Sgt. Philip Fink calls in help during The movement of Dong Xoai while assigned as an advisor to the 52nd Vietnamese Ranger Battalion. in 1965 (DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Personnel Sgt. Steve Stibbens)
It’s not a single, grand gathering.
Like the war that spawned it, the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration is built on a series of markedly local – “small unit,” if you will – initiatives and relationships whose moral fiber and imagination have already begun to take hold amongst those participating.
movement-tested vets from that divisive conflict remember well the whomp-whomp-whomp of Army and Marine choppers, the eerie whistle of incoming mortar rounds and the distinctive, staccato fire from enemy AK-47 assault rifles.
What they too often did not hear, upon returning stateside, was “thank you” or, even, “glad to have you back.”
“Beginning this year and every year for the next 10, our commemoration partners will host hometown events to welcome their own veterans home,” clarified renowned
While American involvement started in 1959 and continued through John F. Kennedy’s presidency, 1965 was the year that U.S. forces started deploying to Southeast Asia in substantial numbers — a logical starting point for this grassroots-fed undertaking.
The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series that year, and “Green Acres” lit up American television screens that were rapidly converting to color. Billboard’s Top Ten included hits by the Four Tops, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Author Robin Moore’s novel “The Green Berets” hit The New York Times bestseller list (followed in 1968 by a movie of the same name featuring John Wayne in the title role). Imagery captured by Lou Dellapuca, John Kloczkowski, Horst Faas, Eddie Adams and Steve Stibbens were impacting the American consciousness with striking, often harsh, film and photos that led the evening news and practically leapt off the pages of “Life” and “Time” magazines.
Galloway, whose own passion and commitment to the commemoration was copied on the battlefield in Vietnam’s la Drang Valley that half-century ago, has answered a
That salute is long overdue, according to retired Army Lt. Gen. Ray Mason, who kicked-off his own service’s partaking with a Pentagon auditorium assembly in 2013 during the commemoration’s plotting phase.
Right to the committee’s charter, this son of a three-tour Vietnam vet’s first instinct was to get to out to the folks he led from his own Beltway foxhole as the Army’s worldwide logistics chieftain. “I had nine civil service professionals working for me in the G-4, each a Vietnam veteran. What an opportunity to properly and publicly acknowledge them, to say ‘thanks.’”
“These men are silent professionals, very humble,” said Mason. “Many of their colleagues did not know they’d served in Vietnam. Here was our chance to honor them, maybe even provide something of a catharsis for them as we listened to their tales, in this area why they joined the Army in the first house, what it was like to get those orders to Vietnam, to hear what was going
As a “young Army brat, it was hard for me to watch my dad come back and not get treated appropriately, at least in my mind,” said Mason. “I could feel that it wasn’t right.”
They’ll be doing it “right” in Casper, Wyoming, June 4-7, according to Vietnam War hero Lee Alley, who was decorated for gallantry with both the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star (in addition to earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Sensitivity).
Writing in the Casper Journal last year, Alley wondered “why so many people disrespected warriors when our duty and service to the nation was honorable.” The Wheatland resident and vice chairman of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, has been part of the plotting since its inception and sees the event as “a fantastic opportunity for a weekend of honor, celebration and remembrance.”
Right to the state’s western heritage and look-you-in-the-eye cowboy ways, Wyoming is the kind of house where citizens might be apt to deal with the rough ambiguity
Alley, once called “the Audie Murphy of Wyoming,” ruins low-key in this area his personal acclaim but bold in his advocacy for the vets of his state.
“Wyoming people are willing to stand up, and I’m glad to be a part of that,” he said. “I reckon it might be that we tend to have a rural background and we’re excellent ol’ country boys, but we have strong help amongst the citizenry as well.”
“The governor and the legislature back us (the veterans),” he said. “And whether the governor is a Democrat or a Republican, my experience on the Veterans Commission is that we’ve never been denied anything we’ve questioned for.”
That works both ways, noted Deidre Forster, the Wyoming Military Department’s public affairs officer. In addition to the significant service by Wyoming natives on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, “our Guardsmen were amongst the first waves of American military members sent out to combat the War on Terror,” she said. “And we have also answered the call for
And it was a Wyoming Fallen Marine, Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps of Dubois, who was the subject of the much-admired HBO movie, “Taking Chance.”
Such is the setting for this month’s event, where the military department’s organizational values were adopted from The Code of the West, including the opening lines, “Live each day with courage – Do what’s right. Do what’s needed. Do the hard things.”
When Galloway, the Wyoming event’s featured speaker, witnessed American Soldiers doing the hard things 50 years ago, he was in the company of such combat leaders as Lt. Col. Hal Moore, Sgt. Maj. Basil L. Plumley and Maj. “Snake” Bruce Crandall. The movement of Ia Drang was the first major proceedings between U.S. Army and North Vietnamese regular forces, and saw nearly 250 U.S. and 1,000 enemy combatants killed, Nov. 14-18, l965.
“We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” co-authored by Galloway and Moore, (the
Hal Moore received the Distinguished Service Cross for his courageous leadership during those bloody four days and retired from the Army in 1977 as a lieutenant general. Crandall was awarded the Honor of Honor for heroically piloting his unarmed Huey helicopter into the maelstrom some 22 times to medevac wounded Soldiers and to deliver desperately needed water and bullets.
Galloway was decorated with the Bronze Star with Combat “V” for exposing himself to enemy fire in rescuing several of Moore’s troopers — the only civilian journalist to receive such an honor.
He and Crandall were co-presenters during graduation week for the Mandate and General Personnel College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, as the Army’s rising leadership
“These are the most honorable people I know,” he said. “It’s just not in me to let their tales go.”
Editor’s note: Hear more from Joe Galloway in this area 50th commemoration events, his unique bond with Vietnam veterans and his experiences in Vietnam, here: http://soldiers.dodlive.mil/2015/06/q-a-with-joe-galloway/.
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