Spitting stories, while true, aren't the point. But denial of what we suffered dishonors us again.
I am a combat-disabled Army veteran who served in Vietnam in 1968-69. I was infantry, in the field, fighting the most misunderstood and unpopular war in American history. I've studied the history, and I've lived it.
And David Sirota is wrong about the history and policies of that war and about the treatment of returning military men and women ("The myth of the spat-upon war veteran," June 8).
Contrary to protesters' claims, then and now, the Vietnam War did not begin without good reasons. It was a direct result of the 1945 Yalta Conference, where Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill agreed to abandon the Vietnamese (who had helped defeat the Japanese in World War II) and give all of Indo-China back to the French. Despite U.S. economic support and military advisers, the French lost the ensuing Vietnamese independence struggle and withdrew from all of Indo-China. Vietnam ended up divided.
In the era when the North Vietnamese invaded the South, the world was facing Russian colonialism, the spread of communism, nuclear arms, the Cuban missile crisis and other threats to world peace. We fought to "contain" communist aggression and adopted the "domino theory," believing that if one country in a region fell, the rest would. Although the history of the past 50 years is complex, it's fair to observe that the spread of communism has been contained.
We need to remember that it was the South Vietnamese government that lost their war, not the much-maligned American soldier. American service members did not suffer defeat, even though most of us felt defeated. Policy and politics out of Washington had failed, not the military.
Vietnam vets were raised in a society that honored veterans. Despite Sirota's contentions, Vietnam vets were a bit crushed coming home. We were not honored, but were treated as the face of an unpopular war.
I am not aware of many Vietnam vets who were not subjected to some disrespect, either personal or from the culture that called us "baby killers." We were shamed and embarrassed. My car (with a military base sticker) was "egged." I bought a wig to hide my military haircut.
The spitting on veterans was just a small part of the overall feeling of lost honor, but it was real, contrary to Sirota's article, which appears to borrow heavily from a review of a book written by socialist and war protester Jerry Lembcke.
In his purported study, Lembcke's sampling was not random, it was statistically insignificant, and he stated that stories of spitting first surfaced in the 1980s. And he espouses that post-traumatic stress disorder was an invention of the government to garner support for the war.
But Lembcke is refuted by many other sources, including Jim Lindgren, a Northwestern University law professor who cited news accounts that documented many spitting incidents. One example: A 1967 Bucks County Courier Times article reporting that two sailors were spat on outside a high school football game by a gang of about 10 young men. One of the sailors was stabbed.
• In October 1967, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Reston's front page article in the New York Times described his eyewitness account of protest behavior so vulgar that spitting was the least of the transgressions.
• Even Medal of Honor recipients were abused and "spat upon as 'monsters'," according to the head of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, WWII medalist Thomas J. Kelly. Kelly recounted how about 200 anti-war protesters showed up one year to harass the Medal of Honor recipients at their annual dinner. WWII Medalist James Conners was unable to avoid a particularly obnoxious man yelling, "Killer, killer, killer." Conners decked him.
• Other spitting incidents were reported by Pulitzer Prize winners Max Frankel in the New York Times (November 1969) and Carl Bernstein in the Washington Post (May 1970).
Lembcke is an avowed socialist and has tried to use incomplete or dishonest research to lend credence to his government-as-pro-war conspiracy theories, to use the 9-million-plus Vietnam-era veterans as anti-war pawns.
Let's all stop listening to those who refuse to consider the facts. Our Vietnam experience ended more than 40 years past, and it deserves to be judged by history.
I do not wish to have my record of service dishonored again.
Bob Feist, of Medina, is an Army veteran and a retired Navy pilot.
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