Misconceptions of Viet Nam veterans to be cleared up this Memorial Day:
1) That we were dragged into military service: two-thirds of the men and women who served in Viet Nam volunteered for duty. In contrast, two-thirds of the people who served in World War II were drafted.
2) That Viet Nam was something less than a real war: Why then were there more total combat casualties for the Marine Corps in Viet Nam than in World War II? Why then, according to the Department of Defense, were the chances of being killed in combat in Viet Nam 85 in 1,000? In World War II by comparison, the number was 12 in 1,000. Why then did Viet Nam produce eight times as many paralyzed men as World War II, three times as many totally disabled and 35 per cent more amputees? Why then out of the 300,000 wounded Viet Nam War veterans are 12.4 per cent totally disabled?
3) That we were somehow not as brave or did not sacrifice as much as our fathers did in previous wars: The American public, unfortunately, forgot the countless acts of incredible courage at Dak-To, Charlie Ridge, Khe Sanh, Ia Drang Valley, Hue City and a thousand other unknown or too-soon forgotten places.
4) That these soldiers did not care about their comrades: Nothing could be further from the truth. We cared deeply then and still remember them every day - and in our nightmares.
5) That Viet Nam troops were habitual users of dangerous drugs: In fact, hard drugs never emerged on any scale until the final years of the Viet Nam war.
6) That we faced an inferior enemy: We faced two enemy forces. First were the elusive, courageous Viet Cong who were fighting in their own back yards and were geniuses in camouflage and underground concealment, and experts in improvising ambushes and booby traps.
The second enemy was less well known by the American public, but probably a more formidable foe - the North Vietnamese Army. This well-trained, large army was equipped with artillery, and 122mm Russian-made rockets. Most importantly, both groups carried the AK-47 assault rifles, high velocity automatic weapons the likes of which were never faced by any previous American force. Furthermore, the Vietnamese now have the world’s fourth largest army.
7) That we were mass killers of civilians: False. More civilians were killed in the four years of the Korean War than in eight years of the Viet Nam war.
8) That the Viet Nam troops were not as efficient as previous American soldiers: We were the youngest, best educated, best trained, best equipped and most decorated troops America has seen. And we never lost a major battle during our involvement.
9) That we are troubled: For many of us this is true. Although, considering the unique and tragic circumstances of our war, we are a remarkable group. We were sent to war alone and joined a unit of complete strangers.
We experienced the trauma of total, absolute warfare and, if not severely wounded, we returned to a country which would not or could not welcome us, mourn our dead with us or recognize our sacrifices and courage.
It is not by accident that the freed hostages from Iran were returned slowly to this country and will continue to have reunions to reduce the frequency and intensity of delayed stress from the mistakes it made when we returned and from the observation of work done by Viet Nam veteran therapists at the veteran centers.
10) That the Viet Nam veteran is ungrateful and demands to be seen as a hero: We are not ungrateful; we are honest. We received very little. Furthermore, two weeks after their return, groundbreaking for a memorial to the Iran hostages was completed.
Tragically, almost 10 years after Viet Nam, a memorial was built in Washington for the men and women who never returned from Southeast Asia, a place now where mothers who lost sons fighting in Viet Nam may try to console their hearts.
Finally, we do not wish to be seen as heroes, because our heros died in Viet Nam!
Hopefully with this information, America will be more aware of the meaning of being a Viet Nam veteran. And on this Memorial Day give them a little more thought than on previous Memorial Days.
Mr. Williams, now a resident of Edgartown, saw combat duty in Viet Nam with the United States Marine Corps.