Respect, reflection and Rolling Thunder

Thirty-five years ago, the last act in a long and painful drama was playing itself out as the final bell tolled for the Republic of Vietnam. April of 1975 saw dreams descend into nightmares for millions of South Vietnamese and their American allies who had shed precious blood and treasure. The chaotic denouement in Saigon, as our insider account beginning on page 34 reveals, can be seen as emblematic of the cascading failures of political leadership that so marked the war. However, the policymaking and intelligence debacles cannot dim the luster of the American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who nobly displayed true grit, determination and courage in their fight in pursuit of the ideals of freedom and human dignity for a people so far away. Illustrating that courage, as seen through the eyes of a raw recruit in his first week in Vietnam, our cover feature tells the story of the Marines’ ferocious and costly clash near the demilitarized zone in early May 1968, when the Americans successfully defended the Dong Ha combat base against the enemy’s toughest troops.

For more than two decades now, Washington, D.C., has been the venue of a unique and ever-growing Memorial Day weekend tradition. Rolling Thunder was born out of the conviction of a few Vietnam veterans who refused to let the most glaring unfinished chapter of America’s longest war remain unwritten: the full accounting of American prisoners of war and those listed as missing in action. With the same grit and determination they displayed on Vietnam’s battlefields, the veterans inspired a movement that has led to significant official actions on POW/MIA issues and elevated the general public awareness and support across a broad spectrum of concerns for all veterans. They also created what is now the largest annual event in the nation’s capital (some 900,000 participated in 2009) and the world’s biggest one-day motorcycle event. Vietnam magazine is proud to partner with Rolling Thunder Washington, D.C., and to present the Official Rolling Thunder XXIII First Amendment Demonstration Run Event Guide inside this issue.

See you there this Memorial Day weekend!