It has been 40 years, on average, since most Americans served in Vietnam, and for most American Vietnam veterans the last 40 years have constituted our own version of wandering in the wilderness.
Starting with the fighting in Korea, the so-called "Forgotten War," escalating to a fever pitch during Vietnam, and continuing right up through those currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's veterans have been relegated by many in our country to something far less than second-class citizen status.
Vietnam vets especially have been dealing with a country that never knew or understood the magnitude of our victories there. Our politicians cut our legs out from under us and our allies from South Vietnam, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand repeatedly, until ultimately the communists were able to take advantage of the political and military vacuum created by our Congress and overthrow the democratic south in 1975.
American and allied troops had left that country years before, after twice driving the communists to the edge of surrender, and twice seeing them bailed out by American politicians.
As a result, the communists gleefully signed a weak and unenforceable "Peace" agreement in 1973 that was negotiated by Henry Kissinger and approved by the US Congress. That travesty and the slaughter of some 4 million Southeast Asians by the communists in the years that followed have been falsely labeled a military defeat ever since by the media and the very politicians who caused it.
Those same politicians and the media also falsely claim the American military was not up to the level of previous generations, even though we were the best educated, best led and most effective ever and never lost a single major engagement.
As a result, many Vietnam vets labored for years in an atmosphere of distrust, misunderstanding and outright hostility from the very country we fought to preserve.
But that could all change on March 17, at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. On that date, an anti-war march is planned from the area of the Vietnam and Korean War memorials in Washington, across the river to the Pentagon, to 'celebrate' a similar anti-war march during the Vietnam era in 1967. (I wonder if they are going to 'celebrate' the slaughter of 4 million innocent people by the communists after the war ended?)
Why these marchers were given a permit allowing them to gather near the Vietnam Memorial is anyone's guess. But while some organizers are working overtime to convince America's veterans that this is just a peaceful group of average Americans exercising their right to free speech, the list of participants reads like an international Who's Who of anti-American, pro-terrorist, communist and socialist organizations.
The word that some of these groups are actively planning to deface the Vietnam Memorial and other monuments as they did our nation's Capitol last month is spreading throughout the American veteran community and causing considerable alarm to put it mildly.
Thus, a coalition of veterans representing all services from WWII to present, is planning to gather in Washington on March 17, to form a wall of humanity around The Wall. The purpose of this vigil is not to deny the marchers their rights to assemble, march and speak. The purpose of this vigil is to protect the sanctity and the honor of the more than 58,000 men and women whose names are listed on The Wall.
If enough of us go to Washington on March 17, it is conceivable that the Vietnam Memorial can be surrounded by a ring of veterans several rows deep. This is a goal that can and should be met by the veterans' community.
Some on the anti-war side claim this is nonsense, that the anti-war march is peaceful in intent and that none of the marchers have ulterior motives. They say the presence of veterans at one of our own memorials will incite violence. If there is logic in that position it escapes me.
If the marchers truly care about the troops, if they truly are people of peace, then the presence of veterans should be seen as a positive sign not a call to violence. If the 'peace' marchers are truly peaceful, why are some of them warning the veterans that any effort to protect The Wall will almost certainly bring violence and injury down on them?
Most Vietnam veterans are close to the age of 60, on one side or the other of that Great Divide. Many are grandfathers and the time when we ran for miles on empty stomachs, carrying incredible burdens of arms and ammo is far behind us.
What possible good could come from a group of anarchists attacking a gathering of grandfathers? The answer is obvious. The 'peace' marchers would get nothing of benefit from such a confrontation, so the real goal is to discourage the veterans from coming to Washington in the first place.
The anarchists would benefit greatly if the veterans stay away. First, if they attempt to deface the memorial they will have a nearly free hand, if they can get past the park service personnel and DC police - neither of which should be considered a walk in the park - so to speak.
But more importantly they will have succeeded in denying America's veterans our first real opportunity in 40 years to gather en masse and remind or inform the rest of America who we really are, what we stood for then, and what we stand for now. The anarchists do not want pictures of thousands of veterans, whether they are members of the current generation, the grandfathers from Vietnam and Korea, or anyone from the years in between, standing up to them, and standing up for freedom.
There are risks to be sure. The media is not likely to print or broadcast anything that is favorable to the veterans. The media was against us in Vietnam, it is against us now.
Want proof? OK, a few days ago Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former POW in Vietnam, stated that he was concerned the terrorists we are fighting in Iraq might launch attacks against our troops similar to the Tet Offensive in 1968. In that fighting American troops annihilated the Viet Cong guerrillas, killing an estimated 35,000 out of a total military force of some 70,000, in addition to killing tens of thousands of regular North Vietnamese Army troops.
But the American media, led by Walter Cronkite who broadcast from Vietnam in April 1968 that the war was 'unwinnable' after we had just won its biggest victory, cast it as an American defeat.
In the article on Sen. McCain's statement, the Associated Press reported that the Tet Offensive was disastrous to the American military due to the high levels of casualties we took. That is exactly the kind of public relations spin that was used in 1968 to misinform the American public of the extent of our victory.
The Tet Offensive ever after was labeled a military victory but a PR defeat for America. Well, you can't have a PR victory without a PR agent, and Walter Cronkite and the American media were the communists' loudest and most visible PR agents.
In the Tet Offensive, at the end of 30 days of fighting America had lost 1,536 killed in action. The communists had lost more than 45,000. The US and its allies broke the back of the Viet Cong guerrilla forces and dealt devastating losses to the regular North Vietnamese. But you never hear that in the American media, and it was not included in the Associated Press report on Sen. McCain's recent comments.
The media lied about us then, the media continues to lie about us now. So we should not harbor any illusions about the coverage our vigil will receive.
But March 17 offers America's veterans a unique opportunity. It affords us the time and place to gather once again, in numbers not seen since we were together 40 years ago. And even though many of us are grandfathers, we have not lost the knowledge or the will to protect ourselves and our country.
Also, for all the years that anarchy has been a left-wing tactic on America's streets, the leftists have never faced a solidly united and capable opposition force. This is not to be considered a challenge nor baiting. It is an observable fact. The anarchists have always counted on most Americans staying home and letting the police handle the lawlessness.
But this time they are threatening a memorial that is near and dear to thousands of Americans, many who fought, and many more who know someone listed on The Wall. This time, the anarchists' target is a visible symbol to all Americans and defacing it will be far more than an insult to all Americans.
There are two ways the marchers in Washington D.C. can avoid confrontation. Those among them who claim to speak for peace should not be telling veterans to stay home, but rather should be speaking to members of their affiliated organizations who are planning on non-peaceful actions. Defacing our national memorials and monuments speaks volumes to the rest of America, but I seriously doubt that is the message the marchers want to convey.
Tell that to every group participating in the march, and tell them that vandalism, confrontation and violence will not be condoned. Then enforce your words.
Second, the marchers can stay away from the memorials. The Wall and the other memorials on the Mall in Washington are open 365 days a year. They can be visited any time. If the marchers are demonstrating for peace, but want to visit the memorials for more personal reasons, then stick to the designated march route, and go to the memorials peacefully on another day.
Comply with these two requests and conflict will be avoided. Refuse to comply and the responsibility for any resultant confrontations will rest squarely on the shoulders of the march organizers and participants.
For the veterans, March 17 should be our day. We should gather in numbers that ensure deterrence, and show that the values we fought for so long ago, and which many of our brothers and sisters are fighting for today, are still valid. We have an opportunity to find our way out of the wilderness, by our own words and our own deeds.
We have an opportunity to show America what it really means to be the best and brightest. This is a signature moment for veterans. It is our moment and we should not just shrug our shoulders and let it pass. There is little in most of our lives that is more important than being in that place on that day.
We have wandered in the wilderness for far too long. It is time to come home. And home, the land of milk and honey, will be represented on March 17 by a tiny piece of land in our nation's Capitol where a black granite wall and two statues bear witness to the honor and sacrifice of more than 58,000 of our brothers and sisters.
We should stand shoulder to shoulder around those memorials to preserve the honor and dignity of our brothers and sisters, just as they stood shoulder to shoulder with us, 40 years ago.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007