This essay (originally written in 1995 or 96) became a part of my book: The Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other Misfits.
Dr. Jimmy T. (Gunny) LaBaume
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The ugliest is that man who thinks nothing is worth fighting and dying for and lets men better and braver than himself protect him.” John Stuart Mill
In September of 1969 I arrived at a place called An Hoa, the same combat base made famous by James Webb in his epic Vietnam war novel, Fields of Fire. I was a wet, cold, scared, young Marine.
If I live to be a hundred, I will never forget my first sight of that place. Just across the road from the north end of the perimeter there was a Buddhist orphanage surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. Each time a convoy passed, the children would come running across the compound to greet the Marines. “Souvenir me chop chop GI.” (Give me food.) “Souvenir me ciggimo.” (Give me a cigarette.)
Of all the small faces, one in particular captured my attention. I can still see it today as vividly as I did then. He was a round faced little boy, probably 3 or 4 years old. That particular sect of Buddhists shave their children’s heads except for a small patch on top of the crown which seemed to make his face look even more round and chubby. He came running out, big grin, giving us the “peace” sign.
From that first day forward for the next year, almost, I would see that little boy each time I entered or left the fire base. He would always be flashing the peace sign with that incessant smile. The thought entered my mind to check into adoption. I even wrote my wife about it and she agreed. However, over the course of taking care of the immediate business of war, I just never got around to checking on such a possibility.
Toward the end of my tour, someone decided that An Hoa should be turned over to the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) so we began to abandon the base in phases. I was one of the last “round eyes” to leave. There was only one Battery (Delta, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines) of us left on the far north end of the perimeter–just across the road from the orphanage. The South Vietnamese were manning the remainder. We were pretty up-tight and watching our backs closely. This is because, as anyone that was there will likely tell you, the ARVN were some of the most worthless soldiers the world has ever seen.
Then, the night before we were to pull out the next day, the Viet Cong came into the orphanage and massacred every living thing in it –the children, the priests, everything! We sat in our holes and bunkers, just meters away and helplessly watched. Still today, over 25 years later (this was originally written in 1995), I can see the green tracers cris-crossing the compound in the dark. I do not recall feeling much emotion at the time, just sort of an abstract detachment. By that time, I suppose, there were no more tears left. I was just numb.
I don’t recall, but I suppose that many of the younger and less experienced Marines wanted to try to do something to help. If so, our commander would not allow it. In retrospect tempered with age, I now realize that, if this were indeed the case, he was correct in his judgment. In all probability it was simply a ploy to suck us out of our well defended perimeter and into an ambush in the open. It was us that they really wanted to annihilate.
My tour was almost over by then and, in the slang of the time, I rotated back to “The World” (our term for anywhere but Vietnam) shortly thereafter. After a very brief stay on Okinawa, we arrived at Edwards Air Force Base in California. In order to avoid the anti-war protesters, the guys out front calling us baby killer, arrival time was scheduled for the middle of the night, 2 or 3 AM. We were brought into the terminal via the back way. Protesters or not, it made little difference to me at the time. That numbness had permeated my entire soul. All I wanted was to get home to my family and get on with my life. It wasn’t that simple.
At the time I did not recognize that I was not representative of my generation. It took years for me to slowly realize that I represent only half of a generation, those of us who went as opposed to those of us who didn’t. As Robert Timberg points out in The Nightingale’s Song, there is a huge chasm between these two portions of this generation. It will likely be closed only when the last one of us is dead.
How could it be any other way, when you consider the facts? For example: between 1964 and 1973, sixteen million, or 60% of the 27 million men to come of draft age, escaped military service through an elaborate structure of deferments, exemptions, legal technicalities, and noncombat military alternatives. That’s sixteen million! That’s 60%!
All of these shenanigans took background, wit, and/or money. While 58,000 blacks, Hispanics, and working class whites were dying, these people were getting head starts on their careers with deferments for graduate school. I may slap the next one that says to me, “I wish I could have gone but…” Hey, the thing lasted 10 years. If you missed it, you had to have wanted to have missed it.
Where is that sixteen million today? They are our senators and congressmen. They are our business leaders, our public administrators, our University professors and our public school teachers. One became our vice-president. Then, of course, there is the most famous anti-war protester and draft-dodger of them all, Bill (Slick Willie) Clinton.
Did you know that during the 10 day period from December 31, 1969 through January 10, 1970, 172 of my brothers, and one sister, were killed or missing in action in the service of our country in Southeast Asia? Did you know that during that same 10 day period Slick Willie was on a trip to Moscow? Do I trust my government? We are being led by a (half) generation of cowards. What do you think?
I simply cannot express it politely, so I will put it in more vernacular terms. Each time I see old “Slippery” on the tube and hear him tell us how we should support our government, for example criticizing the National Rifle Association for its “inflammatory rhetoric,” I want to puke!
It is hard to put into words what I feel each time I hear him lament the deaths of “all those poor children” in Oklahoma City. Do I not feel compassion for these children? Of course I do, but no more or less than the compassion I feel for the orphaned children of Quang Naghi province, no more or less than I feel for Randy Weaver’s children. Where are the monuments to them? Why did the innocent children of Oklahoma City receive so much attention, while the equally innocent children that died in the fiery hell of Waco not receive much more than “honorable mention?”
Those questions are mostly rhetorical because I am terribly afraid that I may already have the answers. It is quite simple, really. The protesters of the 60s and 70s relied on the freedoms of speech and assembly, protection from unreasonable search and seizure and all the other protections of the Constitution and Bill of Rights to get what they wanted. But, now that they are in power and want to stay there, they are finding it expedient to deny that those same protections apply to everyone, even those whose views or lifestyles differ from their own.
Furthermore, consider that our mainstream mass media is the most censured on the face of the earth. Add to that a gullible American public that will believe just about anything it sees on the evening news and viola, we, as a nation, have fallen easy prey to the sales pitch that we simply must give up many of the rights guaranteed us by the constitution in order to protect all the “poor innocent children.” Bullshit! Wake-up people!
The Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other Misfits. Although woven around the experiences and adventures of one man, this is also the story of the people who lived during the period of time in American history that an entire generation was betrayed It is the story of the dramatically changing times in which this personal odyssey took place. It is the story of the betrayal of an entire generation of Americans and particularly the 40% (of the military aged males) of that generation that fought the Vietnam war.
Combat Shooter’s Handbook. Call for a pizza, a cop, and an ambulance and see which one arrives first. So, who does that leave to protect you, your life, property and family? The one and only answer is: YOU This Handbook is intended to help you exercise that right and meet that responsibility. Available in both paperback and Kindle versions.