Vietnam Veterans of America
Richard Currey’s article about the Palomares Broken Arrow in the last Veteran was excellent. Air Force Chief MSG Victor Skaar deserves recognition for what he did at Palomares back in the day and his ongoing efforts with the VA. I have the greatest respect what Palomares was as a “Broken Arrow” and the radiation exposure to the troops cleaning the area.
The “Claims Denied” section of the article did not surprise me. The VA was slow in recognizing the early Atomic Veterans as well as those who were involved in any radiation occupation. Agent Orange comes to mind immediately.
In 1966 I was an Army nuclear weapons technician (MOS 304.2/35F/55G) in Ordnance. You were not supposed to say what you did or the weapons on which you were working. Now you can go to a museum and see the actual weapons that have been demilitarized.
More than fifty years after Palomares the details emerge. I hope the VA helps those Nuke Vets and Atomic Vets from that challenging era, as well as all veterans who need assistance. Possibly the VA could ease the requirements for claims and presumptive conditions for those who worked in that field.
It’s our country’s duty, just as when those of us who were drafted or enlisted did their duty.
NAVY NUCLEAR EXPOSURE
I deployed five times to the Vietnam War Zone from 1964-72. I am 100 percent service-connected disabled, much related to Agent Orange. “Broken Arrow” in the last issue was specially of interest to me. I served in the U.S. Navy for 30 years (1960-91) as a nuclear weaponsman working to insure these weapons of mass destruction were ready for use in the event of nuclear war. I experienced “Broken Arrows,” “Bent Spears,” and “Dull Swords” during my career. I wrote a book about my career: Brotherhood of Doom: Memoirs of a Nuclear Weaponsman (2008), which was reviewed in this magazine.
Since retirement in 1991 I have been active in veteran issues. I have, like Vic Skaar, experienced cancer. I presently have a VA disability claim appeal concerning radiation exposure that is being reviewed.
U.S. Navy nuclear weaponsmen were overly exposed to nuclear radiation, much more so than nuclear weapons personnel in any other branch of the military. Those who served on aircraft carriers where large numbers of weapons were kept in close confined spaces have experienced cancers much more frequently than those in the general population. For 20 years I have campaigned to have those who worked with nuclear weapons in the maintenance fields be recognized by the VA in the same category as the Atomic Veterans.
Thank you for all you do for my brother and sister Vietnam veterans.
James S. Little
On page 24 of the March/April issue you have a photo of a recovered nuclear weapon on the deck of ship. This ship is identified as the U.S.S Petrol, a submarine. It is actually the U.S.S. Petrel, ASR-14, a submarine rescue ship.
REVELATION OF CONTRAST
What a revelation to contrast the famous Revolutionary War Battles of Lexington and Concord with what he experienced as a member of Alpha Company. Having been to both Lexington and Concord several times and followed the Freedom Trail, I knew his details were vivid and easily visualized. His details of Vietnam were just as vivid but in a totally different environment. As he states, he had much in common with the 700 British soldiers 200 years ago—they were walking targets, conspicuous in their fine uniforms, humping and enduring it all. Vietnam and Battle Road intersected and began to merge into a single ghostly blur across history.
My compliments to the author. I look forward to reading the rest of his book. God bless everyone during the crisis we face today
Vincent J. Maligno
Thank you for including “Guerilla Wars” from Tim O’Brien’s Dad’s Maybe Book in the last issue. In 1970-71 I served in the Army in Vietnam. I retired as a Professor of English from the University of Mississippi in 2013. I have long admired O’Brien’s fiction, so much so that for a while I routinely assigned The Things They Carried to an advanced class in fiction that I taught every year. That novel helped me understand my experience before, during, and after my tour in-country.
For a time, it enjoyed a kind of cult status among graduate students at Ole Miss. It seemed to me that just about all the teaching assistants in the department assigned it to their freshman English classes. When I retired, I was assigning O’Brien’s later novel In the Lake of the Woods to my classes. I have the greatest respect for O’Brien’s work, and I applaud your making this excerpt available to your readership.
Every spring our VVA chapter conducts panels at local high schools for sophomores studying the Vietnam War. Invariably, many come to our presentations with copies of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. It appears to be the go-to novel about the war used in their English classes. When we’ve asked teachers why the text was used, none seemed to know. It was simply always available to the students, and we wondered why.
Our experience led to discussions in the chapter about the book’s use in the classroom, and those of us who had read it were not complimentary. A number of our members could not bring themselves to read O’Brien’s stories, but we think their impressions would not have differed.
Our informal consensus was that O’Brien was not proud of his service, and at least one of his vignettes was believed particularly preposterous. His character’s assertion that complying with the draft was an act of cowardice was especially regrettable. However our members came to serve, all 200 in our chapter are proud of their service to their country.
While reviewing O’Brien’s latest work, Dad’s Maybe Book, in the September/October 2019 issue, Marc Leepson characterized The Things They Carried as “all but universally regarded as the best fictional treatment of the American war in Vietnam.” If so, one has to wonder by whom, and we doubt that most Vietnam veterans would concur.
In his review, Leepson alludes to a chapter wherein O’Brien describes how he feels about his fellow Vietnam veterans and comments the writing “is bound to offend some of us.”
We agree. O’Brien’s new book contains statements such as:
“As far as I can tell, the bulk of those who fought in Vietnam are proud of their service. I am not.”
“These war buddies of mine seem generally untroubled by all they had once witnessed and endured. As far as I can tell, they entertain few second thoughts about the righteousness of their war and few doubts about whether all the dead people should be dead.”
“I remain torn between my affection for the men of Alpha Company and my dismay at their mostly self-congratulatory, mostly uncritical, mostly America-right-or-wrong values.”
“Most of my former buddies see themselves as unappreciated scapegoats, victims of an unpopular war, and as a consequence they have retreated from discursive politics. Shying away from contested judgments about the war’s rectitude, taking refuge in personal (and therefore uncontestable) values of honor, duty, sacrifice, pride and service to country.”
“No wonder so many of my buddies have retreated into a private interior space, a space insulated from challenges to the war’s rectitude, a space in which they can hold fast to their beleaguered sense of virtue.”
Assuredly, O’Brien is entitled to his opinion, but his writing contains an obvious and unfortunate element of condescension toward his “buddies.” It’s almost as if he believes only he feels the sentiments he expresses.
At one point, O’Brien notes, “I fear a dangerous egocentrism—a kind of selfishness, a kind of narcissism—has blinded many Vietnam veterans to what the war did to other people. They don’t seem to care much. They don’t seem to think about it much.”
Given O’Brien’s perception of his fellow veterans, we have to wonder who is egocentric and narcissistic. However “brilliant” reviewers may consider O’Brien, his writings render most Vietnam veterans little service.
Jim Higgins for the Board of Directors
LET IT BE
Thanks for a great article, “Guerilla Wars,” which adds perspective to Vietnam. The comparison between the war of 1775 and the war of 1969 was intellectual and steeped in perspective. What they and we went through can only be appreciated by those who went through it with us. The best writing I have read in quite a while.
On the subject of the name change: Leave it. I, for one, am proud of how we have lived our motto, “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” From sending and receiving numerous troops going and coming home from war, VVA 920 was there. Let us be. Let us be VVA—men and women who continue to serve this great nation under God.
PASSING INTO HISTORY
I greatly appreciated the “Letters” section this past issue, and agree with all those who feel that changing the name of the organization to include veterans from the more recent foreign policy blunders would be a dishonor to all Vietnam vets. Paul Jackson’s letter put it best: “We should carry our passing as a badge of honor.”
To me this dovetails perfectly with “Guerilla Wars: An Excerpt from ‘Dad’s Maybe Book,’ ” written by that excellent personal Vietnam War chronicler, Tim O’Brien. In his telling of the soldier’s life in war—be it the Vietnam grunt or the British foot soldier of the American Revolution—Mr. O’Brien swathes all soldiers through time immemorial with true honor for the sacrifices and misery they endure.
The experiences of each—be it the Roman Guard, Hannibal’s warriors crossing the Alps, or the World War II soldier on D-Day—may be different in particulars. But the seemingly endless humping, muscle aches, heavy packs, freezing cold or debilitating heat, hunger, thirst, fear, and demeaning of the “other” so it is easier to kill “the enemy” doesn’t change. The experiences of a soldier at war in any time period—the emotional explosion that occurs in a war veteran’s soul—can only be understood by one who has gone through the same experience.
It is difficult for others to understand. It is even more difficult to be able to tell. However, Mr. O’Brien has a special ability to bring the unique madness of the Vietnam War, as seen through his multilayered eyes, to a very basic human understanding. And this is why the name and purpose of the organization should not be changed.
Vietnam was Vietnam. I was not a grunt; I was a corpsman on medevac choppers going into firefights to bring out the dead and wounded. I faced danger, but I slept in a dry bed and had hot meals, unlike my fellow vets who were grunts. But like most of them, I, too, answered the call and had volunteered. Often, I get a sense of guilt that I wasn’t sloshing the rice paddies. Maybe it’s because my best friend Jack, a Marine, was disintegrated by a direct RPG hit. I don’t know.
But I do know that like all wars throughout our country’s history, the flags fly, the bands play, patriotism oozes from every pore, and young men go to war. Then, when they are no longer young in body and mind, returning as veterans, the same country that sent them out to make the sacrifice ignores and denies their honor and humanity, and they end up spending the rest of their lives dealing with the residual shards of a shattered mind, soul, and body on their own. This is why Vietnam Veterans of America came into existence: to answer that need.
I’m at the tail end of treatment for cancer from Agent Orange. Soon, there is nothing else to be done. Would it have been better to have been wounded or have PTSD? I don’t know that either.
Throughout all of this time, as I get older, I feel a growing kinship with my fellow veterans. Whenever I see an old codger shuffling through the store or in a restaurant wearing a Vietnam vet hat I approach him: “Hey how are you? I was there, too. How have you been?” Some murmur, some talk glibly. I just want them to know that someone else understands. Someone else cares.
Bob Isard’s letter says it correctly: “Let the evils of our war pass with us and rightfully pass into history.” As for our VVA organization, let the last one of us still living close the door and turn out the lights as we pass into the next universe. It’s the correct and honorable thing to do.
IT AIN’T BROKE
I joined Vietnam Veterans of America in November 1983, a week after the Founding Convention. I joined VVA because it wasn’t the American Legion or VFW. I didn’t want to belong to an organization that existed to perpetuate itself, let alone an organization that turned its back on us when we came home.
I also didn’t want to belong to an organization that was entombed in military jargon—posts, commanders, etc. I was attracted to the idea of chapters, presidents, and other terms more suitable to our culture and needs in 1983, barely a year after the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The Constitution of Vietnam Veterans of America states clearly who we are, what we are, and why we are. No changes are necessary. In the words of a former VVA President, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
50-YEAR PITY PARTY
I have been deeply saddened by the strong reaction against GA-21, the VVA name change. I was attracted to VVA by its stated mission: Never Again Will One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another. Now it seems that a large number of my fellow veterans who were hurt and offended by their exclusion from the established vets organizations when they returned home have decided that it is important to them to exclude today’s veterans.
Apparently, it is more important to them to have a 50-year pity party for themselves, rather than use the power of our strong and effective organization to help younger vets. It is really too bad they couldn’t have joined the discriminatory organizations when they came home. They would have fit right in.
TO HAVE AND UPHOLD
I was standing in the travel pay line at the Ann Arbor VA hospital one day a few years ago and this old guy in front of me (I’m 75 now) turned around and said, “I’m a World War II veteran. They call us the Greatest Generation. What’s your war?” I replied, “Vietnam. They called us the drug-crazed baby killers.” He just got out of line and wandered away. It was his generation that did that to us.
The guys returning from Korea were basically just ignored and forgotten and didn’t stand up for themselves. The guys coming back from the present mess are all heroes. Welcome home. No problem. No big thing. But we are the ones who came back out of the mud and rain and heat and stood together and worked and fought to straighten things out and still are working.
Let the new ones have our motto and uphold that motto, but it’s our name and our war. We earned it and we ought to keep and own it. When the last of us is gone let it be lain down. If there are worthy ones out there, they can pick up the motto and carry on where we left off. If not, screw it, they’re not worth it. Different world, different ways.
PREMIER VETERANS ADVOCATE
Some Veteran readers seem to have forgotten the VVA mission statement: “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”
VVA has been, and is, the most competent veterans advocate in the nation. And that advocacy has been extended to the vets who have served since Vietnam. While there are other service organizations out there (I am a life member of DAV), none has the infrastructure and experience to deal with the issues facing all veterans. You have only to compare The VVA Veteran to the rest of the lightweight publications.
Some writers in “Letters” seem to feel that there was something special or unique about Vietnam. There wasn’t. War is not unique. Our politicians sent us to an unwinnable war and did the same for the Iraq and Afghanistan vets, and then tried to shortchange us on health care and compensation. Combat and war experience go across generations. As I watched the grisly destruction of Fallujah, Iraq, it flashed me back immediately to the carnage in Cholon, Saigon, in 1968, where I was stationed.
As I talked to a VA counselor about my re-experiencing the war, the doc commented that the VA has yet to see the peak of Vietnam vets seeking treatment for PTSD. And with many Iraq and Afghanistan vets seeing tours that are often longer and in total more damaging than Vietnam, they will end up dealing with PTSD for generations.
VVA vets owe it to the next generation of vets so that our experience can help all veterans across the generations.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading “50 Years Ago” in each issue. I left Vietnam on April 10, 1970, and totally lost interest in following Walter Cronkite on the Evening News. I immersed in college and post-military life
It was only years later that I realized the historical importance of Vietnam and my own part in it. A lot went on after I left, and the war was far from over. When I visited The Wall, I realized the names of the guys I knew were in the middle. Many paid the price for many more years.
The column really fills in what is not found in the massive military library that I have in our home. Keep up the great work.
As a 1968-69 Tet Offensive Vietnam Army veteran, I want to support Bob Forman’s contention that “it appears the Army is pretending there was no combat prior to 2001.” Thousands of us who made it back continue to live out our lives suffering from multiple ailments due to service-connected disabilities. We firmly believe we should be recognized for the numerous times we were in direct arms fire with the enemy, even though it was prior to 2001, but yet not assigned an MOS of 11B, which disqualifies us for the Combat Infantryman Badge.
We did not question our superior officers when we were directed to lock-n-load in support of protecting air strips, defending our camp perimeters during ground attacks, and engaging in short range search-n-destroy patrols during the heaviest fighting of the Vietnam War. We just did it! We did not question our superior officers when asked to fill in as a gunner on a gun truck or a helicopter, because the guys in front of us were getting killed or wounded. It was simply a time when we all filled in the gap as needed and where needed.
So, Bob Forman, I will gladly sign your petition on behalf of our fellow Vietnam War Veterans (deceased and alive today) who engaged in direct fire with the enemy. If we can’t qualify for the CIB, we most definitely earned and should qualify for the CAB.
As a 9th Infantry Div. correspondent and combat photographer, I was involved in a number of firefights in the Delta in 1967. I would normally be shooting my Nikon F, but there were times when I put it down and used my M-16 to help the platoon I was with. The Army should make the Combat Action Badge retroactive to any soldier who was an active participant in combat.
FROM ORANGE TO RED
Thank you for publishing Tom Burke’s Vice President’s Report in the last issue, which cited Agent Orange contamination on American bases. He writes that Kelly AFB was an area where Agent Orange was “used, tested, or stored” during 1970. He writes that it is in New York.
I checked his source, having been stationed at Kelly AFB Texas from December 1969 until January 1973. His source verifies that it’s the same Kelly at which I was stationed—there is no Kelly AFB in New York.
John C. Miller
A STEEP PRICE
Out of high school I joined the Marine Corps for four years, 1965-69. I am a combat veteran (1967-68), serving 13 months in Vietnam. I spent three months in Camp Lejeune drinking and bathing in the government’s contaminated water. I was then sent to Vietnam where I became a crew chief/gunner on Huey gunships.
After my honorable discharge in 1969 I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma due to herbicide exposure. After chemo, I was diagnosed as not fit to work. To this day there are still health issues. My three children have health problems due to my exposure to Agent Orange. My oldest daughter was diagnosed with lupus and recently went through a kidney transplant. My second daughter had a cancerous cyst removed from her kidney. My only son was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After two years of chemo and going through hell, he passed away at just 33 years old.
I have paid a steep price to our country to be a Vietnam veteran. To tell me that I don’t have a say or a vote in keeping our identity as Vietnam veterans is wrong. We are a band of brothers because of our time in Vietnam. Don’t give in, don’t capitulate. We as VVA owe it to all of our brothers who paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep our name at least until the last one dies.
Don’t take my vote or identity away from me. I also have a voice and I deserve to have a vote.
Roger P. Mazikowski
It is bad enough the government that sent us to war would not take responsibility for its action, and then betrayed the American soldier by giving the country back to the aggressors. It turned its back on the soldiers who did what they were asked to do.
Now we are being betrayed by our organization. I joined Vietnam Veterans of America because I am a Vietnam veteran, not to become some other organization. We voted no to the change. Then, like lawyers with double talk, they confuse the members as to what is really being said.
If the president is so bent on keeping his position by changing the organization, let him start his own and step aside and let some other leader take over. Don’t use Vietnam veterans’ funds to start or change our organization.
If you insist on changing, I would appreciate the return of my membership lifetime dues. If I wanted to join another organization, I would have done that.
WHO OWES WHAT
I owe “Double Deuce” & “Triple Nickel” my very life. I got to meet them in 1974 in Germany, three and a half years after they provided gun cover for my very perforated 139th AHC Chinook #052 in Vietnam. We all owe something to someone: As newbies, we owe a lot to the ones who had been in country long enough to know where to be and when to be gone.
We all owe the 58,000 who were in the wrong place at the wrong time the responsibility to carry on the mission of teaching those who come behind us.
Just as the in-countrys looked out for the newbies, it is our job to look out for veterans who are returning home from the wars on the 6:00 and 10:00 news—just as those veterans of other wars should have looked out for us. Those who think they made it to, through, and out of Vietnam on their own skills and wits alone are living delusional lives.
I’m not a name dropper. But I can sleep easier by dropping the “Vietnam Veterans of America” in favor of “Veterans of War” than I can by dropping the mission statement: “Never Again Will One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another.”
Who do I make the check out to?
I have been making phone calls to veteran members listed on my phone’s speed dial (about 30) to check up on them. I try to interject a bit of humor when I call them. I follow up with calls to other veteran friends, some of whom are socially isolated during the coronavirus, to see how they are doing. This includes calls to my out-of-state friends.
I plan to call my medically isolated veteran friends once a week and the others every other week just to check up on them and engage in a few minutes of conversation. While I don’t know if this will last beyond the coronavirus pandemic, I thought it might help fend off some of the problems associated with veterans being alone during these times.
Reach out to some of your friends by phone. Emails are good, but a cheerful voice is better.
I didn’t realize that through membership in VVA I would find camaraderie through the letters in this magazine. I agree with those who want to let VVA die with its last member.
Recently I came into possession of 25 cast-bronze grave markers, discovered scattered in a basement encased in spiderwebs or partially buried in backyard dirt of an old empty house in Delaware County, Pa. They were engraved Vietnam, Korea, Spanish War Veteran, and GAR. The Vietnam, Korea, Spanish War were five inches in diameter. GAR was a five-point star.
The two Vietnam markers I kept. Korea, Spanish War, and GAR went on eBay for possible resale until I was contacted by a man in Westville, N.Y. Edward Riley purchased one of the GAR markers, then two weeks later he asked for two more with the following story.
An Army vet (1967-69), he volunteers to maintain the military section at the local cemetery. He has traced his ancestry to the Civil War. His great-great grandfather, a Union soldier, is buried in the Westville Cemetery. The first marker was placed on his grandfather’s grave. The other two will be placed on the unmarked graves of the Union soldiers buried on either side of his great-great grandfather. I removed all of the grave markers from eBay. The GAR markers I donated to the Westville Cemetery. The Korea and Spanish War markers will be donated to the Historical Society in Cape May, N.J.
I share the grave marker story to say this: I did not know the meaning of the acronym GAR. It’s the Grand Army of the Republic. Like today’s VVA founded by Vietnam veterans, GAR was founded by Union soldiers in 1866. GAR was instrumental in helping establish the federal holiday we know as Memorial Day. GAR dissolved with the death of its last member in 1956.
So I ask: Has GAR really died? Will VVA die? Perhaps one of our great-great grandchildren will find a cast bronze grave marker buried in backyard dirt engraved with the acronym, VVA. On Memorial Day the remaining cast bronze five-pointed stars, cleaned, sanitized, polished to a luster, will hold an American flag.
“GAR 1861-1865,” in celebration, will mark the location of nine warriors—the unmarked graves of Union soldiers.
I served in Vietnam with the Americal Division from Easter Sunday 1968 until I was wounded on October 10 and medevaced back to the world. I am a life member of the VFW, DAV, MOPH, and AMVETS, as well as VVA.
There are plenty of other organizations for more recent veterans to join. If they are allowed to join VVA or the name is changed to include these non-Vietnam-Era veterans I will resign my membership. This is our organization and should not be changed to admit other veterans just to keep membership numbers from falling.
Dennis W Pfaff
A MEMBER-WIDE VOTE
As a Life member since 2012, I’m a little dismayed by the sentence in Rex Moody’s article, “GA-21: What It Isn’t”: “Changing the name of VVA or changing its membership requirements can only be accomplished at a National Convention by a 2/3rds vote of the delegates present.”
The words “delegates present” worry me. Very few members actually attend the National Convention, so getting a 2/3rds vote of the delegates present shouldn’t be too difficult. Those few delegates may vote to change the name. But from all the letters I’ve read over the last few issues, many—if not most—of us don’t want the name changed.
With an issue this big, I think the voting should be member-wide, not just delegate-wide. Yep, it will take a little time to get all the members’ votes recorded. There should be an opportunity to vote online for those of us who can, and an opportunity for mail-in votes for those who cannot. Include a ballot in The Veteran. I think we can afford the return postage.
By asking all members to vote on a name change, you will get their true feelings. If the delegates are the only ones who can vote, then they need to seriously poll their membership and vote accordingly, with no self-opinions allowed. After all, that’s how it’s done in our government.
Ron S. Richardson
I have been inundated by letters from members objecting to any name change or change in membership eligibility. That includes letters from William Koonz, Wesley Field, Roger Lonnstrom, Fred Huff, Dale Worchester, Joel Kinsman, John T. McAniff III, John Baz-Dresch, Lester E. Scates, Lindy N. Hester, Gary H. Thompson, Randall G. Cook, Walter D. Graham, John Gregoire, Jerry Richards, Buzz Sodeman, Richard Machado, Richard Wills, Ron Piasecki, John M. Raiden, Michael Weaver, John Bultman, J.J. Zielinski, Robert Lucas, Carson Bruening, Thomas Skarbek, John Redick, Norman Arnett, Gary L.Schulz, Larry S. Levy, Ed Morgan, and David M. Peik—certainly an incomplete list.
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