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Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014
Letter of the Day

The painful lessons of Vietnam

Published:

As a Vietnam combat soldier I want to thank Kenneth Frederickson for his well-written and thought out letter reminding everyone of the incredible sacrifice, hardships and physical and emotional pain endured by over 2.5 million young Americans who served in Vietnam from Jan. 1, 1965, to March 28, 1973 (“We, the veterans of vietnam, deserve respect,” Letter of the Day, May 15). While initially turned away and despised by most of our country, we are mostly ignored today.

As Memorial Day approaches, I would like to add a few more statistics that should be remembered by today’s generations, brought up on computer “war games,” about the real- world brutality of 1960s’ jungle insurgent warfare. It was a horror not seen previously. In addition to over 58,000 dead, the over 300,000 wounded included amputations or crippling wounds to the lower extremities, 300 percent higher than in World War II and 70 percent higher than Korea.

And unlike today, 25 percent of total forces were drafted into the service, and draftees accounted for more than 30 percent of the combat deaths. I was one of the drafted soldiers in 1968, and for 48 of my 52 weeks in Vietnam I was in live field combat 24/7 and experienced unimaginable fear, stress, sorrow and loneliness every day. There was no Internet, smartphones, selfies or Facebook pages available to stay in contact with loved ones. I was awfully alone. Only handwritten letters delivered to the field weeks later were a reminder of home.

I, along with 648,000 of my generation, was drafted — taken at what should have been the best time of life while starting a career, family and the American dream. To secure our nation’s national security and to stop the plague of communism, our government insisted on sending its young men and women to Vietnam. The futility of this enormous sacrifice is too apparent today, as our government proudly views communist Vietnam as a vital trading partner.

Don’t confuse this with the fact that the U.S. now trades with Japan and Germany after WWII. Those countries surrendered unconditionally to the U.S. and its allies. We then helped rebuild them into the great free nations they are today. Think about it: After Vietnam kills 58,000 of our soldiers, breaks the peace agreement, invades the South and slaughters tens of thousands of South Vietnamese refugees, the U.S. is just fine with Vietnam today, even though it is 100 percent communist, which is what we fought and died to prevent.

The war ended in total humiliation for the U.S. on April 29, 1975, when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and the U.S. abandoned its South Vietnamese allies to the slaughter that followed. The irony here is Cuba, which has done nothing of this nature to the U.S., is still under a U.S. embargo.

My personal life experiences over the past 40-plus years were somewhat similar to Mr. Frederickson’s regarding the shameful reception I received from my country when I returned, and I suffered silently for decades with PTSD before anyone would recognize it.

Tens of thousands of Vietnam combat soldiers have experienced life-threatening illnesses from Agent Orange exposure and are still battling the VA to resolve medical claims. Yet the U.S. government is sending financial aid and settling medical claims for the Vietnamese and their government. Our warriors’ health and welfare should not be placed below that of the enemy we were forced to fight.

But today, my message of reality is that the U.S. should have learned from the Vietnam fiasco that war is painful, heartbreaking, life-altering, and very, very expensive. Please ask serious questions of your government the next time they want to wage war in a foreign land and sacrifice our young men and women on the altar of political egos. I can assure you that if the U.S. had reinstated drafting our young men for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, these would have ended one way or another 10 years ago.

Steve McTeague

Sun city Center

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