Saturday, July 1, 2017

What It Means To Fight For Your Country (1967) Vietnam, America, War and the Soul

The World Outside Your Window

While crafting an essay for my non-fiction book on Marvel Comic books, Integr8d Fix
I worked from an inspiration to reflect the real world dramas churning outside the colorful pages of a multiple part Iron Man story set in Vietnam, presented in 1967. Here, separately, is the part of that essay reflecting America- and Vietnam- during that divisive year in our history. I humbly offer it as a multi-faceted crash course summary to the Vietnam War at that time, for those who don’t know much about it. For those who do- and those who remember those days- I hope it’s a thoughtful reflection on the complexities of that era, as told in the words of those who lived in, as gleaned from the Op-Ed pages of the June New York Times this year.

While each month of the three-part storyline in Tales of Suspense #92-94 unfolded:

Protestors planned to march in October in Washington.

Plan Pennsylvania: Americans agreed to covertly cease bombing; in exchange, North Vietnam halted their military advance into key areas of South Vietnam. As detailed in a New York Times article by Robert K. Brigham: “Once North Vietnam acted, the United States would freeze its combat forces at existing levels and peace talks could begin.” How very unfortunate that Reason failed: despite initial negotiations on July 24th , on August 20th, 200 sorties flew, the most yet against North Vietnam, explained as “orders (had been) delayed by inclement weather.” Most likely, Johnson, convinced of the value of the strikes, couldn’t pass up a chance to hit key areas, in case the deal prevented him from doing so later. Brigham writes:  Johnson...was desperately trying to keep his options open by escalating the bombing just before a pause, but in the end he actually narrowed his choices.
Trying to placate both antiwar members of Congress and his generals, who wanted a wider war, Johnson tried to find a middle ground when there was none.” His choice to “pour on the steel” led the Viet Cong-who believed taking Saigon would end American influence- to a retaliatory push known as the Tet Offensive, which in turn called for an even great increase in American forces, controversially drafted. Months after Pennsylvania’s secret failure, over half a million American soldiers now fought in Vietnam.

Objectors on the same college campuses as the small, growing contingent of newly-older Marvel fans organized draft resistance efforts. One, journalist David Harris, estimates between a quarter and a half a million young men joined him in rejecting their draft notices. On October 16th, 1967, he helped organize a National Draft Card Return, in which hundreds of cards were sent back to the government during 18 rallies across America. He was one of about 3200 eventually tried and jailed (in 1968), as he denied his college exemption, reasoning another, poor young person would go in his stead, to a war that presented, he believed, a moral quagmire. His story was told in a NY Times Op Ed, June, 2017, as well as his book The War and What It Did To Us.

In his words: “Reality is made by what we do, not what we talk about. Values that are not embodied in behavior do not exist. People can change, if we provide them the opportunity to do so. Movements thrive by engaging all comers, not by calling people names, breaking windows or making threats. Whatever the risks, we cannot lose by standing up for what is right. That’s what allows us to be the people we want to be.”

Raising my children myself was so hard, I cannot even say it. You know, it was very dangerous when I was fighting in the war. You could die anytime. But raising my kids alone was much harder. Sometimes, I would just sit by myself and cry.
I still dream about the war sometimes. I dream about when a bomb is about to explode, and I shout to my unit to lie down. I have seen so many things, saw eight out of 10 people in my unit become wounded or die at once. War is cruel. Cruel. When you have a war, people and families are divided — between husband and wife, parent and child. Now my wish is that there is no war in the world, that we can help each other lead our lives instead of fighting. That is my message. I want peace. Le Thi My Le -The Women Who Fought for Hanoi NY Times June 6, 2017
Many people who fought in the war, maybe they could never forgive America. But when I joined the war, I knew everything had two sides. And the sides had the same hurt together. In Vietnam, maybe we lost our country, lost our family, had a lot of people die — but in America it is the same. All the soldiers are the sons of parents, and they lost their children, too. It is all the same, the same hurt.
- Nguyen Thi Hiep The Women Who Fought for Hanoi NY Times June 6, 2017

From the Times, I’ll close with the story of Bill Reynolds, a veteran of the Ninth Division, a.k.a. Charlie Company. It is for such men- and the children playing in the back yards and streets of America- that Stan and Gene crafted this tale, grafting their colorful adventurer onto a real world intrigue with motivations and consequences that we as a nation were only beginning to explore.

Once he was conscripted, Reynolds reported these conflagrations in the Mekong Delta, coincidentally each time happening in his true soldier life along with roughly each month of this four-color offering. On May 15th he saw his first major action, lost a good friend, as his unit inflicted 90 Viet Cong casualities in heavy, brutal fighting.
In June, Bill said:
“Heavy automatic rifle fire and rocket propelled grenades screamed in along with small weapons fire. My buddies were dropping left and right, but by the grace of God I raced safely back to a small berm next to the creek where everyone able was scrambling.” Air power protected them while their enemy fired from heavily-fortified bunkers. While Huey gunships covered them, his friend Second Platoon Medic Fourth Class Specialist Bill Geir risked his life to help Reynolds’ friends, until he lost his own life to a shot that tore under his armpit. Reynolds bandaged him while the Third Platoon medic Elijah Taylor attempted to reach no avail. Bill watched evacuation Hueys try to lift soldiers out of the field, only to be shot a hundred feet off the ground. One landed directly on top of Specialist Forrest Ramos, who’d rolled out to safety. 47 American soldiers died; their Alpha Company, decimated.

“A few weeks later, on July 11, Charlie Company was caught out in the open by the enemy and we lost five more brave soldiers, including my high school classmate Phil Ferro and four buddies. The Vietcong escaped that night, so we were unable to exact our revenge.”

The rest of their grueling experience was spent on “routine patrols, with the usual booby traps and fire fights.” He eventually came home to a disapproving American crowd.
As per the Times: Bill Reynolds is a Vietnam veteran and the director of veterans’ affairs for the Santa Clarita Valley Signal. His combat experience with Charlie Company is featured in the documentary “Brothers in War” and the book “The Boys of ’67,” by Andrew Wiest.

It is more difficult to question the nature of truth, to be sure; it is human nature to accept stories that follow our own preconceptions. But for the sake of freedom, and the brave sacrifices made by those who served, no matter the games of power wielded by our governments, I hope we as a country make our way back in the direction of consensus truths, however divergent our opinions then might be!

On this June day I write, a Veterans Reform Bill, expanding previous legislation from the Obama administration to increase bureaucratic accountability and aid care closer to home for vets, was signed by President Trump into law, so there’s news relevant to patriotism and thoughts of our country’s soldiers. However imperfect we as creators and citizens might be, may we look to the well being of those who would stand strong, when time and toil has yolked them with the weak and sick.

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