese communists. Thirty years later, the war is still at the center of the communists' propaganda to justify their monopoly on power.

It baffles me how many Americans naively assume that, because communism collapsed in Europe, Vietnam has become a free country. I hope that Americans will take some time to educate themselves about the draconian and corrupt dictatorship that Khai represents. His ruling class, a.k.a. red capitalists, is using its political power to enrich itself at the expense of the vast majority of the Vietnamese people. Please do not chant along with the neo-communists the insincere call to put the past behind.

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