Chieu Hoi—Early and Often
Herbert Friedman’s article on the Chieu Hoi Program (October 2009) reminded me of an incident that took place in Binh Duong Province in the spring of 1970. I was serving as the district intelligence officer for Advisory Team 91 in Tri Tam District. A member of the Viet Cong infrastructure “Chieu Hoi’ed” to our forces. He was reportedly the finance officer for the VC in the Dau Tieng area. I’m not certain what enticements were provided to him, but they must have been very appealing as he reportedly “rallied” again several weeks later in neighboring Lai Khe District. I often wondered whether this was an isolated incident or a fairly regular occurrence.
Charles “Rocky” Stone
North Orange, Mass.
Left, Right, Left
A great June issue! However, I’d like to respond to Tony Uliano’s letter to the editor. It needs to be pointed out that his contention that a veteran’s political leanings should not categorize him as a bad guy is completely offset by his statements that “Most, if not all of my Viet vet friends are at least liberal, if not further to the left.” Add to this his statement that most of his conservative friends from the Vietnam era had avoided the draft, and I find that Mr. Uliano is doing exactly what he started out attacking—categorizing people. Sure sounds like hypocrisy to me. And the far right is just as bad at distorting the truth to further their warped goals. I’m now an Independent voter who is sick to death of both major parties today.
The Best Medicine
Army nurse Jeanne Urbin Markle’s story (My War, April) was illustrative of women in a vital line of work who will step forward to make a tremendous difference. A military nurse must be a cut above her civilian counterparts because she takes on additional responsibilities of wartime conditions. Women as nurses in combat zones have gone out of their way to serve where their presence is of profound effect.
The nurse is more than a healer; she is a morale enhancer. To a man injured in war, nothing is as soothing as a woman’s touch. Just the sound of her voice is sometimes as good as medicine. A military nurse once said, “A hypodermic for pain could be given quickly, but reassuring a suffering patient and helping him decide how to break the news to his family and sweetheart required more time.” It did, and when that was necessary the nurses were there for us—the combat wounded.
Nurses knew that in addition to physical pain, men suffered emotionally. An Army general in World War II once said, “I must say in all sincerity that no one has done more for the American soldier than the nurses in our hospitals.” It was as true in Vietnam as it was in WWII. I can relate to what Markle wrote, “We just put one foot in front of the other and keep going.” I was in Vietnam, too, and am thankful for women like Markle. God bless them and let us have more like them.
Frank B. Austin
A Soldier and a Gentleman
I was very saddened to learn of the passing of General Fred C. Weyand in the June issue. I was the crew chief of his Huey from November 1967 until August 1968, when he left the country. He treated his crew with respect and made us feel we were a very important part of his command. We had some harrowing moments, but during those times he remained a class act.When I found out he made chief of staff, I wrote him a couple of letters and sent him some photos. He always wrote right back. In one of his letters he wrote, “It is always a pleasure to hear from one with whom I have served, and I deeply appreciate your thoughtfulness in writing.” Those letters will always mean a great deal to me. Rest in peace, General Weyand.
Richard S. Persing
Elvis Dog Tags
Regarding your April article “On the Dog Tag Trail,” I have studied military dog tags coming from Vietnam for many years. Most are authentic, although there are some Vietnamese-done modern reproductions. The Elvis Presley dog tags pictured in the story are definitely “gag tags.” There was no “USA” stamped on any Army tags since 1940, and, although the blood type was stamped on Army tags, the POS RH blood factor would not have been stamped on Presley’s as he was discharged in early 1960, and the RH factor was not placed on Army dog tags until several years later.
This Bugle Boy Still Blowing
John Tieman’s experience (My War, June) tracks closely with mine as a trumpeter and bugler with the 1st Infantry Division band in 1965-66. I’ll never forget visiting our staff sergeant at the hospital tent after our band trucks were ambushed one day. A bullet had entered his leg and exited at his buttocks, leaving a large amount of flesh damaged. While the duty got difficult at times, it was still rewarding to be a musician in a war zone. Contrary to John Tieman’s story however, I continue to play my instrument and enjoy being part of a band that plays for World War II veterans who come to Washington on Honor Flights to see the World War II Memorial.
“Where in the World Is El Toro Sandiego?”
In your excellent story in the February issue regarding the “Luckiest Marines,” a picture of President Lyndon Johnson speaking to the troops of the 3/27 Marines identifies El Toro Marine Air Station as being in San Diego. El Toro was actually quite a few miles north of San Diego, near Irvine. El Toro, which was established in November 1942, was decommissioned in 1999.
San Diego, Calif.
Atrocities, Accountability and Fairness
I want to correct Don North’s highly inaccurate characterization of my book The War Behind Me (which he must not have read) contained in his review of the PBS documentary My Lai in the June issue. My book does not in any way suggest that the Vietnam War was “one long atrocity committed by American troops.” The book is a careful analysis of a large, declassified archive of U.S. war-crime investigations, internal memorandums and statistical reports compiled by Army Staff in the early 1970s.
The files do not show—nor does the book say—that most U.S. soldiers committed atrocities. However, the records do show there were many more war crimes reported and substantiated by Army investigators than publicly acknowledged. The archive also reveals a systemic problem: conditions, policies, practices that contributed to commission of atrocities and that allowed a violent minority of soldiers to act with impunity.
To provide context, I conducted extensive interviews with combat veterans, including witnesses and suspects, former commanders and all the way up the chain of command to the Pentagon and the White House. The book gives wide berth to a diversity of perspectives. While the Army archive isn’t a complete accounting of U.S. war crime reports from Vietnam, it’s the largest compilation to emerge from the Pentagon thus far. German historian Bernd Greiner drew similar conclusions from his separate review of the same records.
The Vietnamese committed war crimes too, but it’s unlikely Hanoi compiled a similar archive. Even if it did, the press likely would be greatly restricted in its ability to write about them. That’s a significant difference between our political system and theirs. And I believe our country is a better place because we have the right—and responsibility—to hold our government accountable.
College Park, Md.
Don North responds:
I am sorry if my brief characterization of your book The War Behind Me was not to your liking. I attended a lecture you presented to the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism in February 2009 where I was dismayed by your dismissal of questions from colleagues who had served in Vietnam. I have also read reviews of your book that support my view. For example, in the April 2009 issue of The VVA Veteran, Mark Leepson, a Vietnam War combat veteran and a respected reviewer of books about the war for the last decade wrote: “But Nelson provides only the barest context. There is no mention…of the VC’s MO of entering a village and doing to the ARVN-friendly folks what she describes in detail that American troops did to other civilians. Nor is there any mention of the NVA’s systematic massacre of nearly three thousand civilians in Hue during Tet ’68….After reading her book, though, one could come away thinking that the American war in Vietnam was one long crime spree.”
As a correspondent in Vietnam for more than five years, I can assure you that we did not need Hanoi to tell us about their atrocities. Most of us tried to be fair and balanced in our reporting of atrocities on both sides. I am confident U.S. military authorities also documented these crimes, and those reports are available.
Send letters to: Vietnam Editor, 19300 Promenade Drive, Leesburg, VA 20176; or e-mail: Vietnam@weiderhistorygroup.com