Veteran’s Can Be Touchy Bastards

CH-46 Sea Knight

Marine CH-46 Sea Knight Helicopter

Republic of Vietnam

Photo:  Courtesy of Marine archives

Note:  Marines offloading a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter in typical fashion.  Flying the grunts (Infantry) into the improvised LZ’s (Landing Zones) and then returning with additional ammunition, water, rations, mail and body bags as needed.  Note the .50 caliber M-2 heavy machine-gun protruding from the port side (left side) hatch.  Initially this aircraft was equipped with two or sometimes three M-60 .30 caliber medium machine-guns, but was quickly upgraded to the more powerful M-2 (Ma-duece).  All in a day’s work.

I find that veterans can be touchy bastards (myself included).  We are quick to criticize, bitch and bellyache amongst ourselves, but resent the hell out of someone outside of the club offering their two cents worth.  Most veterans feel that expressing criticism is an earned privilege.  And most of us really hate being patronized or pandered to.  The term “I support the troops” readily comes to mind.  Really?  And how exactly do you do that?

The Marine Corps was America’s first elite fighting force, and was established on November 10, 1775.  Before the Navy UDT and SEAL teams came into existence, even before Army Delta Force, Special Forces (Green Beret’s) and Ranger units were born, there was the United States Marine Corps.  Its basic credo:  Every Marine a rifleman.  Every Marine, regardless of MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), is first and foremost a Marine infantryman (Rifleman).

Contrary to popular belief, we do not fight for God, country, mom and apple pie. We fight for one another.  The God, country, mom and apple pie spiel is for public consumption only. We fight because we are ordered to do so, without question and with ferocity.  We fight to stay alive, and to protect our comrades-in-arms.  We fight because we’re scared.  That is the truth of it.  Politics has nothing to do with it.  A Marine might initially enlist from a heightened sense of patriotism, but when the first bullet is fired it is all about staying alive.

I suspect that the other military branches feel the same way.  I’m primarily talking about combat veterans, those that have exchanged their idealism for the reality of armed conflict. War, true war, is by its very nature:  Ugly, brutal, dehumanizing and scary.  Anyone who says different is a liar.  And anyone who says they love war is a sociopath.  There is nothing to love about war. The often cavalier way in which our country (Politicians) sends our men and women into harm’s way is both a national disgrace and a sin.

The vast majority of combat veterans are not heroes.  They will be the first to tell you that. And it’s embarrassing and patronizing to be referred to as a hero.  They are reacting to stressful situations with training and determination, and it almost always takes a psychological, if not physical, toll.  Bad things are done in the name of war.  Terms like: The Rules of Engagement, and The Ethics of War are like oxymoron’s.  What rules, what ethics?  In the fog of war what difference is there between an atrocity, and an expedient solution to a life threatening problem?

Politicians should think long and hard (then longer and harder still) before committing our troops to hostile action.  Once they are on the battlefield then butt out.  You cannot micromanage a tactical war from Washington.  It hasn’t worked in Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq.  Politicians and Generals can develop strategy, but the day-to-day tactical decisions must be left to the commanders in the field.  Failure to do this costs lives.

To the American people:  There is a fine line between Patriotism, Nationalism and Fascism. One leads to another as sure as lemmings march lockstep into the sea.  When you talk openly about committing our troops to conflicts in places like North Korea, Ukraine and Syria please consider the ramifications—and maybe just shut your mouth.  Unless, of course, YOU are willing to go down to your local recruiting office and enlist.  Or YOU are willing to have YOUR son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife, killed or maimed for national pride.  Trust me, the United States is not going to be invaded anytime soon.

If you’re not willing to sacrifice, to pay the price yourself, then just shut up.  Are there issues worth fighting for?  Of course.  But national pride is not one of them.  International terrorism is an abomination that must be met with force, but invading sovereign countries with boots on the ground was never the solution.  It’s both inefficient and often ineffective. Covert (meaning secret) Special Operations teams, drones, CIA, Interpol and local law enforcement agencies would have been much more efficient, effective and less costly in terms of lives lost and our national treasure.  But our illustrious Commander-in-Chief had to prove to the world how tough he was:  Bring it on.

And as long as I’m sounding off (no Scotch involved BTW), quit asking me if I’ve ever killed anyone.  You are the last person I’m going to discuss that with.  And quit judging the actions of my fellow veterans after the fact (in hindsight).  You don’t know them, or the situations they were in when they made the decisions they did (or took the actions they did).  You have no idea what the physical or psychological circumstances were that led to their behavior.  They did what they did because:  1.  They were ordered to do so, 2.  They were trying to stay alive, or 3.  They were protecting their comrades.

Be proud of your son or daughter’s service, but don’t be their spokesperson.  They can speak for themselves, you haven’t earned the right.  Don’t ride on their coattails, they’re the one’s doing the time and paying the price.  Have pride in their accomplishments, but don’t hijack their efforts to make yourself look good in front of your friends.  It looks stupid and demeaning—especially when it’s splattered all over FB.  And you antiwar types out there (and I’m pretty damn antiwar myself), don’t blame the troops for the stupid decisions of your elected officials—criticize the policymakers and not the troops.

And finally to my fellow veterans, especially Vietnam veterans:  If your service was Stateside, or on a ship 50-miles off the coast of Vietnam, or if your ship pulled into Danang harbor to offload supplies, you are not a Vietnam Veteran—you are a Vietnam-era Veteran.  I applaud your service, and I thank you for your support, but …

I’ve had this issue come up with family, friends, FB acquaintances and people I’ve met in social gatherings.  I ask a question or two, and it becomes blatantly obvious that you were never in-country. Vietnam Veteran versus Vietnam-era Veteran.  Think about it.  There is pride in both my friends.  Nothing to be ashamed of—we went where we were ordered to go and we did the jobs we were ordered to do—whether that was in-country or somewhere else.  I remember where I was like it was yesterday:  Chu Lai, Ky Ha, An Tan, Dong Binh II, Tam Ky and the Que Son Valley.  End of rant.  Semper Fi.

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