Yes, There Is a Santa Claus!
Lo and behold, as I opened up the center pages of your February issue, I saw myself, a mere boy of 19, along with my Christmas tree that my family sent me. I’m the one with his back to the camera. I am reading stacks of my mail from home, which had been delayed while I was in the combat zone. Yogi Berra was right, for me it was “déjà vu all over again.” It lifted my mind, heart and spirit to see this photo! It is very special to me because all of my personal items were lost when I was shipped to a hospital stateside. Keep up the great work. I love your magazine!
David A. De Santis
Bonita Springs, Fla.
Gary Kulik, the author of War Stories: False Atrocity Tales, Swift Boaters, and Winter Soldiers—What Really Happened in Vietnam (Reviews, April), is wrong! When I and a group of other troops flew into California from Vietnam in August 1966, we cleared customs, went out into the lobby and were met by a number of “Flower Children” carrying signs and calling us murderers and baby killers. One of them made the mistake of spitting on one of the returning Marines, and then the shit hit the fan. They were messing with guys that just 24 hours earlier had been in a war, some of them fighting for their lives on a daily basis. Several of them got an ass whipping in pretty short order until the authorities stepped in and broke it up.
I don’t know when Kulik came home, but I know we didn’t get a warm welcome.
Not Maxxed Out on Cleland Yet
I served with the 25th Infantry Division and carried a PRC-25 radio for all of my tour in the field. I’ve been a subscriber to Vietnam for some time. I have enjoyed the magazine and don’t expect to like all of the articles but I’ve actually enjoyed the great majority of them. I will continue to subscribe but I need to tell you what a turn off it is when I see articles like the one regarding Max Cleland (December, Interview).
Max Cleland was wounded when a grenade went off while evacuating a helicopter. I give him credit for serving, but I drew the line when he became a political hack while working for John Kerry. I agree he looks good on paper and draws a lot of sympathy because of his wounds, but I save my respect for my fellow warriors who do not allow themselves to be used as a leftist prop. It may have been useful had he been asked in your interview a question about his transformation to political activist for everything left. He spoke of being “swift boated” along with Kerry but was never asked to support his position. John Kerry was denounced by veterans who knew him best.
I would prefer to keep politics out of the magazine as much as possible but I realize that at times it is impossible to do so. Politics are an important part of the history of the war. But Max Cleland is nothing more than a political operative for the left.
Biltmore Lake, N.C.
I am stunned by the letters published in the February issue regarding former Sen. Max Cleland. I happen to be a progressive independent. I don’t know the specifics of Max Cleland’s “liberal” politics, but since when are veterans rated by their political status? So being a liberal veteran somehow makes that person’s injuries, service and record undistinguished?
Most, if not all, of my Vietnam veteran friends, and all who served in combat, are at least liberal, if not further to the left. I’m not sure how being a conservative translates to greater value. That notion is B.S. Most of my conservative friends who lived through the Vietnam War era happened to avoid the draft.
Unless veterans have a horrible list of crimes in their history, we should not be defaming them. As a group, we got enough insults when we came home. Both of the letter writers were critics of liberal politics. I grew up a conservative, and all I know is that the conservatives of this era have lost their way. I am no fan of liberal politicians, but I won’t diss a fellow veteran, especially not because of their political leaning.
No ‘Moving On’ for Many of Us
I have never read a more callous letter to fellow veterans in my life than that from Don Johnson (April, Letters) under the head “It’s Over, Move On.”
As a Vietnam veteran, I earned 37 awards for my service while in combat. I also have World War II and Korean War veteran friends who served at places like Guam, Iwo Jima and the Chosin Reservoir, and who are similarly honored for their combat service. They still fight the Red Chinese and Japanese every night, just like I still fight the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.
Mr. Johnson, we are trapped by bitter memories! We cannot simply “move on.”
Tallying Up Tet
In “Tet’s Big Bang” (February), Wilburn Meador states that at the end of the 1968 Tet Offensive “the Viet Cong as a viable military force ceased to exist.” This represents a triumph of wishful thinking over the facts.
Before Tet, U.S. estimates of Viet Cong strength ranged from 300,000 to 450,000. About 85,000 NVA and VC participated in Tet and some 40,000 to 60,000 were killed, mostly NVA. In May 1968, a CIA intelligence report put Viet Cong fighting strength at 80,000. Since most of the Viet Cong did not participate in the Tet Offensive, and because there were 80,000 Viet Cong soldiers after the fighting ended, it is not possible they ceased to exist as a result of Tet.
Dog Tags Lost and Found
Shortly after my family and I returned from a trip to Vietnam recently, I read the story about dog tags (“On the Dog Tag Trail”) in the April issue. My wife and I adopted our daughter when she was three months old from Vietnam 13 years ago. We wanted to tour the country and take our daughter to visit the orphanage where she lived for the first three months of her life.
While on the trip, I remembered a story you published a number of years ago about dog tags being sold in Vietnam. On one of our last days there, I visited the American War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. I inquired if they had any American dog tags for sale, and I was shown three in a case in the gift shop. They assured me that they were authentic. I asked if they had any more tags and was told no. So, I bought the three dog tags and then toured the museum. About an hour later, I returned to the gift shop to be sure that no more were on display for sale. There were none added to the case.
I now regret not purchasing the dog tags I had seen on display when we came for our daughter 13 years ago, and vow that when we return to Vietnam, I will purchase any dog tags that I find. If they are authentic, they belong with the brave men who wore them, or their families. Not in a gift shop.
After checking on the Virtual Vietnam Wall, I found none of the names on the dog tags I bought, and I’m hopeful they all survived and are still with us. If the rightful owners of these dog tags (I am purposely not including the numbers) or their surviving families contact me and verify their identity, I would be honored to return them. They are:
P. Heidinger, USN, Type O Positive
Robert L. Harper, O Pos
Devond Jones, USN, B, Latter Day Saint
Thanks to these and all the brave men and women who served in Vietnam.
As the recipient of a returned Vietnam dog tag, I am thankful for the people who care enough to reunite lost tags with their original owners or families. In addition to the groups that your article mentions, there are two other organizations that reunite dog tags and owners, at no cost to veterans. Those two groups can be reached through their websites: www.vietnamdogtags.com (which returned my tags to me) and www.topvietnamveterans.org.
Arthur Wiknik Jr.
My wife and I traveled recently to Vietnam for a month, and I bought a dog tag at Khe Sanh from a vendor who looks just like the one pictured in the April article. My intention was to track down the owner or his family and return it to him. I was really not aware of all the sites that are dedicated to reuniting dog tags with their owners, so my search took me some time. Eventually, though, I found the Marine that it belonged to and returned it to him. He was quite taken aback. The whole experience was very fulfilling and exciting. I urge anyone traveling to Vietnam to buy these dog tags, and attempt to find the previous owners.
Ramat Gan, Israel
Editor’s note: Additional resources for tracking down lost dog tags can be found via the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command’s Dog Tag Project (www.jpac.pacom.mi) and the privately operated Cana Mission at www.canamission.com.
Send letters to: Vietnam Editor, 19300 Promenade Drive, Leesburg, VA 20176; or e-mail: Vietnam@weiderhistorygroup.com