The Vietnam I Remember

Although the conflict in Vietnam was the most photographed in history, there is a human side of the war that the camera has largely overlooked. It is that of young men coming of age on the battlefield in the midst of the emotional confusion surrounding America’s longest and most controversial war. My photos and stories are an effort to shed some light on that experience. Almost none are of the “blood and guts” variety so often associated with the Vietnam War. They chronicle the day-to-day events--some inspirational, some hilarious, some tragic, some heartbreaking--that changed so many a youthful idealist into a disillusioned outcast.

The U.S. serviceman in Vietnam dealt with the same stresses that his father and grandfather endured before him in their wars: paralyzing fear, loneliness, animalistic living conditions and the constant exposure to death and needless brutality. Unlike the wars of his father and grandfather that rallied unprecedented levels of patriotic support at home, the war in Vietnam became virulently unpopular with the American public, dividing it more deeply than any time since the Civil War. Although the 58,132 Americans killed in Vietnam is considered low by the standards of earlier wars, few Vietnam vets escaped the crossfire from warring factions of American society. Society’s disgust with the war was, more often than not, directed at the men in uniform. The Vietnam vet was the first American serviceman to return home not to a hero’s welcome, but to harassment, ridicule and open hostility.

This was not a war that America’s future was dependent upon winning. To those doing the fighting, and many back home, its purpose became more and more elusive. Was the war in Vietnam nothing more than the machinations of the “military-industrial establishment” President Eisenhower had warned about only a few years earlier in his farewell speech? The war lacked any clear-cut goals. Territory and positions would be taken at great cost and loss of life, only to be abandoned months, weeks and, in some cases, just days later. Washington, fearful of provoking the Russians and Chinese, ordered Generals to halt bombing missions just as they were about to achieve their goals. Numerous other restricted rules of engagement seriously hampered military commanders in the field. To ease the financial impact of the war on the American taxpayer, captains of industry were brought in to run the military in a more business-like and cost-effective manner. Unfortunately, they often failed to heed the advice of seasoned military leaders and made decisions that proved very costly on the battlefield.

Junior officers and enlisted men increasingly felt like pawns in a deadly game of questionable purpose, with their safety and wellbeing at best, secondary. Furthermore, it soon became apparent that the Vietnamese soldiers they had come to assist were cowardly and incompetent and the government they were sent to support, hopelessly corrupt. The American public back home began to regard them as “baby killers,” and the realization that even their own government would rather sacrifice their lives than risk provoking the Russians left many servicemen in Vietnam feeling betrayed and abandoned.

The only ones they felt they could still trust were those around them. It is a real tribute to the character of those who fought in Vietnam that, out of profound sense of duty, so many continued to risk their lives to protect the lives of their fellow servicemen even though most felt the war was useless, being fought incorrectly and unwinnable. This book is dedicated to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who dealt with an ugliness that will haunt them for the rest of their lives, who answered their country’s call, who did what their nation asked of them and did so with courage and dignity. This is their story.
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