March 29th – National Vietnam Veterans Day
In January of 1966 I found myself standing outside Company Headquarters of the 588th Combat Engineers in the Republic of South Vietnam. I was 22 years old and had been in the military less than 4 months.
My first assignment was to take part in the clean-up of an ambush site where the company commander and one of his lieutenants had been killed the day before.
I thought to myself — only 364 days to go since Vietnam tours were only one year at that time.
The Tunnels Of Cu Chi
The 588th was located in Cu Chi, South Vietnam along with the 25th Infantry Division. We were right next to the airport which was shelled on a regular basis.
What we didn’t know at the time was that the North Vietnamese had dug a very extensive tunnel system under our very feet.
The entire base was an elaborate tunnel system for stealing supplies, listening to conversations and gathering information.
Those tunnels are now a tourist attraction.
The Vietnam War Veteran
The Undeclared Vietnam War is the longest war in American History. Lasting from April 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975. (19 years, 5 months, 4 weeks and 1 day).
It was also the most unpopular war in American History.
When you were flying anywhere while a member of the military you flew in dress uniform.
When you landed it was a good idea to hit the nearest restroom and change into civilian clothes because you could be physically or verbally attacked if you walked the airport in uniform.
There were no welcome home parades, plaques, or monuments for Vietnam Vets until many years later. Bozeman has a Vietnam Wall in Lindley Park.
One of these days I’ll get up enough courage to visit it. I really don’t want to see some of those familiar names.
Some Final Thoughts
On March 29, 1973, the last United States troops left South Vietnam, ending America's direct military involvement in the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam experience was unique at the time. It was a new kind of warfare. The enemy did not wear uniforms so identifying friendly’s was difficult.
It was the first politically correct war because of the Geneva Convention signed at the end of WW II.
As an undeclared war there was no all-out effort to win at any cost. To reduce loss of life. You hoped the enemy would eventually surrender. Victory by attrition.
Few Vietnam Vets speak about their experiences. It was a hard war. I did get to see Bob Hope on Christmas Day 1966.
If you have a Vietnam vet in your family or in your circle of friends take a minute and say, “Welcome Home.” Two words most of us never got to hear when we returned.