Hagel Survives Close Combat Again, This Time in Congress
After one of the most controversial and bruising Senate confirmation battles ever for a secretary of defense, by a vote of 58 to 41, decorated Vietnam War veteran and former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on February 27 as the 24th secretary of defense—the first to come from the enlisted ranks.
Fellow Vietnam vet and Republican John McCain was among Hagel’s biggest detractors, sparring with his former ally about comments Hagel had made on Israel and Iran and his vocal opposition to President George W. Bush’s decision to send an extra 30,000 troops to Iraq in 2007. Hagel referred to the Iraq surge as “our biggest foreign policy mistake since Vietnam”and wrote,“We blundered into Iraq because of flawed intelligence, flawed assumptions, flawed judgments, and ideologically driven motives.”
Although McCain called Hagel unqualified to run the Pentagon, he angrily defended the two-time recipient of the Purple Heart against unsubstantiated accusations by Texas freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of possible financial connections between Hagel and North Korea.
In a 2012 interview with Vietnam, Hagel said that after he was wounded a second time in Vietnam in April 1968,“I told myself, if I ever get out of this and I’m ever in a position to influence policy, I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war.”
Journalists Dedicate Memorial in Cambodia
A number of news correspondents who covered the war in Vietnam and Cambodia returned to Cambodia in February to dedicate a memorial to nine of their colleagues killed by the Khmer Rouge at the village of Wat Po in May 1970. A memorial stone was placed at the site where NBC and CBS news crews led by correspondents Welles Hangen and George Syvertsen were captured and killed. A sacred Buddhist Bodhi tree was planted by the memorial stone that reads, “Their words and deeds remain to remind us forever of the truth.”
Kerry Senate Farewell Recalls Viet Protest
AFTER WINNING RESOUNDING confirmation to lead the State Department, Senator John Kerry gave an emotional speech to his Senate colleagues, touching on his Vietnam War experience:
“I came to the National Mall in 1971 with fellow veterans who wanted only to talk to our leaders about the war. President Nixon tried to kick us off the Mall.We knocked on door after door on Capitol Hill, but too often couldn’t get an audience with our representatives. A precious few, including Ted Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, came to where we were camped out and heard what we had to say. And I saw firsthand that our political process works only when leaders are willing to listen—to each other, but also to everyone else.
“That is how I first came to the Senate—not with my vote, but with my voice—and that is why the end of my tenure here is in many ways a bookend.
“Forty-two years ago, I testified before Senator Fulbright’s Foreign Relations Committee about the realities of war in Vietnam. It wasn’t until last week that I would sit before that committee again, this time testifying in my own confirmation hearing. It completed a circle, which I could never have imagined drawing, but one our Founders surely did: That a citizen voicing his opinion about a matter of personal and national consequence could one day use that voice as a senator, as the chairman of that same committee before which he had once testified a private citizen, and then as the president’s nominee for Secretary of State—that is a fitting representation of what we mean when we talk about a government ‘of the people, for the people and by the people.’”
Kent State May 4 Visitors Center Dedicated
Kent State’s May 4 Visitors Center, which opened its doors in October 2012, is being formally dedicated during the university’s annual May 4 commemoration activities this spring. Located in Taylor Hall, just steps away from the site where Ohio National Guardsmen fired into students protesting the invasion of Cambodia, killing four and wounding nine others on May 4, 1970. The center includes three galleries that cover the social movements of the 1960s, the Vietnam War and the campus shootings and their aftermath. Dr. Jerry Lewis, a sociology professor who witnessed the shootings and has researched the event extensively, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that students who visit the center are often laughing at first, but then get “very, very quiet” as they move into the exhibit about the shootings on May 4.
Hunger Games Author Pens Kids’ Book on Vietnam War
Suzanne Collins, author of the best-selling Hunger Games books, has written an autobiographical children’s picture book about a young girl who is dealing with her father’s absence while serving in Vietnam. “For several years I had this little wicker basket next to my writing chair with the postcards my dad had sent me from Vietnam [when she was in first grade] and photos of that year,” Collins said about the inspiration for Year of the Jungle, which is due out in September. Illustrated by James Proimos, whom Collins credits with first suggesting she write books for children, Year of the Jungle follows little Suzy’s many questions: What is the jungle like? Will her father be safe? When will he return?
“The months slip by, marked by the passing of the familiar holidays and the postcards that her father sends,” according to the publisher, Scholastic. “With each one, he feels more distant, and when her father returns, Suzy must learn that even though war has changed him, he still loves her just the same.”
Originally published in the June 2013 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.