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July/August 2019



Just received the May/June issue. Somehow having a guy dressed in a suit decorated with question marks doesn’t seem to work over this Memorial Day. Or maybe fifty-plus years after going to Vietnam, it is a fitting commentary.

Michael Olsen
By Email


I was part of the pre-commissioning crew as well as a plank owner of the U.S.S. Pueblo. After reading your article about Matthew Lesko, I wrote to the Pueblo Veterans Association to confirm my suspicions. Whoever he is, Lesko was never part of the Pueblo crew. Also, the Pueblo never patrolled the waters of Vietnam. Its only mission was from Yokohama to waters off North Korea that ended in its capture in Wonsan Harbor.

As far as I am concerned, this person is another wannabe and should be ashamed of his stolen valor, claiming something he was not.

Michael DeLong
By Email

Veterans of the Pueblo were quick to question Lesko’s bona fides. Garbled communication between Lesko and author Bill Triplett has been corrected on the online version at www.vvaveteran.org It reads:

“After OCS, as a newly minted ensign, Lesko found himself aboard the U.S.S. Oxford, an intelligence-gathering ship similar to the U.S.S. Pueblo, which later became infamous when North Koreans seized it in January 1968, accused it of spying, and held its crew hostage for almost a year. But nothing so dangerous happened during Lesko’s tour on the Oxford. “We’d just travel up and down the coast of South Vietnam, listening. And we’d put into port every fifty days,” he said.


In the last issue, the Government Affairs section put forth a strange mixture of good and bad journalism. Topics two through six were interesting, thought provoking, and useful. Topic one, except for the opening paragraph, ran off the rails into the political world of hyperbole, conjecture, and a useless conclusion including three unidentified “informal” advisers to President Trump on VA matters, followed by the trial and conviction by VVA of Jeff Miller for who-knows-what misdeeds. Then of course, the usual suspects: the Koch brothers and their, yet another, unidentified “key operative” with the goal of single-handedly “dismembering” the VA health care system, an impressive feat indeed.

I hope a follow-up article will contain the names of the culprits involved, besides the aging Koch brothers, along with some certifiable documentation outlining just how this deed will be accomplished. In the meantime, I will neatly take a scissors to this portion of an otherwise respectable article. I recommend others to do the same. We deserve more than shallow, one-sided opinion.

Pete Van Til
By Email


I read with particular interest the article on Oliver Lee Jackson, the artist showing at the National Gallery of Art. I had not realized he was a Vietnam vet. That adds another whole dimension to his work.

Bela J. Demeter
By Email


Reading the review in the last issue of Michael Beschloss’ book, Presidents of War, I found a mistake. Beschloss claims the officer in charge of the Maddox was George Morrison, father of Jim Morrison. Actually, George Morrison was a captain in charge or skipper of the U.S.S. Bon Homme Richard (CVA 31), an aircraft carrier that didn’t arrive on station until October of 1965. I know; I was aboard.

Beschloss also mistakenly claimed that Morrison was an admiral in charge of a task force. Finally, in his notes, Beschloss says he talked to George Morrison, but Morrison had been dead for quite a while.

Robert L. Devore
Beecher City, Illinois


I look forward to reading “Books in Review” in each issue of The VVA Veteran, and I find Marc Leepson’s comments to be very insightful, realistic, and informative on Vietnam War publications. I’d just like to add a comment on his review of Michael Beschloss’ Presidents of War in the last issue. Capt. George Morrison was commander of the U.S.S. Bon Homme Richard, leading an aircraft carrier squadron of the 3rd Carrier Fleet on operations in the Tonkin Gulf in August 1964. 

The U.S.S. Maddox, a destroyer, was a member of this carrier group, tasked with in-shore patrolling of the North Vietnamese coast to observe and intercept NVN supply boats. The Maddox was commanded by Capt. John Herrick, who ordered naval gunfire directed at vague radar contacts, presumed to be NVN torpedo boats covering the coastal supply runs. This became the Tonkin Gulf Incident.

Robert J. Farrell
Jersey City, New Jersey


I read with interest Matthew Spirko’s letter in the last issue. I also am 100 percent disabled and my medical availability seems to be the reverse of his: VA clinic care is close and some civilian facilities are longer drives. We recently moved to the Oregon Coast from Northern California and have used the Veterans Choice/TriWest program for years. If you live over forty miles from your VA mother ship, the program allows you to obtain care locally and get referrals to civilian specialists.

I have used this program quite a bit without too many hitches. Like any VA entity, you have hoops to jump through and must stay on top of things. Veterans Choice came about when the mother ship could not provide the necessary care anymore and the team docs were all bailing. Most of the civilian providers do take Veterans Choice.

I don’t know if Mr. Spirko has access to this program. A call to a local VSO might be in order. The system works fairly well for me, and my wife gets care along with it, CHAMPVA, at little or no cost. My care is N/C. I get mileage reimbursement. I do not have to use the local VA clinic.

Michael Hennig
By Email


I’d like to point out that in the box titled “Advocacy” in the latest issue, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is listed as a Republican from Arizona. While she is from Arizona, she is actually a Democrat. 

Gary Short Meneley
By Email


Michael Allen Griggs saved my life more than fifty years ago. I never met Michael Griggs. But after reading David Maragni’s “They Shall Never Perish” in the May/June issue, I immediately thought of him. He was a 20-year-old Marine PFC who was killed August 2, 1968, in I Corps. In the summer of 1968, his obituary appeared in our local Bowie, Maryland, newspaper. It had a profound impact on me.

I had graduated from Bowie High School just a couple of months before. My father was a Sergeant Major in the Army. My older brother was serving as an infantryman with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the Central Highlands. I was 19 years old and classified 1-A by our local draft board. In our family it wasn’t if you go into the service, it was when you go into the service.

I remember seeing long casualty lists in my dad’s copy of the Army Times. With my brother in combat and the draft board bearing down on me, my dad sat me down and clued me into what I could expect if I were drafted. It was not a pretty picture. At the time, I had a decent construction job, a very friendly girlfriend, and a beat-up VW. I wasn’t in too much of a hurry to leave all that. I knew (or thought I knew) that when I went into the Army (what else, right?) I’d follow in my brother’s footsteps and go Airborne and then ship off to Vietnam all gung-ho.

Then, Michael Griggs’ obituary appeared. I remember staring at his picture and thinking, “Damn, that could have been my brother—or my dad—or me.” He had graduated the year before and then joined the Marines. I did not know him in high school. Our family discussed his death and we felt very sorry for his family.

Michael Griggs’ death hit close to home. My dad reassured my mom that my brother would be alright, and that my dad would not be going overseas for at least another year. When the subject turned to me and my future plans, my dad told me there were several ways to fulfill my military obligation without having to hump a rifle through the rice paddies. He mentioned that I should consider the Air Force.

A seed was planted in my brain. Sometime later, I went down to the Air Force recruiter, took the aptitude tests and a physical—did everything but sign the dotted line. The recruiter said my paperwork was good for several months and when I wanted to, to come on down and sign up.

Eventually, I received my draft notice. The next day I signed up for four years with the Air Force. I eventually graduated from a long tech school as a Weapons System Control Specialist working on F-4Es. Almost all of the E models were in Southeast Asia, and it wasn’t long before I found myself there, working on the flight line of several fighter wings during combat operations over North Vietnam.

I made it home with no physical harm. My brother, although wounded, also made it home. I cannot help but think that the unfortunate death of Marine PFC Michael Allen Griggs—and his impact on my decisions—enabled me to return home safely.

I have often stood at The Wall in front of the panel that bears his name, and I always silently thank him. I have also visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Baltimore, where his name is carved, to pay my respects. Michael, thank you for saving my life by giving yours. I will never forget you.

Paul Glascock
Ellicott City, Maryland

Moonstruck in Vietnam:
July 20, 1969

The year 1969 for me was a time of growth, wonderment, hope, and fear. On July 20 Apollo 11 landed on the moon and a man stepped on another planetary body for the first time. Fifty years ago I was twenty-one and in the third year of my USAF enlistment. Stationed at a small airbase, Binh Thuy, I had grown to adulthood through my travels and experiences in the military. After my baptism under fire and a steady diet of mortar attacks by an unseen enemy, I hoped and prayed that if I survived I would pursue a degree in engineering.

Vietnam was never declared a war, but don’t tell that to any Nam vet or the families of the 58,000-plus KIAs and the countless others wounded. The Age of Aquarius had become a distant song. The reality of war, social unrest, protest, political conniving, and government incompetence embedded itself in our hearts and minds. But this is not about that; I am merely painting the view we had from the Mekong Delta while trying to live up to the ideals of military service and fighting for a democracy. Humankind was about to realize President Kennedy’s vision: “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

At times I feared I would fly out of there not in a Freedom Bird, but in a flag-draped coffin. I dealt with this morbid possibility of my demise with an equal sense of survival and humor. I embraced a countdown of the days left in country on my short-timer’s calendar.

On July 20, 1969, when I was six months into my tour with six to go—not officially a short timer yet, but not a cherry either—Apollo 11’s three crewmembers were preparing to land on the moon. The snippets of reports on Armed Forces Radio and Stars and Stripes were all we had, since TVs were rare and we slept during the day when most programming was available. For me and my fellow Security Policemen, it would be a typical day of sleeping from 8 a.m. until maybe 3 p.m. after another long night providing security for the base perimeter, then getting up and repeating the nightly Devil Flight routine all over again.

My assignment was 15 Alpha, a 25-foot steel tower on the far end of the base runway. As I climbed up, then went in and turned to face the tiny village and the Bassac River beyond the perimeter, before me was a bright, almost-full moon in all its glory. I sat down and immediately knew that this night would be different from any other.

Apart from the fact that history was unfolding, it could have been just another night of vigilance and fear, another nocturnal passage in this exotic, beautiful, but war-torn country. While most Americans were tuned to their TVs, I settled into my post, checked and arranged my equipment, then dug into my gear for my transistor radio. I inserted the earpiece and tuned into Armed Forces Radio for the live broadcast of the lunar mission.

Although it would be hours before the descent to Tranquility Base, I was transfixed by the moon before me and probably put myself and fellow airmen at risk. As the lunar lander emerged from that last orbit around the dark side of the moon and resumed communications, the excitement, fear of failure, and hope of success practically had me riding with them as my imagination soared.

Then, as the descent began, I vividly remember intense color as the retro rockets slowed the descent and they radioed back that they saw moon dust stirring up just before the crew counted down the last few feet to touchdown and engine shutoff. The words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” came through the earpiece. I let out a loud “Whooowie!” America was first on the moon, and I watched—yes, watched—from halfway around the world, and there was glory, victory, and renewed hope for the genius and resourcefulness of humanity.

Just then someone called out. It was my sector K9 team. He had heard my whooping. I recounted all that had just happened and the dog handler, too, was thrilled. But I was living it and soon was right back on the moon. Luckily, Victor Charlie did not spoil this night.

At about 3 a.m. July 21 on my side of the world (3 p.m. the day before on the East Coast), the decision was made to open the hatch and climb down from the lander, which would take about six hours. I would be off duty in three and the radio battery was about dead, so the first words by Neil Armstrong after stepping off the ladder were heard by a group of us in our hooch: “That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.”

We were all in awe but tired and needed to rest. After that, we slept and maybe dreamt of home, family, girlfriends, and the possibilities of the future—a future that 58,228 would never realize. So yes, I remember the triumph of July 20, 1969, and for me it’s inexorably linked with the tragedy of the Vietnam War.

Years later I saw the video of Apollo 11 sitting on the moon and the astronauts’ walk. But the video couldn’t compare to what I, while sitting in that tower with the moon aglow in a clear black sky, saw in my mind with such clarity and wonderment. As I have relived it over and over through five decades, I wouldn’t trade it, not for anything.

Hector Ramos is a VVA life member of Grandstrand (South Carolina) Chapter 925.





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