Then and Now
by Mark A. Petersen
101st Airborne Division (69-70)
Recently, I posted a story named “My Journey Back.” I wrote this story about my trip back to Vietnam in 2000. I wrote about the things that caused me to smile, to laugh, to weep, and to ponder. I re-read this story and something glared back at me.
As I was flying into Da Nang, I was apprehensive, to say the least. But in truth, in all my travels, I have never been treated as wonderfully as I was by the Vietnamese people. They were gracious, kind, and respectful.
The school children, in their bright white shirts and blouses, their navy blue slacks and skirts, would flock around me to practice their English. They giggled and laughed, just being kids. They did not shy away when they learned I was an American. They didn’t see an ogre, a rapist, or a murderer. They were polite, but enthusiastic, genuinely excited to meet and talk to an American.
The adult Vietnamese, some my age, some older, sometimes would politely ask me if I had been in Vietnam before, or if they were bold, would ask if I had been in the war. At first I was nervous about saying that I had been. But their reactions surprised me, their eyes would brighten, they would smile, and I was sincerely welcomed among them. This was not at all reminiscent of my return home from Vietnam, years ago.
And then there was the former NVA soldier I had met on the road to the A Shau. This fellow had been seriously wounded at Khe Sanh. Yet, he showed me nothing less than respect, and honor. He hugged me, a big ol bear hug, and he was overcome by his emotions, and he cried. And I have to admit that I also was moved.
The Montagnard’s I met in the mountains, and in the A Shau, were respectful and kind to me. No where in Vietnam did I meet anyone, not one person, that treated me badly or said any negative thing about the war. And many people knew I was an American, and if they didn’t know I was a veteran, I suppose they had suspected it.
I guess the Vietnamese people, back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, didn’t read American newspapers. They didn’t watch American television. How else could they have known how brutal, how merciless and heartless we were. How could they know we raped and pillaged, burned and tortured. I guess they didn’t watch the many American movies depicting these atrocities. Because they were actually there, the victims of our horrid aggressions, isn’t it peculiar they didn’t know it! Did some terrible things happen? Yes. But the Vietnamese people put these things into perspective. But not our news media! Not then, not now.
The vocal minority, back in the World, certainly knew of our crimes! That’s why many of us returned home to families that didn’t know how to approach us, how to talk to us.
That’s why some of us were spit on and cursed at. That’s why, as a group, we were labeled “baby killers.” And that’s why we couldn’t talk about our friends, the friends that died in our arms. We couldn’t talk about the nights that were lit up with tracers and explosions, hearing the screams for Mom, and for God. That’s why we held it all in. And that’s why so many brave souls, suffer, even today, with PTSD and other debilitating conditions.
And then, throw in the politics of it all. What a disgusting, sad, mess!
Am I talking about yesteryear, or am I talking about today. It is beginning to look and feel the same. I don’t need to mention the particular events in Iraq the news media has inundated the U.S. public with. We know these events. But in reality, in truth, there is not the slightest weight in comparison to the atrocities committed against U.S. soldiers and U.S. civilians in Iraq, against Coalition Forces, and against workers in Iraq from many countries. And lastly, but most definitely not least, let’s not forget about the atrocities being instigated, and committed against, the people of Iraq.
I am writing this from Camp Liberty, just west of Baghdad. I work with the military and for over a year I traveled with Military Police to Iraqi Police Stations (training, advising, and equipping Iraqi police). We patrolled (foot and vehicle) with the Iraqi Police and I met many Iraqi civilians. The MPs and I would bring shoes, coloring books, crayons, writing materials, clothing, etc., sent to us by friends and family in the States so we could give something to the Iraqi children. Now, I am a REMF, or the more polite term used today, is “fobbit.” Though, I still work with the Iraqi Police.
There are good things being done in Iraq. There have been mistakes. We need to move on and complete the mission.
Dear Vietnam veterans, and especially my fellow Grunts, I am honored to have served with you. Welcome Home.
I hope the citizens of our great Nation do not again come to dishonor her brave soldiers. Whatever glorious label our politicians put on “cut and run,” it is not a viable option. We must not desert the innocent people of Iraq to suffer the consequences of a poor choice made by vote-grabbing, self-righteous, politicians. Sometimes, the right thing to do is not the popular thing to do. And that is how we define ‘true character.’
Honor and Country