Obama Taps John Kerry to Lead State; Chuck Hagel, Defense
President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to become secretary of state, and former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. The nominations of the two decorated Vietnam War veterans have received decidedly different reactions from senators, with Kerry’s confirmation hearing expected to move swiftly while Hagel’s is likely to be very contentious.
Navy Lieutenant Kerry, who volunteered for Vietnam after his graduation from Yale, served two tours. He is currently chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the committee before which he testified in 1971 pushing for an end to the war.
Hagel enlisted in the Army and volunteered for Vietnam in 1967. He served two terms as a Nebraska senator before declining to run again in 2008. His opposition to the Iraq War and positions on various policies has led to vows by conservatives to block his confirmation. Hagel said in a December Vietnam interview: “My time in combat very much shaped my opinions about war. I’m not a pacifist; I believe in using force, but only after following a very careful decision-making process.”
Vietnam Vets Sue Over PTSD-Related Wartime Discharges
Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) has joined a proposed class action lawsuit in Connecticut against the Army, Navy and Air Force for the military’s refusal to review or upgrade the discharge statuses of thousands of Vietnam War-era veterans with service-related posttraumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in December by lead plaintiff John Shepherd, a Vietnam vet from New Haven, says the veterans suffered PTSD before it was recognized and were discharged under other-than-honorable conditions, making them ineligible for disability compensation and other benefits. The discharges were based on poor conduct such as unauthorized absence without leave, shirking, using drugs or lashing out at comrades or superior officers, which the lawsuit says was a symptom of underlying undiagnosed PTSD.
Shepherd and the VVA are represented by Yale Law School students who work at a veterans legal service clinic. The suit estimates about 85,000 of the more than 250,000 Vietnam veterans discharged under other-than-honorable conditions have PTSD. “People did not understand PTSD during the Vietnam War,”said John Rowan, national president of the VVA. “Now that we do, these service members must not be denied the recognition and benefits they long ago earned.”
Ground Broken for ‘New National Landmark’
The Vietnam Education Center came a step closer to reality on November 28 with the ceremonial groundbreaking for the facility that is to be built underground near The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. With fundraising for the $85 million center halfway completed, Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built The Wall and will build the Education Center, vowed that the center would be open in 2014 to coincide with the return of American troops from Afghanistan. Joining in the ceremony were Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who predicted the center will become a “new national landmark”; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden; Admiral Michael Mullen; Sen. Jack Reed; Congressmen Brett Guthrie and Don Young; and Vietnam veteran Dr. Michael McClung, whose daughter, Marine Corps Major Megan McClung, was killed in Iraq in 2006.
Names Read Aloud for Wall’s 30th Anniversary
This year, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, 2,000 people participated in the ceremonial Reading of the Names inscribed on The Wall. Over the course of 65 hours in a four-day period that ended on Veterans Day, all 58,282 names were read according to date of casualty, beginning with Capt. Harry Griffith Cramer Jr., 31, the war’s first casualty listed on the memorial.“Every one of these names, there’s a family just like ours,” said Hank Cramer, son of Capt. Cramer.
The Reading of the Names has taken place just four other times, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF): At the National Cathedral in November 1982 as part of a National Salute to Vietnam Veterans and during the 10th, 20th and 25th anniversary celebrations in 1992, 2002 and 2007.
“It’s a healing process for the veterans, and it’s a way to show people how much pain people still feel in their hearts,”said Jan Scruggs, founder and president of VVMF.“Reading the names brings a sense of relief to their spirit.”
Bronze GIs Cast for Monument at Texas Capitol
Appearing larger than life, five Styrofoam figures of Vietnam-era soldiers are set to be cast in bronze by sculptor Robert “Duke” Sundt at a Texas foundry in preparation for their installation in November on the Capitol grounds in Austin. The statue base will contain the re-created dog tags of 3,415 Texans who died in the war. Sundt is best known in Texas for his oversize bronze longhorn outside the University of Texas’ Frank Erwin Center.
Stolen Valor: Revised Act, New Database
Six months after the 2006 Stolen Valor Act was struck down by the Supreme Court ruling that lying about receiving military awards, while contemptible, was protected by the First Amendment, the Senate has passed the revised Stolen Valor Act of 2012, which attempts to get around the ruling in United States v. Alvarez by making it clear that the law would apply to those who make a false claim about a military record for personal gain or for a tangible benefit. Those caught lying would face a fine of up to $10,000 and up to six months imprisonment.
In a related development, in December the Pentagon unveiled a new online database of Medal of Honor recipients since Sept. 11, 2001, to deter persons from making false claims. The site is to be expanded to include the Vietnam War.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.