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Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

August 31, 2015

Vietnam in the Battlefield of Memory

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In the 1960s and 1970s,there was the Cold War

There was the Vietnam War

And there were the wars we fought at home.

The older I get the more I find myself seeing multiple sides of the same issue. I am not sure whether that arises from age, education or what.

For instance, I recently ran across a long magazine article in THE NATION titled “Vietnam in the Battlefield of Memory,” written by Jon Wiener who is a professor of history in the University of California system.

The article basically talks about how, originally, the Department of Defense set out to have the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War honor, for the most part,—through events signifying the war’s history as well as educational materials on the conflict—the sacrifice and valor of Vietnam veterans.

A group of individuals who participated in the anti-war events of the 60s and early 70s protested the DOD’s approach to remembering the war and insisted that the memorial should include a “full and fair reflection of the issues that divided our county.” Or what I like to call the war at home. The activists’ approach to remembering Vietnam would include information on the protests and activities of the anti-war movement and less veneration of the war itself.

I do not, in this blog, wish to get tangled up in a rehash of whether the war was right or wrong. Whether the conflict was good or bad often depends on one’s point of view. A lot of my friends and fellow veterans, some who have been ardent supporters of our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, feel that the war was an honorable endeavor and that the results were, among a number of factors, caused by a lack of intestinal fortitude in those individuals here at home who were protesting against the war, as well as the politicians who eventually agreed with the need to vacate Vietnam.

Conversely, a lot of my friends, a few who are veterans, were involved in the anti-war movement and feel that our efforts in Southeast Asia were a disaster. I would add that many of those folks have also been great supporters of BRAVO!.

Jon Wiener’s article points out that after meeting with the anti-war individuals, the Pentagon agreed to scale back its activities on behalf of the 50th anniversary. I suppose this came about as a result of the DOD not wanting to be forced into appearing to agree with the anti-war folks and spending a lot of time and money rehashing all the internal anti-war trauma of the 1960s.

Anti-war demonstration, 1968.

Anti-war demonstration, 1968.

Some anti-war activists, after all these years, still think the war was a mistake, killed millions of Southeast Asians, not to mention all of the Americans killed and wounded. Not only was the war a serious mistake, they believe, but we lost.

What’s more interesting to me is that even after fifty years, we are still fighting the war at home. We are almost allies with the Vietnamese, do massive amounts of business with Communist China, and are engaged with Socialist Russia. We are at some level of peace with these former enemies, yet at home we are still battling the Vietnam War.

Is this unusual? Are we still fighting World War I, World War II, Korea?

I don’t think we are still fighting those conflicts in our aggregate American memory, but as I think about it, we may still be battling over the outcome of the Civil War.

My great-great grandfather and my great-grandfather and a lot of other distant relatives of mine marched up out of Texas and Mississippi and Arkansas and fought for the Confederacy. I recall sitting around the house listening to my sister and mother wrangle about the reasons for the war, the underlying ethical notions, the outcome.

Since we were descended from a Reb clan, I often heard excuses for stuff that maybe we shouldn’t have made excuses for, like slavery and certain aspects states’ rights and the bitter southern reaction to the reconstruction era of 1865-1877.

A lot of the arguments I heard in the 1950s are still in play in 2015 and I think the possibility that we are still battling the Civil War, or our collective memory of it, means that some of those issues I heard around the dinner table are still unresolved.

And that leads me to wonder if one of the reasons we are still fighting the Vietnam conflict is because the underlying issues—or at least what we think they were or what we remember—aren’t really a battle over something deeper, something political and philosophical.

Part of my conundrum is that I can see both sides of the different arguments and I can even agree with some of the tenets put forth on both sides. And not just in terms of our involvement in Southeast Asia, but our involvement in the Middle East and farther away in time, the Civil War.

Back to the Vietnam War; if you are a person who believes that the Vietnam War was a part of the larger scheme of things called the Cold War, then it’s quite possible you tend to think that the Vietnam War was an integral part of the ultimate destabilization of the Soviet Union and in that regards a victory.

If you are a person who fought in Vietnam, you probably think, for the most part, that what you did was an honorable sacrifice for your country.

And if you are anti-war, you probably still think that the war was a horrible mistake that killed millions and was not a victory.

These criteria are not mutually exclusive, of course, because you might be a Vietnam vet who feels his service was honorable and a great sacrifice, personally, while still feeling the war was a huge mistake.

Confederate dead at Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1962. Civil War.

Confederate dead at Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1962. Civil War.

And that leads me to think about how these arguments, philosophically and politically, tend to forget that these things happen to people and whether the war was right or wrong, the fact remains that men and women and children on both sides died, were wounded, were maimed, found themselves unable to view life as they had before the experience. And I think that’s what matters most to me.

Yet the war at home lives on and probably will until everybody who was old enough to have an opinion about it has passed on. But then again, maybe it will refuse to die, like the Civil War, and a hundred years from now we will still be fighting the Vietnam War in the battlefields of memory.

If you would like to read Wiener’s entire piece in THE NATION, you can find it at http://www.thenation.com/article/vietnam-battlefield-memory/. For Vietnam veterans, a caveat, this article may get your hackles up.

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Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Vietnam War

April 5, 2012

Meet the Men of Bravo!–Cal Bright

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Bravo! Marine Cal Bright introduces himself.

I was born and raised on a farm in Parma, Michigan, until I joined the Marines at the age of 17 and went to boot camp at San Diego. From there, went through BITS and AIT then got to Viet Nam the first part of January, 1968, just turned 18. Went to Khe Sanh directly after getting to Nam and joined 3rd Platoon (Lt. Jaques), Bravo Company, 1/26 Marines.

During the month of February, while I was already at Khe Sanh, my dad sent me my draft notice. Dang ARMY drafted me since I did not report to my local draft board for my 18th birthday.

I did various details such as filling sandbags, burning crappers, LPs, guard duty, etc. I had no idea while on my first sandbag detail, that I would get buried under a ton of debris. We were in the process of rebuilding a 106 MM recoilless rifle pit when we took a direct hit that buried all of us. Fortunately, none of us were injured or killed.

Cal Bright as a young Marine

On one of my LP (listening post) details, I was out and the only contact with our
rear was a strand of wire that was hand-held by a fellow Marine. We would tug the wire for a Sit Rep (situation report). During my watch the wire got tugged and pulled almost out of my hand. Talk about being scared shitless, I didn’t know what to do. I was too scared to pull on the wire so I just lay there until daylight. As I proceeded to crawl back in the daylight, I discovered my wire had been broken or cut (not sure which) and there were several footprints and mounds of dirt shoveled. It had been a night that the NVA had crawled in behind me and were in the process of digging a trench up to our wire. I am glad that I did not tug or pull on the wire, for it would have given my position away.

My first patrol will be one that I’ll NEVER forget. It was February 25, 1968, which became known as the Ghost Patrol. I have no idea how it was possible but I was not hit or wounded on it even though I found out afterwards that I went crawling and running through one of our mine fields from the opposite direction (from the enemy side) without touching off a round. I have lived with guilt to this day since so many of us died in the Ghost Patrol.

My next patrol was on March 30 (pay-back time).

I have turned my experience of combat into a positive, by contributing in other capacities.

I transferred from Bravo Company and went to S2 and worked with Kit Carson Scouts for the rest of my tour. We went on many patrols and ambushes in places I can’t remember and some I’m not willing to report about. On returning to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in 1969, I did a tour in Gitmo Bay (Cuba).

After getting out of the Marines for a couple/three years, I joined the Air Force Reserve for the next twenty years along with being hired by the Federal Government. During this stint, I was activated for Desert Storm and got as far as Ft. Hood, Texas, before being deactivated.

While working for the Federal Government, I was transferred to a section for Emergency Essential Personnel due to my previous military experience. I eventually ended up doing four Southwest Asia tours to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. I worked for the DoD/DLA as a Customer Support Rep. I was tasked to train, supply and equip the local security forces, as well as supply and equip our own military including NATO forces. I was deployed there for just under three years.

Cal Bright at his interview for Bravo!

I feel that God put me on this earth for a purpose and serving our Federal Government in one capacity or another was His way of keeping me on the straight and narrow.

Since I wasn’t allowed to go back overseas because of being diagnosed with skin and prostate cancer, I retired in June of 2010.

For the past few years I have been rebuilding my 1984 Corvette and have it almost completed. It is a 383 Stroker putting out just under 450hp. I enjoy hunting, fishing, cooking on the grill, camping, dates with my wife Debbie and enjoying all of our grandchildren (all sixteen of them).