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May/June 2019



I opened my March/April VVA Veteran to see one of our worst enemies looking me in the eye and an article “appreciating” him. Are you serious? Certainly Bieu helped find the bodies of POWs, but the article itself states he administered POW camps. We hear a lot about the Hanoi Hilton, but many of our POWs were enlisted and NCOs kept in horrific conditions, for which he was partially responsible.

I worked as a psychiatric nurse at a VA hospital where part of my responsibility was caring for the half-destroyed GIs who were kept in those hell-holes. One I remember especially was required to dig a hole, live in it till it was full, then dig his next one. I cannot believe you would honor the administrator who oversaw such horror. I am writing for those who can’t because they died there or suicided since or cannot bear to communicate.

John Walker
By Email


With the adoption of the Draft Master Plan more than three years ago, the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System confirmed our intent and commitment to creating a safe, welcoming, and sustainable community for veterans and their families at the West Los Angeles Medical Center Campus. After reading the progress report article in the last issue, I have no doubt that veterans, family members, and communities have a better understanding of our efforts to restore the 388 acres of the WLA Campus into a vibrant community for veterans.

I wish to acknowledge writer Paul Rogers and contributor Kyle Orlemann for changing the conversation about the WLA campus to one of positive change, accountability, and unwavering service to our nation’s heroes. We want to continue to be the first choice in health care and supportive services for veterans. We can only accomplish that through our commitment to excellence, transparency, and customer service.

Ann R. Brown
Director, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System


Wonderful article on the English III Advanced Placement class for juniors at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas. 

I was honored some years back by a student, Soraya Tanar, who contacted me seeking information about an individual whose name is on The Wall: Algernon Paul Kaakimaka, Jr. 

Algie was a classmate of mine from Roosevelt H.S. in Honolulu. Sometime in the past I had entered a profile in his remembrance on both the Virtual Wall and Army Together We Served websites. It was through these sites that Ms. Tanar was able to contact me and obtain what information I could share with her. She eventually produced a video tribute to Algie. It was so special that I contacted her to convey my gratitude, which she appreciated.

I also contacted Rebecka Stucky, who was more than happy to send me a copy of the video. I have shared copies with numerous friends, as well as with our alma mater.  

Through the aforementioned article I went to the Westlake High School website and found the video for Algie and forwarded it to VVA Chapter 858 in Honolulu. 

Thanks again for the article and for bringing Westlake High School’s endeavors to the attention of our readers. 

Bruce Dyer
Honolulu, Hawaii


The “Benefits Q&A” column last issue urged readers to proceed with caution when dealing with the new Rapid Appeals Modernization Program.

Proceed with caution indeed.

If one signs up with RAMP, the appeal will be decided quickly—but with only the material evidence already on file with the VA. There will be no opportunity to provide new evidence, nor will there be an opportunity to sit before a judicatory to state your case.

Most often, the original decision will not be overturned because the decision-review officials will be working under the same federal regulations as the initial rating officers.

Wil Remillard
By Email


I appreciated the Government Affairs article in the January/February issue of The VVA Veteran.

However, I have a slight correction regarding your reference to the “corrupt sergeant major” who was “assassinated in 1970 aboard his yacht in Hong Kong Harbor.”

You confused Sgt. Maj. William Wooldridge, who was the senior noncommissioned officer of the Army, with William J. Crum. Wooldridge used his position to assign his colleagues to NCO clubs in Vietnam. These individuals then skimmed millions of dollars from slot machines, illegal currency transactions, and from kickbacks from suppliers of goods to the clubs, and compromised a number of high-ranking officers. Wooldridge and some of his colleagues subsequently testified to the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee about their activities in exchange for leniency. Wooldridge never went to jail. He died in El Paso, Texas, on March 5, 2012, at the age of 89.

William Crum, on the other hand, was a civilian (not a noncommissioned officer) who parlayed his “business sense” into a $40 million trading empire illegally importing expensive equipment into Vietnam for rental or resale, and illegally promoting beer, whiskey, and PX merchandise. He did, indeed, live in both a Saigon villa and on his 44-foot luxury yacht (“Nostromo”) in Hong Kong harbor. He was not assassinated, but died in a house fire in Hong Kong in 1977.

There were a few U.S. generals who were also involved in alleged criminal activities relative to the Vietnam War (e.g., Gen. Carl Turner and Navy Capt. Archie Kuntze who administered funds in excess of $100 million annually in Vietnam). Kuntze died in 1980 in Sheboygan. Turner, as former Provost Marshal General of the Army, died a few years ago.

I was Deputy Provost Marshal for MACV and intimately familiar with the above scenarios, as well as a visit to Vietnam by Mafia chief Santo (Sam) Trafficante.

Raymond F. Humphrey
Englewood, Florida


I’m writing to respond to Pete Peterson’s “Beware of the MISSION” and the Working Group I and II reports. The Government Affairs column expresses a concern for cost if the move to privatization of veterans health care continues. The VA is one of the largest bureaucracies in the government. From FY2001-10 the VA budget went from $48.2 billion to $112 billion. In FY2019 its budget was $198.6 billion and in FY2020 $220 billion—a 9.6 percent increase. From 2000-13 the number of VA employees went from 219,000 to 341,000, and as of 2018 there were 379,000. These are facts, not suppositions about costs. How is this more costly than the proposed transition? Don’t know, as no facts were presented, only opinions.

I am a 100 percent disabled Vietnam veteran. Like many, my care from the VA is mixed. I never see a doctor, only a PA; trying to see a specialist is almost impossible. I have type II diabetes brought on by exposure to Agent Orange. The VA has a very strict formulary, mostly of proven but older generic drugs. When I developed side-effects from one drug, the VA wouldn’t prescribe one of the newer drugs proven to be effective in controlling A1C. VA health care system is a perfect example of socialized medicine and a continuation of the military’s hurry-up-and-wait.

As far as local care, I have civilian hospitals, doctors, and specialists within 15 minutes of my home. The nearest VA hospital is 2.5 hours away each way and the nearest VA clinic is 1 hour 10 minutes away each way. The older I get, the more difficult it is to drive longer distances. I hope Mr. Peterson is in good health and does not have to travel long distances to get help if he is not.

For a long time I’ve followed discussions on what to do with VVA. As a life member, it is extremely disheartening to even see discussions of disbanding VVA such as being proposed in Working Group I. A proposed membership vote by delegate is absolutely wrong. I’m sure there are many chapters like mine, 886 in New Bern, N.C., that are small and whose membership cannot afford to send delegates to Spokane.

VVA has worked very hard for all veterans. When I came home, I was denied membership in a different service organization, being told I wasn’t in a war. Then along came VVA with a core group of great people working for the benefit of Vietnam veterans, and for that I am eternally grateful.

VVA needs to continue as long as there are veterans. If we need to be a part of the VFW or American Legion or Amvets, so be it. But all of the work going on and that has gone on cannot be forgotten. Group II has presented a legitimate pathway to continue VVA’s work. The veterans of today must have our backing and not be told they cannot belong to a service organization because they did not fight in a war. All veterans need to be brothers and sisters and work for the benefit of all.

Matthew Spirko
By Email


I read the President’s Report and the Government Affairs Report in the March/April 2019 issue. “We cannot afford to turn over veterans’ health care to the private sector,” and referring to the MISSION Act, “Yet it plays into the hands of those who have long championed private-sector care for veterans.” Since all the veterans organizations claim they do not want privatization of VA, I have to ask why did it get this far? We’ve known for a long time that Trump has wanted to privatize the VA. In August 2018 it was reported that Trump’s cronies in Mar-a-Lago were secretly directing, making policy, and having meetings with top VA officials. The three cronies are not veterans and are not government employees, so why are they making policy? 

When I learned about this, I was outraged, and I contacted all my congressional representatives via phone and email. I also contacted all four veterans organizations that I belong to regarding my deep concerns. As more news developed, I continued to contact the aforementioned about my concerns and asked what was being done about it. VA Secretary Shulkin was against privatization and the Florida crowd’s involvement, and I believe that’s why he was fired and replaced with Wilkie. 

Why didn’t the veterans organizations oppose this immediately and try to rally support among veterans through email contacts and mass emailings by each organization? That is what organizations are supposed to do: represent our rights, benefits, and concerns in Washington. If they did, I wasn’t aware of it and I followed the issue closely. The MISSION Act has become law and is ready to be implemented, so is it too late or can we let our feelings be heard to make changes?

I know there is a wide disparity in opinions about the care veterans receive at their local VA clinics and hospitals. I know that I receive excellent care at my VA, whether it is in-house or outsourced to the private sector. I’m all for integrating the Choice Program into our health care for those who have long wait times, live long distances from a VA, or need specialty care not available at a local VA. But I do not want the VA privatized.

“A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards,” Teddy Roosevelt said in 1903 to a group of veterans. We put on the uniform, served, and sacrificed, and were told we would be cared for following our tour of duty. We expect that commitment to be honored in full.

Bob Fitzthum
By Email


I eagerly read the series titled “A Few Good Women.” As a female Vietnam veteran this topic appealed to me. After reading all nine stories and Marsha Four’s reflections I was disappointed. Only three of the women highlighted were Vietnam veterans. Really, you could only find four female veterans to highlight? Not one mention of the sexual trauma that was ever present for female veterans. Please, if you ever decide again to highlight female Vietnam veterans, stay focused on them and keep their experiences real.

Linda Janson
Houston, Texas


In reading the March/April 2019 issue, I came across “Bill McGee’s Instamatic” on p. 50. Very interesting to me, since I, too, had an Instamatic while on duty at U-Tapao, Thailand, January 1973-May 1974. I looked at Bill’s photos; lots of special memories there. He and I, though, had very different experiences. I lost no limbs. My toughest duty was to confront airmen’s racial prejudices and teach them about the history of race relations, inclusion, and the value of diversity. 

I took two hundred slides and converted one hundred of them to digital, but they’re mostly about what I viewed off base. Somehow, U-Tapao itself held little interest to me. Nevertheless, I’d be glad to post them if ever there were interest among others. I had the good fortune to meet many fine local Thai people and volunteered to teach English to some employees on base—one of the finest experiences of my duty there.

Many of my memories are expressed in letters home to my parents. My mother, God bless her, saved all of my letters and passed them on to me several years ago. They make a fine souvenir of my months of duty at U-Tapao.

I also had the good fortune to return to U-Tapao in 2014 with my wife and son. Nothing of the base as I knew it remained except for my barracks (poured concrete, not easily removed) and the beautiful chapel, which anyone who was stationed there will instantly recognize. I felt some kind of completion from making that return trip. Hard to describe in words.

Serving there proved to be the finest service of my life. Thanks for sharing Bill’s story.

John C. Miller
By Email


1-29-70, 2 a.m., Saigon: Walked off the plane and bang—heat and smell of death. My first thought: Holy crap, what have I got myself into? Next, off to the Mekong Delta, Can Tho, Combat Engineer outfit. Then to Phu Cat, then south of Monkey Mountain and into Cambodia.

I sent some nine hundred slides to my wife. We had been married the previous July. This year we celebrated our fiftieth.

I’ve read The VVA Veteran for some twenty years, but this is my first time writing. I have been treated since 2016 for Agent Orange exposure: Hydroxyurea, 500 mg. daily; they give me seven to ten years.

I’ve been in prison since 1994, but with the help of the Innocence Project, attorney Barry Sheck, and an additional team of attorneys, I hope to be home soon. DNA does not lie, and they will prove I was wrongly convicted of the crime I did not commit. Thank God someone heard me.

I was nineteen in Vietnam, and my memory is good. Also, my pictures tell my Vietnam story. They can’t lie, and I have them.

Michael C. Monroe
Concord, New Hampshire


After decades of Michigan’s Tough on Crime policies, its prisons house an increasing number of aging prisoners, which results in a burdensome increase in medical costs for the Michigan Department of Corrections. Approximately 20 percent of the MDOC prison population is over 65 years old.

The veterans community at the Saginaw Correctional Facility has proposed a Second Chance Initiative for the release of honorably discharged veterans—many of whom are over 65 and do not pose a risk to public safety.

We recognize that due to the nature of their crimes not all these veterans should be released. We ask for a public hearing. If the veteran’s case history, and if his or her conduct while incarcerated warrants release, only then would that veteran, by Governor’s Executive Order, be granted consideration for a second chance at freedom.

It is our hope that Gov. Whitmer will issue an executive order providing a Second Chance to all honorably discharged veterans in the MDOC.

David L. Oates,
President, Saginaw Correctional Facility
Veterans Group Freeland, Michigan

Moving On

Doug Henning and his guide Ha at the John McCain crash site.

I have always felt, until the last ten years or so, that to a significant extent what I did in the Vietnam War wasn’t enough to warrant being “in the war.” I was support, working on F-4 Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) equipment that helped the crews get in, get the job done, and get home safely. The better I did my job, the better air crews could complete their missions in Vietnam and Laos.

But I was never in combat, nor was my air base, Udorn, ever in danger of being overrun. When my friends would get tagged for sentry duty at night, though, they would tell me they could see “camp signal fires” in the distance and would hear occasional rifle fire.

So I wasn’t in combat, for which I was and am thankful. The U.S. refused to call it a “war,” instead it was a “conflict.” Further, I wasn’t paid for hazardous duty, since we were in a non-combat region. So I was always hesitant to say I had been in the Vietnam War.

In my mind, all of this translated to not having valid reasons for personal struggles over my military service. Any emotions, occasional bad dreams, feelings of guilt, and sensitivity to war movies were unfounded—especially in light of friends who were severely wounded, some of whom died from war wounds or from Agent Orange. Additionally, as a psychologist, I saw Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans as therapy clients in Colorado Springs for a couple of years. So by comparison my pretty good duty in Thailand was not enough to cause personal struggles.

What’s more, after the war I moved on. I put my head down, completed college, eventually got my Ph.D., and happily taught college. I knew it was important for others to talk about wars they had been in. Yet I rarely, if ever, talked about my personal struggles regarding Vietnam to anyone. The only things I did occasionally talk about were the positive aspects, such as the gentleness of the people and beauty of the countryside.

That negative thoughts and emotions had been bottled up for fifty years became very clear when I recently traveled with my wife Joyce to Southeast Asia. I had wanted her to go back with me so she could see the country and the people who had such a powerful impact on me. I was relieved to see that Udon Thani has changed significantly for the better and become a metropolis of 1.5 million people. However, being back there also released a flood of emotions, memories, and tears.

This trip naturally brought up struggles, which over the weeks of our trip took on more clarity and validated my personal costs of war. I had missed the birth of our first son. Scott was three months old when I got home in October 1969. That sense of regret has never left me. I have felt cheated and irresponsible as a father and husband. There was nothing I could do about it, but the regrets are still real.

I’m also totally deaf as a result of working on the F-4s on the flight line. Additionally, only a few months into my tour at Udorn, I had begun to sense that our reasons for being there were way more complicated than I realized and that our motives weren’t altruistic. I lacked the maturity to process all of this consciously, but I suspect this was part of my motivation for teaching English in a vocational school, working in an orphanage for Thai-American babies, supporting missionary doctors treating leprosy, and being involved with a Christian hospitality home in downtown Udon Thani.

On this recent trip, prior to visiting Vietnam and after we had been in Thailand, we stopped in Vientiane, Laos. We went to a rehabilitation facility and museum called COPE. It’s a program that strives to rehabilitate victims in Laos who have been and are still being wounded by scatter bombs and other undetonated bombs from fifty years ago. COPE also hunts for these bombs in an effort to keep civilians from having arms and legs blown off or being killed. The price and destruction of war lives on.

I was worried about visiting Vietnam, which proved to be unwarranted. Our first stop was Saigon. In addition to seeing regular tourist sites, we saw the remaining bomb craters and tunnels and the history museum of the war, which reinforced how much damage we did to the people and their land. More than two million Vietnamese died. Although this intensified my guilt and regret, it helped me understand my very strong connection to this country and to Thailand. This trip allowed me to put many things into perspective. In some ways it felt like a reckoning and cleansing at the same time.

Our last place to visit, in the fourth week of travel, was Hanoi. Ha was our tour guide. His father had been a North Vietnamese soldier. While showing us the monument where John McCain’s plane crashed, Ha emphasized how much the war is part of Vietnam’s history but that Vietnam has moved on. They see the U.S. as a brother and a friend. In fact, Vietnam seems to have flourished in large part due to U.S. friendship in opening up their economy to the rest of the world and normalizing relations.

So the luxury of being able to visit Southeast Asia, exorcise some personal demons, and gain a much broader and deeper understanding has been a great experience for me. My son Scott, who is an Iraq and Kosovo War veteran, pointed out that Vietnam and Thailand have moved on, and that it is time for me to do the same. Good advice.

I look forward to moving on now that I have a better idea of what I’m moving on from.






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