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Letters from Readers - August 2011 - Vietnam magazine

Originally published by Vietnam magazine. Published Online: August 08, 2011 
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Unique Insights into Storied Images

I immensely enjoyed your story "One Wild Ride for Yankee Papa 10" by Paul Gregoire (April). As a longtime historian of the Vietnam War, I've always been fascinated by Larry Burrows' legendary Life magazine photos of crew chief Lance Cpl. James Farley during this mission, and so wonderfully described by Gregoire. His vivid account of this combat action was a very rare, and highly unique, personal insight into one of the most significant combat photos to emerge out of war.

Alejandro P. Villalva
Dayton, Ohio

Memories Can Be a Curse

Gary Bray's experience while assigned to the 11th Light Infantry Brigade as told in "Body Count"(October 2010) brought back memories of my tour with the same unit during the same time frame. I was a 21-year-old airman, arriving at Da Nang on October 10, 1969. After a week of orientation and listening to other guys who had been in-country for a while, I accepted an assignment with Helix 30 attached to the 11th, located on LZ Bronco, Duc Pho.

From the day you'd arrive in-country and for the next month or so, your attitude changed and it only got worse. Gary Bray is right. You become "hard," don't smile and you don't care anymore, except you just want out. When you get home, you feel like an old man, and when some event occurs, where your friends might feel pain and sorry, you only feel numbness. Memories are a curse on those who have served.

Dan Thurber
Buena Park, Calif.

Aussie's Happy Days with Dollies

I commend you on your February issue and specifically your article about the Donut Dollies. It brought back memories. In April 1967 a squadron of Canberra B-20 bombers of No. 2 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, was attached to the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing at Phan Rang Air Base. The squadron was there until June 1971. I was a member of No. 2 Squadron, and I still have wonderful memories of the American Red Cross girls whom you and us Aussies called the Donut Dollies, Kool-Aid Kids or Chopper Chicks. The Dollies visited our squadron's domestic area and helped serve food every Wednesday at lunchtime. On their days off, the young ladies were frequent visitors to our officer's club.

Col Gardner
Townsville, Australia

Service a Barrier to Citizenship?

Regarding your June issue story "Garcia's Cadillacs," I was also one of those "green card" Marines. I received my green card in February 1961, and I enlisted on January 9, 1968, my 18th birthday. I went to Vietnam in July 1968, and returned stateside a year later. I retired from the Marines in February 1989. I joined because it was the right thing to do and I wanted to give something back to this great country for the honor of being able to live here and have the opportunity to be whatever I wanted to be.

I really had no problems with anyone about me being a Marine until 1996, when I applied to become a U.S. citizen. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) couldn't accept my Certificate of Discharge (DD214). They had to get confirmation that I had served honorably. I pointed out that my DD214 states that I am retired with 21 years of active service and am receiving retiree pay. It also shows that I was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with Combat V, a Navy Commendation Medal, a Navy Achievement Medal with Combat V, a Purple Heart and a bunch of Unit Citations. Their answer: "Sorry, we have rules." Two years after submitting my paperwork, I went for my interview to determine if I could read, write and comprehend English, and I passed. But I could not take the oath of allegiance because they had not received the confirmation that I had served honorably. A year later, after still no answer, I asked the INS when they had requested the information, and was told, "That was confidential." I asked if I could submit a request for a copy of my records for them and they said no.

In November 2000, I'd had enough, and went to the Tampa, Fla., INS office and told them that I never expected my military service to be held against me, that I was proud of my service and that they could take their citizenship and place it where the sun don't shine. I did get a call telling me that they would "make an exception" and accept my DD214 until the confirmation arrives. I told them no thanks. I have never asked for special treatment, and I don't want any now.

David Ortuno
Pearsall, Texas

Of Rats and Zippos

I was with 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, 4.2-inch Mortar Platoon, 1st Marine Division, and arrived on Hill 861-A on April 23, 1968. It was still a dangerous place as we were constantly shot at, mortared, probed and hit with 85mm mountain guns that screamed like hell when the rounds came in. A buddy of mine, John Dee Powell, was killed by a mortar there in June. In his story "Hell in the Hills of Khe Sanh" (June), Barry Fixler failed to mention the rat population on the hills at Khe Sanh. We used to leave them some of our C rations so they would not run all over us looking for food while we slept. Some Marines were still bitten by the rats and had to be medevaced out.

Also, your Zippo story in the same issue reminded me of the lighter I had in Vietnam. It read: "To the U.S. Marines: God send me to see such a company together again when need is."—Lord Howard of Effingham. I lost my Zippo in a Honolulu hotel room. If anyone finds it, I would pay to get it back!

Edward M. Landry
Lynn, Mass.

Zippo Love

Courtesy of David Williams
Courtesy of David Williams
I had this Zippo lighter engraved at Da Nang Air Field while I was with the 366th Security Police Squadron in 1972-73. The engraving represents the love of my life, my Vietnamese girlfriend at the time, Snow, who was to become my wife of 38 years—and still counting!

David A. Williams
Graceville, Fla.

This is what is left of my Zippo. I had just finished lighting up a cigarette when my track ran over an antitank mine near Dong Ha Combat Base, where I was supporting a Marine mine sweeping team with A Battery, 1-44 Artillery in 1968.

Jose Garcia-Anaya
El Paso, Texas

Jane as Icon of Betrayal

The serious consideration given my book Hanoi Jane, Sex & Fantasies of Betrayal (Reviews, April) by Marc Leepson is evident in his grasp of its thesis that the vilifying of Jane Fonda has as much to do with those who disparaged her with that label as with the things she did while visiting Hanoi in 1972. I also take to heart his observation that a phrase like "crisis of masculinity" can obscure more than it illuminates. His criticism of my word choices, however, runs the risk of avoiding the message they carry—that there is a cultural legacy to the Hanoi Jane story with deeply psychological and discomforting implications.

I have two responses to Leepson's comment that I "minimize the plight of the American POWs." First, I tried to not do that, writing, for example, that their treatment was at times "bewilderingly brutal." But I also tried to avoid the condescension carried by the term "plight" that he uses. Some of the prisoners want to be remembered as "prisoners at war" for their time in Hoa Lo Prison, not defeated warriors sitting on the sidelines.

Second, Leepson says that many POWs were "severely tortured," and that I challenge the "well-documented" record of that. I read all of the POWs' memoirs I could obtain, and secondary sources such as John Hubbell's POW and Craig Howes' Voices of the Vietnam POWs. With the sources we have, it is hard to distinguish what hardships were due to the harshness of prison life, the punishment for rule breaking, and torture. We have only the story composed by a small number of senior ranking officers, and the scholarly readings of that account find its claims of torture to be a subject for interpretation.

As a study of myth and legend, my book is about more than historical documents and memories. Even without her trip to Hanoi, the sexually-charged roles that Jane Fonda played in films such as Klute and Coming Home primed her for a backlash from veterans reeling from the lost war and men feeling bruised from the women's movement. With wartime betrayal figures like Mata Hari and Tokyo Rose already plying the public imagination, though, it was a certainty that she would get the casting call for a reprise of that role in the post-Vietnam War era.

For now, I hope that Leepson is right that Hanoi Jane (the book) provides the food for thought on how and why Jane Fonda was made into an icon of betrayal. That's what I set out to do.

Jerry Lembcke
Holy Cross College
Worcester, Mass.

At Hue Too

Courtesy of Robert McDonnell
Courtesy of Robert McDonnell
Regarding the excellent article by James Willbanks in the February issue, "What Really Happened at Hue,"  there was more of a U.S. military presence in Hue on January 31, 1968, than just the 200 soldiers assigned to the MACV compound. As the commander of the 337th Signal Company headquartered at Da Nang, I had communications detachments providing communications in Khe Sanh, Hue, Da Nang, Chu Lai and Quang Ngai. The Hue site was a separate compound and was manned by 12 to 15 men.

Just before the Tet Offensive broke, my team in Khe Sanh was hit during a rocket attack and I had to send in a replacement team. Lieutenant Grady Garner took a team into Khe Sanh, and I went to Hue. I was on the tower working to reinstall communications to Khe Sanh when the offensive got started. After reestablishing communications, I was able to return to my company headquarters, where I could better provide command direction to the entire company.

The personnel in Hue were cut off from support for several days and, much to their credit, were able to maintain the site's security and communication throughout the entire offensive.

Tandy E. Bartay
San Antonio, Texas

James Willbanks responds: No slight was intended to the commo guys who deserve their due. The thrust of the point was that there were no U.S. combat units inside Hue at the time the Tet Offensive began.

Remembering Vang Pao

Thank you for the article about Maj. Gen. Vang Pao's funeral. (News, June). He and his extended family came to the Bitter Root Valley of Montana soon after leaving Laos and remained for 10 years. His mother and a nephew are buried at Corvallis cemetery, and our American Legion Post honors those graves with the "Erawan" flag (pre-1975 three-headed elephant flag), when we post flags on all veterans' graves for Memorial Day. The Hmong people are an inspiration to us and some still remain in Montana.

Allen Bjergo
Corvallis, Mont.

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