Skip to comments.Honor Among Soldiers
Posted on 03/30/2002 4:29:16 AM PST by where's_the_Outrage?
If you have fed from a steady diet of Hollywood movies about Vietnam you probably believe that everyone who wore a uniform in America's long, sad involvement in war in Vietnam is some sort of a clone of Lt. William Calley---that all three million of them were drug-crazed killers and rapists who rampaged across the pastoral landscape. Those movies got it wrong, until now. There is one more Hollywood film now playing called "We Were Soldiers" and it gets it right. Ask any Vietnam veteran who has gone to see the movie. In fact, ask any American who has gone to see it.
It is based on a book I wrote with my lifelong friend Lt. Gen. (ret) Hal Moore; a book written precisely because we believed that a false impression of those soldiers had taken root in the country which sent them to war and, in the end, turned its back on both the war and the warriors. I did four tours in Vietnam as a war correspondent for United Press International---1965-66, 1971, 1973 and 1975. In the first three of those tours at war I spent most of my time in the field with the troops and I came to know and respect them and even love them, though most folks might find the words "war" and "love" in the same sentence unsettling if not odd. In fact, I am far more comfortable in the company of those once-young soldiers today than with any other group except my own family. They are my comrades-in-arms, the best friends of my life and if ever I were to shout "help!" they would stampede to my aid in a heartbeat. They come from all walks of life; they are black, white, Hispanic, native American, Asian; they are fiercely loyal, dead honest, entirely generous of their time and money. They are my brothers and they did none of the things Oliver Stone or Francis Ford Coppola would have you believe all of them did.
On the worst day of my life, in the middle of the worst battle of the Vietnam War, in a place called Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam, I was walking around snapping some photographs when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a tall, lanky GI who jumped out of a mortar pit and ran, zig-zagging under fire, toward me. He dove under the little bush I was crouched behind. "Joe! Joe Galloway! Don't you know me, man? "It's Vince Cantu from Refugio, Texas!" Vince Cantu and I had graduated together from Refugio High School, Class of 59, 55 boys and girls. We embraced warmly. Then he shouted over the din of gunfire: "Joe, you got to get down and stay down. It's dangerous out here. Men are dying all around." Vince told me that he had only ten days left on his tour of duty as a draftee soldier in the 1st Battalion 7th U.S. Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). "If I live through this I will be home in Refugio for Christmas." I asked Vince to please visit my mom and dad, but not tell them too much about where we had met and under what circumstances. I still have an old photograph from that Christmas visit---Vince wearing one of those black satin Vietnam jackets, with his daughter on his knee, sitting with my mom and dad in their living room. Vince Cantu and I are still best friends.
When I walked out and got on a Huey helicopter leaving Landing Zone X-Ray I left knowing that 80 young Americans had laid down their lives so that I and others might survive. Another 124 had been terribly wounded and were on their way to hospitals in Japan or the United States. I left with both a sense of my place, among them, and an obligation to tell their stories to any who would listen. I knew that I had been among men of honor and decency and courage, and anyone who believes otherwise needs to look in his own heart and weigh himself.
Hal Moore and I began our research for the book-to-be, We Were Soldiers Once and Young, in 1982. It was a ten-year journey to find and ultimately to bring back together as many of those who fought in LZ Xray and LZ Albany, a separate battle one day after ours only three miles away in which another 155 young Americans died and another 130 were wounded. We had good addresses for perhaps no more than a dozen veterans, but we mailed out a questionnaire to them to begin the process. Late one night a week later my phone rang at home in Los Angeles. On the other end was Sgt. George Nye, retired and living very quietly by choice in his home state of Maine. George began talking and it was almost stream of consciousness. He had held it inside him for so long and now someone wanted to know about it. He described taking his small team of engineer demolitions men into X-Ray to blow down some trees and clear a safer landing zone for the helicopters. Then he was talking about PFC Jimmy D. Nakayama, one of those engineer soldiers, and how a misplaced napalm strike engulfed Nakayama in the roaring flames. How he ran out into the fire and screamed at another man to grab Jimmy's feet and help carry him to the aid station. My blood ran cold and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I had been that man on the other end of Nakayama. I had grabbed his ankles and felt the boots crumble, the skin peel, and those slick bones in my hands. Again I heard Nakayama's screams. By then we were both weeping. I knew Nakayama had died a day or two later in an Army hospital. Nye told me that Jimmy's wife had given birth to a baby girl the day he died--- and that when Nye returned to base camp at An Khe he found a letter on his desk. He had encouraged Nakayama to apply for a slot at Officer Candidate School. The letter approved that application and contained orders for Nakayama to return immediately to Ft. Benning, Ga., to enter that course.
George Nye is gone now. But I want you to know what he did with the last months of his life. He lived in Bangor, Maine, The year was 1991 and in the fall plane after plane loaded with American soldiers headed home from the Persian Gulf War stopped there to refuel. It was their first sight of home. George and some other local volunteers organized a welcome at that desolate airport. They provided coffee, snacks and the warm "Welcome home, soldier" that no one ever offered George and the millions of other Vietnam veterans. George had gone out to the airport to decorate a Christmas tree for those soldiers on the day he died. When we think of ourselves we think Shakespeare, Henry IV, Act IV, Scene 3: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother."
Honor and decency and uncommon courage were common among these soldiers and all the soldiers who served in Vietnam. I think of how they were, on patrol, moving through jungle or rice paddies. Nervous, on edge, trying to watch right, left, ahead, behind, all at once. A friend once described it as something like looking at a tree full of owls. They were alert for sign, sound or smell of the enemy. But they also watched each other closely. At the first sign of the oppressive heat and exhaustion getting to someone the two or three guys around would relieve him of some or all of the heavy burden that the Infantryman bears: 60 or 70 pounds of stuff. Rifle and magazines. A claymore mine or two. A couple of radio batteries. Cans of C-Rations. Spare socks. Maybe a book. All that rides in the soldier's pack. They would make it easier for him to keep going. They took care of each other, because in this situation each other was all they had.
When I would pitch up to spend a day or two or three with such an outfit I was, at first, an object of some curiosity. Sooner or later a break would be called and everyone would flop down in the shade, drink some water, break out a C-Ration or a cigarette. The GI next to me would ask: What you doing out here? I would explain that I was a reporter. "You mean you are a civilian? You don't HAVE to be here?" Yes. "Man, they must pay you loads of money to do this." And I would explain that, no, unfortunately I worked for UPI, the cheapest news agency in the world. "Then you are just plain crazy, man." Once I was pigeonholed, all was all right. The grunts understood "crazy" like no one else I ever met. The welcome was warm, friendly and open. I was probably the only civilian they would ever see in the field; I was a sign that someone, anyone, outside the Big Green Machine cared how they lived and how they died. It didn't take very long before I truly did come to care.
They were, in my view, the best of their entire generation. When their number came up in the draft they didn't run and hide in Canada. They didn't turn up for their physical wearing pantyhose or full of this chemical or that drug which they hoped would fail them. Like their fathers before them they raised their right hand and took the oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. It is not their fault that the war they were sent to fight was not one that the political leadership in Washington had any intention of winning. It is not their fault that 58,200 of them died, their lives squandered because Lyndon Johnson and, later, Richard Nixon could not figure out some decent way to cut our losses and leave the Vietnamese to sort the matter out among themselves.
As I have grown older, and so have they, and first the book and now the movie have come to pass I am often asked: Doesn't this close the loop for you? Doesn't this mean you can rest easier? The answer is no, I can't. To my dying day I WILL remember and honor those who died, some in my arms. I WILL remember and honor those who lived and came home carrying memories and scars that only their brothers can share and understand. They were the best you had, America, and you turned your back on them.
And one thing I see in the soldiers, sailors, airman, and marines here, they look out for their buddy, and will/have die for them.
With soldiers like these, watch out terrorists. We're here,
For more on .."WE WERE SOLDIERS"../ Battle of IA DRANG-1965 see:
1) ..'Ronnie Guyer Photo Collection'.. IA DRANG-1965 Photos on our 7th Cavalry website.. www.LzXray.com ...thru the Home Page's ..'Ia Drang - Interest'.. Section.
2) ..'ALOHA RONNIE'.. Bookmarked F/R .."WE WERE SOLDIERS"../ IA DRANG-1965 / RICK RESCORLA ..Articles by accessing the ..'ALOHA RONNIE'.. on this Post.
3) ..'ALOHA RONNIE'.. Forum Threads/Posts on.. www.WeWereSoldiersFILM.com .. ('The Movie' -&- 'General Discussion' Sections)
GARRY OWEN, Sir
ALOHA RONNIE Guyer / Vet-Battle of IA DRANG-1965/ Landing Zone Falcon / Lt. Col. HAL G. MOORE's Radioman/Driver/Orderly till IA DRANG-1965 / IA DRANG S-1 Personnel Clerk - MOORE wrote his personal Letters of Condolances to the families of our fallen, I typed them up, ie. to Mrs. JACK GEOGHEGAN (Actress Keri Russell)
I saw the movie the day it opened. Liked it. However, just as anyone is critical of things they know about, I am critical of how helicopter operations were portrayed in "Soldiers." First of all, Hueys didn't sneak up on anyone. Second, gunships didn't hover around a hot landing zone firing their weaponry. They made gun runs with one aircraft covering the other on the break. However, they had to put a 3-day battle into a 2-hour movie and all are forgiven. Joe Galloway and LTG Hal Moore are still two of my heroes.
..'I LOVED THIS MOVIE'..
I will never forget the professionalism and the honor exhibited by most of the people I knew during that time. I also remember the sickness I would feel when reading about the so-called Paris peace talks, knowing all along that we were being played by the communists and the press for fools. For me, the really ugly part of the Veitnam war was played by the unprincipled apologists for marxism who as much as spat in the face of the honorable people from our armed services.
Mr. Gorbachev's recent description of the Soviet Union as all propoganda and no substance made me cheer. It is too bad that our former president who "loathed the military" and had visited Moscow in the late 60's, had the power to appoint people to run our military. In my mind there is a direct connection between his willful hatred of the military and what is protrayed in "Black Hawk Down"..... Honorable men being betrayed by weanies who trust themselves too much.
...No Tanks to protect our Troops in Somolia...
...No Intelligence Op's in Afgh starting in 1993..
...No Hiring of Spies to stop Sept 11th since 1995..
...No RICK RESCORLA who died inside Tower 2 on Sept 11th after saving 1,000's of lives, like he did in the World Trade Center Bombing-1993 -&- the Battle of IA DRANG-1965 ("WE WERE SOLDIERS")*
...Don't you DARE let them get away with THIS ONE...!!!*
Signed:..ALOHA RONNIE/Vet-Battle of IA DRANG-1965 www.LzXray.com
my Dad made all three of these, and that's why I'm serving. And it's the sevicemen now that have to carry the ball, so do us proud.
And you're welcome:
US Army 1977-1982
US Army 2001 - Now.
Proud to serve, and Proud of our military.
We civilians are very proud of you. Thanks.
The most profound passage in the book for me was where one of the Helo pilots said:
"The unit was not going to fail its mission cause of support he didn't provide."
I've made that my philosopy. And hope a REMF like me can help.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your service to our country.
Thank you for your noble pursuit of honor and righteousness.
Civilization, now and always, survives because of the bravery of men like you.
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