It Don’t Mean Nothin’
Reblogged from Skip Fendley´s blog: skipfendley.wordpress.comMemorial Day had its beginnings at Gettysburg, when President Lincoln sought to console a nation torn apart with his resolution that “these dead shall not have died in vain.”
But those of us who fought in Vietnam, along with our families, are constantly confronted with the question, was our effort in vain, and beyond that, were 58,000 American deaths in vain?
This misgiving is underscored in Robert McNamara’s book, “In Retrospect,” a mea culpa of sorts in which the former secretary of defense under presidents Kennedy and Johnson seeks to reconcile his early support for our involvement in Vietnam with the debacle that it became. His misgivings come to light in his book with this declaration:
“We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation. We made our decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.”
The truth is that our efforts in Vietnam were bungled, not by the brave men and women who fought, but by the bureaucrats who sent us there. And the bungling continued from the time that Kennedy and McNamara got us involved initially, through the escalation of the conflict under Johnson, until Nixon belatedly extricated the American fighting forces over a decade later.
In retrospect, we slipped into Vietnam and we limped away. And in between these two realities 58,000 young Americans died for a cause that they didn’t really understand, and now we realize that our nation’s leaders didn’t either.
“It don’t mean nothin’” was the mantra of the men in my rifle platoon, a nihilistic resignation that our fight was not only unpopular back home, but possibly meaningless in the greater scheme of things. Particularly in the later years, we had no sense of mission and no real understanding of why we were fighting a war on the other side of the world that seemed to have no meaning.
But, to their credit, the young men under my command, almost all conscripts, served their country with honor, then returned home to a nation that had not only failed to appreciate their sacrifice, but in far too many instances had vilified them. In fact, it wasn’t until after the first gulf war that the veterans of Vietnam began to be welcomed home by their own country. And we Vietnam veterans have adopted this practice, as we greet one another with the words, “Welcome home.”
Most of us consider ourselves fortunate to have been living and breathing when we climbed aboard, or were loaded onto what we called the “freedom bird,” the big silver jet that would return us to “the world.” But far too many came home in flag-draped caskets, having breathed their last in the service of their country.
And, to those brave souls who gave their lives, I say, “welcome home.”
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
Skip Fendley served as an infantry and mortar platoon leader in Vietnam. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Bronze Star, and Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.