Tag Archives: Vietnam War

The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Tet Offensive

This week is the fiftieth anniversary of the Tet Offensive, which was the most dynamic military event of the Vietnam Conflict.

Tet is when Asian cultures celebrate the Lunar New Year. In Vietnam, it’s a super holiday, combining the new year with honoring dead ancestors. The government shuts down. During wars, a ceasefire is declared to allow both side to celebrate. However, the National Liberation Front, more commonly referred to as the Viet Cong (VC), rarely honored this ceasefire. In 1968, South Vietnam started Tet on the last day of January. However, U.S. intelligence did not know the North Vietnamese started their tribute two days earlier. Therefore, U.S. military was expecting the VC and the North Vietnamese to attack but several days later.

On the evening of January 31, 1968, a Viet Cong force estimated between 70,000 to as many as 84,000 soldiers, aided by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), launched a surprise attack on the major cities and towns in South Vietnam. NVA General Giap, the strategic planner for the North Vietnamese, took a huge risk with this all-in attack, hoping this would be their next Dien Bien Phu. Their objectives were to not only win the battles but also break the will of the American public.

However, it was not a surprise attack. General Westmoreland had anticipated the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese would attack at the beginning of Tet. However, Westmoreland predicted they would only attack the northern cities of South Vietnam. While the initial attacks did begin in the northern cities along the DMZ, Brigadier General Davidson speculated to General Westmoreland, based on his intel, that once the attack began, it would spread throughout the rest of the country. Westmoreland contacted South Vietnamese President Thieu about canceling the ceasefire. Thieu replied it would be bad for the morale of the South Vietnamese.

When the attacks began in Saigon, specifically at the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. military requested help from the South Vietnamese military, but none came. There was no cavalry “riding over the hill.” The irony in this was that the South Vietnamese government had requested they be put in charge of the security surrounding the U.S. Embassy and the immediate area near the Embassy. The VC had a well-devised plan that included an attack on the Embassy. While they did manage to enter the Embassy grounds and kill five U.S. Marines, the U.S. Military Police (MP) and Marine security guards, with inferior weapons consisting of hand guns and a few rifles, repelled the attack, killing all seventeen VC commandos.

The other significant fighting occurred at Tan Son Nhut Airbase, the American Military Assistance Command, and the South Vietnamese military headquarters. Earlier, Lieutenant General Weyand had placed American and Allied forces strategically to protect the city, as he had a sense a VC attack was coming. The U.S. troops were placed to defend and ultimately counterattack the VC at Tan Son Nhut Arbase. Afterwards, Weyand was given the nickname of “Savior of Saigon.” 

When the fighting was over, the U.S. troops had decisively defeated the Viet Cong, with an estimated 37,000 VC killed compared to 2,500 U.S. troops lost. Once the VC were defeated, however, the press chose to focus on the negative aspects of the Tet Offensive. The fighting spirit of the MP and Marine guards at the Embassy was not newsworthy. The fighting spirit to defend and keep open Tan Son Nhut Airbase and the military command was not newsworthy. The difficult fighting the U.S. Marines did at the ancient capital of Hue, where door-to-door, hand-to-hand combat was essential to liberating the city, was not newsworthy.

Instead, the press focused on issues that conveyed to the American public that U.S. troops were defeated. Why? Because the Viet Cong mounted a coordinated country-wide strike, waged attacks all over the city of Saigon, and held the Embassy grounds hostage for hours—which was enough to push flagging American opinion over the edge.

For the last several months leading up to the Tet Offensive, General Westmoreland told the press the VC were close to defeat. If that were true, how could they launch an attack throughout the country—and, more particularly, in Saigon?

Vietnam was the first war to be televised. Battles were literally brought into the living rooms of America. Graphic film footage—in living color—was relayed into every nightly news program. Americans at home got to see how ugly war really is. And the youth of American didn’t like it. And, eventually, the parents of America didn’t like it. Soldiers are conditioned to handle the brutality of war. The American public was not. Especially not when they saw a VC spy killed at point blank range in Saigon. Or a Napalm girl running for her life.

The American public were shown mostly negative film, which, of course, had a profound influence on public opinion. So much so that the men and women who proudly served felt disrespected and humiliated. Many didn’t even want to admit they had served.

This is why I chose to write my series on Vietnam. Someone needs to reveal the whole story—the true story. Why was the United States in Vietnam anyway? What was going on behind the scenes? What really happened where no cameras were allowed?

 

 

 

 

 

The Diem Presidency (1960-1962)

Ngo Dinh Diem was elected president of South Vietnam because of his vision for growing the country’s economy and protecting its population. With the United States’ financial assistance, Diem industrialized several regions within the country. He came from one of the elite families of Indochina, he was educated in British Malaya, and, before going into politics, he considered going into the priesthood. His presidency was greatly influenced by his strong religious beliefs. Initially, his social reform was structured around Catholic and Confucian beliefs, such as closing brothels and opium dens, some of which ran contrary to long-practiced standards. He made divorce and abortion illegal. With this growth came the establishment of respectable universities within South Vietnam. He also promised land reform, since much of the country’s property was held by a small minority, predominately Catholic families. Moreover, the Catholic Church was the largest landowner in South Vietnam.

There was a dark side to what appeared to be positive developments. While implementing his plans for social and economic change, he was also consolidating his power against the other warlords and their families throughout South Vietnam. By 1960, the Diem Presidency and his political party, Can Lao, were on shaky ground due to his provocation of the predominately Buddhist population. Diem selected mostly Catholics to political appointments. Even in the military, Catholics climbed the promotion ladder faster than Buddhist officers. President Diem also jailed approximately 40,000 political prisoners. Additionally, his special police force, run by his ruthless brother Nhu, killed an estimated 12,000 opponents to his policies. 

The 1961 inauguration of United States President John F. Kennedy brought a fresh set of eyes to Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular. President Eisenhower had been willing to fight communist advances at every single doorstep. Kennedy defeated Eisenhower’s Vice President Richard Nixon by running on a change in policy with more emphasis on economic growth at home along with more social reform.

Kennedy was a young, inexperienced politician who brought a considerable number of fresh faces into his administration. Kennedy felt compelled to move forward with several foreign operations, since they were already developed so far  he had no choice. One of the those was the Bay of Pigs, which failed miserably due in part to his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s last-minute decision. But that development caused Kennedy to quickly stop and review many of Eisenhower’s programs—specifically, the US involvement in South Vietnam and the CIA. Kennedy removed Allen Dulles as head of the CIA and appointed John McCone, an industrialist with no government experience. However, in a surprising move, he appointed Edward Lansdale, who had run OPERATION MONGOOSE, the Cuban debacle, to a special position in the Department of Defense to assist with South Vietnam. Why, you ask? Because Lansdale had spent time in Vietnam in the 1950s and was very close to President Diem. Kennedy needed insight and experience. He had begun to wonder about the stability of the Diem Presidency and the military role the United States served in that country. Kennedy was under pressure from all sides to make something positive come from situations that had only negative options.  First, the military wanted to increase its role in South Vietnam, yet retired General Douglas MacArthur told Kennedy that Vietnam was no place for ground troops. Next, Kennedy had concerns about Diem but was unable to come up with a suitable replacement who would be willing to work with the United States. And third, there was political pressure for the Free World to confront the Communist World at every opportunity. Kennedy, a Democrat, did not want to be lumped in with Democratic President Harry Truman, who was perceived to have mishandled the Korean War. Kennedy believed there had to be a resolution for South Vietnam or it would be used against him in the 1964 re-election campaign.

Just after Kennedy was elected, an attempted military coup on Diem failed. On December 20, 1960, the North Vietnamese government, lead by Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan, saw these internal divisions within South Vietnam, coupled with the military coup, as a sign of weakness. They formed the National Liberation Front (NLF), or, more commonly called the Viet Cong.

President Diem attempted to counter the renewed Viet Cong activity with another program called the Strategic Hamlet Program, which was designed to move individuals from smaller, unprotected villages into newly constructed “hamlets” complete with housing, schools, wells, and a watchtower. Additionally, the US supplied weapons, via the South Vietnamese Army, to the people in the hamlets to aid in their protection. The program was designed to protect the population from harassment by the Viet Cong. Yet, many of the villagers resented being moved from their homes, including some who had occupied their land for many years. Moreover, many of the displaced citizens were farmers, not fighters, so they allowed the US weapons to fall into the hands of the Viet Cong. The irony of moving the population around was that 75% of the land was still owned by 15% of the population, mostly Catholics.

As unrest grew among the population, Diem started cracking down on the Buddhist Monks, whom he believed had turned political and were keeping the population upset. This served only to make Diem even more unpopular. In February 1962, there was another military coup when the Air Force bombed the Presidential Palace. Again, they failed.

This is where my novel series begins. My series will cover many of the events of the recent Vietnam Documentary presented by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. However, my novels also deal with key elements of the Vietnam Conflict that were not addressed within this well-done documentary, such as the role of the CIA and illicit drugs.

I want to show my readers the real history behind the Vietnam Conflict, not just what we were taught in school.

Do you have any special insights into what really happened? If so, please drop me an email or leave a comment. I would love to chat with you.

Vietnam Conflict – The Early Diem Presidency

President Ngo Dinh Diem was a controversial figure even before claiming presidency of South Vietnam. Once it became public that the United States backed him on his run for president, the French issued a statement claiming that Diem was “not only incapable, but mad.” However, Colonel Edward Lansdale and Lieutenant Colonel Lucien Conein believed Diem, a warlord from Hue, was the best available choice to keep South Vietnam from falling under the control of communism. Diem, a devout Catholic, was born into one of the elite families associated with the Vietnamese imperial family. Immediately after World War II, Ho Chi Minh, who was forming his government in North Vietnam, asked Diem to take a position in his administration. Diem turned him down. Ho had hoped to take advantage of Diem’s religion to gain support from Catholics.

In an attempt to provide close guidance, Lansdale moved into the palace with President Ngo Dinh Diem before his election and stayed until late 1956. Lansdale and Diem became close friends, and to a large extent, Lansdale was able to keep Diem focused on his presidency while continuing his psy-ops program, named Saigon Military Mission, against the North.

Lansdale was transferred back to Washington, DC, in 1957 and promoted to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations working out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Shortly after Lansdale left, Diem changed how he conducted himself as president. Diem had campaigned for land reform and to remove the anti-Buddhist laws that had been imposed by the French. The French, which were predominately Catholic, had controlled most of the land and the wealth in Indochina for decades, despite representing only ten percent of the country’s population. Moreover, the largest landowner in Vietnam was the Catholic Church. Most of Diem’s government officials were Catholics, yet seventy percent of the country was Buddhist. Needless to say, like most politicians, Diem failed to keep his campaign promises. At the end of the 1950s, the anti-Buddhist laws were still on the books and seventy-five percent of the land was still held by fifteen percent of the population.

The North Vietnamese government pressed Diem to comply with the Geneva Accords by holding elections in July 1956, to which Diem had not agreed and which he refused to do. Ho Chi Minh harassed the South Vietnamese government by sending loyalists from the North to organize armed citizens against the Diem government. By 1959, some 1,200 of South Vietnamese government officials were murdered by the North Vietnamese or by South Vietnamese who were loyal to the North.

Diem pushed back hard. First, he arrested and imprisoned communists and socialists. Next, he went after journalists, trade-unionists and leaders of religious groups, mainly Buddhists. Even children found writing anti-Diem messages on walls were put in prison. As a result of Diem’s actions, soon 100,000 people were in prison camps. Still, the US poured money into South Vietnam and encouraged Catholic refugees from the North to come to the South to escape the communist-leaning Ho Chi Minh.

By the end of the Eisenhower presidency, there were rumblings within the US government against Diem’s governing practices—mainly, that  he was not following US suggestions. But they were stuck with the seated president because they did not believe there were any alternatives.

So by the end of the 1950s, Vietnam had a large number of issues. Were you aware of how bad this situation had become?

Vietnam – Undermining the Geneva Peace Conference

As I wrote in my previous blog on Vietnam and the Geneva Peace Conference, politicians on both sides made agreements at the conference table that neither side planned to follow. The Geneva Peace Conference Accords favored the North, mostly because it was driven by China’s Zhou En-lai and the North Vietnamese Representatives.

The first thing Ho Chi Minh did was kill off political opposition to him within North Vietnam. Next, Ho sent Viet Minh soldiers into South Vietnam to intimidate and kill innocent civilians. Soon their intimidation turned to recruiting people in the South to follow their cause—or die. To say the least, it was an effective campaign.

The United States did not earn any angel wings, either, but remember, neither the United States nor South Vietnam signed the Accords. However, they did say they would comply with those Accords.

But in this blog, I want to focus on two of my favorite real-life people—Edward Lansdale and Lucien Conein. They were true American heroes from a time when we needed men such as these. I love these guys—they’re so full of larger-than-life qualities—both good and bad. Great for writing.

In the summer of 1954, Lansdale, an Air Force Colonel and CIA agent whose specialty was counter-insurgency, led a team of agents that included  CIA agents Conein as his second in command  as well as Theodore Shackley into Vietnam to begin a series of covert operations against North Vietnam. Many of those sabotage missions failed.Their goal was to mount a propaganda campaign to persuade the Vietnamese people in the South not to vote for the Communists in future elections.

Conein’s “cover” going back into Vietnam was to arrange air transport for northerners fleeing the Communist Viet Minh. However, his assignment was to sabotage the victorious Viet Minh takeover of northern Vietnam by creating a stay-behind setup for possible guerrilla resistance. Besides sabotaging the public transportation system detailed above, Conein was to leave behind necessary supplies for a rebellion against the Communist regime. He came up with the novel idea of packing military hardware into coffins and burying them in cemeteries. However, the anti-Communist uprisings never materialized. In October 1954g, in the last days the U.S. personnel were to be in Hanoi, a special CIA-trained team led by Conein contaminated the oil supply for the public transportation. This was done so the motors would fail slowly.

Conein was never short on creativity. When the French were pulling out of Vietnam and very up-set with the Americans, Lansdale requested the new US Ambassador fortify his personal residence. The Ambassador didn’t heed his advice. So, on his way home from dinner, Conein drove by the Ambassador’s residence and tossed a live grenade on his front yard. I can just see the man laughing all the way home.

The next day, the Ambassador accepted Lansdale’s suggestion.

As election time rolled around in South Vietnam, Lansdale’s role broadened to finding a leader who could consolidate power. Both North and South Vietnam had been “governed” by territorial warlords for decades. As mentioned earlier, Ho Chi Minh did what he needed to do to consolidate his power in the North with the help of Red China and to a lesser degree the Soviet Union. In the South, Lansdale selected Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic in a predominately Buddhist country, from a number of warlords to run against Bao Dai, the former emperor and a member of the Vietnamese royal family. Bao Dai had been propped up as a figurehead by the French prior to World War II, but he fled the country when the Japanese invaded. So when election time came in October 1955, the South Vietnamese people were asked to choose between Bao Dai and Diem for the leadership of the country. Lansdale suggested that Diem have the election commission provide two ballots, a red one for those voting for Diem and a green one for those voting for Bao Dai. Lansdale made this suggestion because of the Vietnamese belief that red signified good luck while green indicated bad fortune—just another small way in which he could help influence the result.

During the voting process, Diem supporters dominated the polling places. Some voters claimed they were told to put the red ballots in envelopes and to throw the green ballots away. There was also violence against Bao Dai voters. Basically, the election was held under third-world conditions. Lansdale believed he had to consolidate power quickly because he thought it was only a matter of time before the Communists would resort to open warfare.

With the results never in doubt, Diem told Lansdale and US officials that he’d won 98.2 % of the vote. Lansdale warned him these figures would not be believed and suggested he publish a figure of around 70 %. Diem refused, as the Americans predicted, since he used the higher figures, it was the beginning of mistrust of his administration from the very beginning.

Lansdale’s next assignment was to train the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) in modern fighting methods. In May 1956, the US sent 350 military advisors, which was a direct violation of the Geneva Accords.

The Geneva Peace Conference Accords called for talks to begin between the two Vietnams in July 1956 to set forth plans for elections late the following year to unify the divided country. Diem refused to comply. The US knew Diem was so unpopular that he had no chance of being elected against Ho Chi Minh. As a result, the US had to scramble to come up with a solution to this imminent crisis.

So, long before the US officially joined the Vietnam conflict by sending troops, Lansdale and Conein were there stirring the pot.

Were you aware of this part of world history? Do you think these things still go on today?

How did the United States get involved in Vietnam?

I would say most of you know the story of how the United States’ involvement in Vietnam ended. As Saigon fell on April 29 -30, 1975, US civilians followed instructions given in a booklet. The song “White Christmas” played over the US-based radio station, which signaled US civilians to  get to the American Embassy or other pre-determined location because the final evacuation was underway.  Most of us have seen pictures or videos of personnel fighting to get to the top of the US Embassy, where they boarded helicopters that delivered them to US Navy ships off-shore. There are pictures or videos of people fighting to climb over the Embassy gates the communists approached Saigon.

But how did the United States get involved in this far-away country that seemingly had little to do with our national security? In two words: “Domino Theory.” The Domino Theory, perpetuated by the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and President Eisenhower, predicted that if Vietnam fell to the communists, most of the countries in the Far East—from Thailand to the Philippines—would also fall.

But let’s back up a little more. At the Cairo Conference in Egypt (November 22-26, 1943), U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek agreed on how to remove the Japanese from Indochina after winning the war in the Pacific. Generalissimo Chiang was given the title of “Supreme Commander of China” which included parts of Thailand and Indochina, which included Vietnam. It was agreed the Chinese Nationalist Army would disarm and remove the Japanese from the northern portion of Vietnam, while the British would liberate the southern portion.

Soon thereafter, Ho Chi Minh, a devout communist and the leader of the Viet Minh Underground fighting against the Japanese, asked France to return to Indochina to help remove the Chinese. Ho did not want the Chinese Nationalist Army in his country. Ho’s request to the French seemed strange, since Ho was loyal to both Stalin, the Secretary General of the Soviet Union, and Mao, Chairman of Communist China. However, President de Gaulle was quick to respond by sending forces to Indochina. In 1946, with the French forces in place, Ho Chi Minh asked Chiang Kai-shek to withdraw all of his troops. Chiang was in the midst of a vicious civil war with the communist Mao for control of mainland China, so he was glad to pull out—with the exception of a few divisions in the northern region. Moreover, the British were more interested in securing their former territories of India, Burma and Singapore, so soon after removing the Japanese, the British pulled out of the southern portion of Vietnam.

The French attempted not just to liberate Vietnam, but to re-establish the territory as it had been before World War II. However, the Vietnamese wanted none of that; they wanted their independence. According to historical records, in 1946, Ho Chi Minh wrote a letter to President Truman requesting support from the United States as an independent State. Truman never answered. Some historians say Truman wasn’t familiar with Ho Chi Minh, which was why he didn’t answer. I’ll not get into that debate here.

Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh, which had fought the Japanese throughout World War II, were very proficient at jungle fighting. The French struggled to fight the Viet Minh, and, in 1954 at the battle of Diem Bien Phu, the French were defeated and pulled out of Indochina.

Immediately, the United States moved in to take their place because of the “Domino Theory.” For the next fifteen years, President de Gaulle accused the United States of undermining their efforts in Indochina for the sole purposes of taking over the territory for themselves, which was never the goal of the United States.

So the United States officially entered Vietnam in 1954—even though the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor of the CIA, had been in Indochina since the beginning of World War II.

How many of you knew this background story?

Vietnam Conflict Series

I have not written a blog in a while, as my time has been split between my day job and working on my novels. But I need to catch everyone up on my latest project—a novel that features the Vietnam Conflict.

What got me started?

About ten years ago, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “When I left Vietnam, we were winning.” Wow. When was that? I don’t remember anyone ever saying that. It caused me to reflect back to that time. Was there really a time when we were winning in Vietnam?

Not long after that, the traveling version of the Vietnam Wall came to Parkersburg, then my home town. I made a point to see it. Why? My parents were friends with a family whose son was killed in Vietnam in 1965. I was still a kid—I didn’t understand. But now that I was older and wiser, I wanted to find his name on the Wall. I didn’t know him, don’t remember even meeting him, but I wanted to find his name. The Wall was so massive, I quickly realized I couldn’t easily find it, so I went to the information tent to ask which panel I should scan. Well, when I mentioned his name, a woman there turned around and asked me how I knew this soldier. After telling her, she admitted to me she thought they would get married some day. I’ve often heard there’s no such thing as a coincidence, and that may be true.  I am convinced I was supposed to meet that woman to bolster my intrigue.

After finding his name, I felt compelled to find out how he’d been KIA (Killed in Action). So, like any normal person, I went to the World Wide Web and looked for his military death record. No record. Weird. A family member at the time was a high ranking officer in the military, so I asked her to see if she could find out anything. Nothing. Only the acknowledgement “KIA.” Now, that was really weird. I found stories about his death in two different newspapers from two different cities. One was from the city in which he grew up—Parkersburg, West Virginia—and the other from the city in which he had last resided—Columbia, South Carolina. Which creates another coincidence, since these are also the cities in which  I grew up and in which I currently live.  But neither newspaper story mentioned where he had died other than “in action.”

Later, I was able to find out that this soldier, a captain in the Army, was killed by a shrapnel from a roadside explosive device, but I still couldn’t find out where.  So, I still sit here today and ask how was a captain killed in early 1965—before the Marine landing later that year—by a roadside explosive device, not have a location of death? I can’t do a Paul Harvey “and now you know the rest of the story” here, because I don’t know the answers myself.

As I have talked to other people, I’ve discovered the records of many who served in Vietnam have been purged of the locations in which they served. In some cases, it has prevented them from receiving treatment from VA hospitals.

All of these events have pushed me into wanting to write something positive about what our troops went through in Vietnam—and not only give some positive coverage to our troops, but delve into why the United States even got involved in Vietnam.  Once I finish this novel, I promise you will learn things about the “real history of the world; what we weren’t taught in school”—particularly about this conflict.

If you or someone you know has a story about the Vietnam era you’d like to share with me, please do. I’d love to hear your stories. Thank you.

President Johnson and the Vietnam Conflict

Fifty years ago this month, the United States elected President Lyndon B. Johnson to a full term by a landslide. President Johnson, a.k.a. LBJ, won by more than sixteen million vote over the right-wing, ultra-conservative, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. The Electoral College results were even more one-sided; President Johnson received 486 Electoral College votes to Goldwater’s fifty-two.

Johnson had campaigned that he would continue the late President Kennedy’s policies, if elected, which included maintaining a low number of troops in Vietnam. Conversely, the Republican candidate, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, campaigned that he would consider using tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Additionally, Goldwater was opposed to one of Johnson’s main platform issues—Civil Rights legislation. While I have always believed this was the critical factor in Goldwater’s loss, this blog will focus on Johnson’s Vietnam policy, since I am writing a series of books on Vietnam. What got me started on this series of books is that, several years ago, I saw a bumper sticker which said, “We were winning Vietnam when I left!”Silhouette fedora

As World War II was winding down, President Roosevelt made a deal with Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of free China, to occupy Vietnam. The Chinese would take the North and the United States and France would take the South. They agreed to hold unification elections, as soon as possible. However, China went through a monumental change: the communists won the Civil War, therefore, North Vietnam was occupied by the communists. Then North Vietnam picked Ho Chi Minh to be their leader. Ho Chi Minh had led the country in their defeat of the French, who was trying to re-claim Vietnam as one of their territories. He was viewed as a liberator. Therefore, one of the largest obstacles to peace in Vietnam was overcoming the North, being led by Ho Chi Minh. The South could not come up with anyone to match this charismatic leader. Therefore, the United States refused to allow “free” elections, because they believed those elections would lead to the country falling into the hands of the communists.

The Democratic Party had been vulnerable for having “lost” China to the communists and being satisfied with letting the Korean Conflict end in a draw. The CIA still had two strong opposing factions. One side put forth what would become known as the Domino Theory, which in essence claimed that if Vietnam fell, all of Southeast Asia would fall, and the US would lose a strategic defensive position in the Far Pacific. This theory was held by four administrations; Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. First, President Kennedy, then President Johnson, repeatedly stated that they were not going to be the US Presidents who “lost” Vietnam and Southeast Asia. In the lead up to the election, Johnson quietly grew the US ground forces in Vietnam; however, the United States public was not informed this action.

So what did LBJ do after elected? He did exactly what he wanted! He believed his landslide was a mandate. Kennedy had believed that he could fight the Vietnamese without committing a large number of troops, instead using limited engagements, quick-strike operations with Special Forces, CIA-trained men, or Green Beret. He had consulted with retired General Douglas MacArthur, who might have had the most knowledge of the Asian Theater of anyone alive at that time. MacArthur had advised Kennedy that air and naval support, in conjunction with the South Vietnamese Army, was the way to win this conflict, but it was absolutely not the place for ground troops. Johnson, on the other hand, was beholding to “Big Oil” and the “Military Industrial Complex”; therefore, he needed a way to escalate the Vietnam Conflict to appease the people who funded his re-election. He was given the perfect scenario, the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident”, which in reality was nothing more than a false flag to escalate the United States’ role in Vietnam.

The situation was further compounded by Johnson trying to manage the Conflict from the White House, as opposed to taking the advice of officers on the ground. Johnson’s mismanagement was instrumental in the malaise created in Vietnam. Moreover, the US troops were the first to have rules of engagement placed on them. Additionally, many of the South Vietnamese people did not respect our troops, and in many cases, they viewed our troops as occupiers, much like the French. Conversely, our troops knew that many of these Vietnamese were friendly during the day and Vietcong soldiers during the night. This made for a terrible situation where a large numbers of troops were encamped.

Vietnam became a quagmire, and while our troops were winning the fighting, it was totally misrepresented in the press back in the United States. Ultimately, Johnson chose not to run for re-election, and the American public turned against the Vietnamese Conflict and our troops who fought there. While there were atrocities, such as Mai Lia, most of our soldiers acted and fought honorably, but were treated poorly by the U.S. public.

What is your opinion of the Johnson Administration and their handling of the Vietnam Conflict?

The Vietnam Conflict

I became draft eligible at the end of the Vietnam Conflict. During the last years of the draft, I was in college. The US Draft Board was running lotteries for selection, based on date of birth. And to use a sports acronym, I just barely squeaked into the top twenty, thus I had an immediate 1-A. In just over a week, I received my notice to report for my physical. I was running on the college track team, so I was certain to pass. I was torn by my future decision. Enlisting would mean committing four years of my life, but it would put me in the service of choice, versus two years of assignment to a random branch of service.

My father said, “You could end up chest-deep in a rice paddy, holding your gun over your head, while bullets are zinging past.” Obviously, my father wanted me to continue in his footsteps, entering the US Air Force. You see, when my father was seventeen, he enlisted in the US Air Force shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

I took a lot of time and thought hard about the decision. I did not rush my choice. Just over a week before I was to report for my physical, President Nixon called an end to the draft. I can tell you that at that point, I still had not decided whether to enlist.

About two years ago, I decided to write a book, or a series of books, on the Vietnam Conflict. Why? Well, I lived it from the beginning to end. The year of my birth, 1954, was the beginning of Vietnam, and it ended while I was in college. When I was about nine years old, a friend of our family had a son killed in Vietnam. I remember sitting in their home with them, but—typical of a ten year old—it had no impact on me then. 

When I was in junior high, the youth of America quickly began to turn against the Vietnam Conflict, but again, I really didn’t understand. Richard Nixon was elected President as I was entering high school, but the war was still too far off to impact me, even when they talked about doing away with college deferments. During the time, the momentum grew against the conflict, and President Nixon discussed ending it. I noticed that, as our soldiers came home, I felt they were not treated properly. And sadly, the silent majority of people sat silent as to how these soldiers were treated. Now, please understand that I am aware there was a great misunderstanding of the two peoples; the Vietnamese people did not understand the American soldier, and many of the American soldiers disrespected the Vietnamese people.

Why, then, did all this hit me so hard two years ago? The Vietnam Wall came to my hometown of Parkersburg, WV. I couldn’t wait to see it. Plus, I wanted to find the name of the friend-of-the-family’s son. I wanted to know why and how he died. Talk about a fateful moment . . . when I asked the men in the tent where I could find his name, a lady who sat writing down names looked up at me and said, “I wanted to marry him!” How startling! That statement alone humanized the book project for me.

I wanted to write a book shedding positive light on the American soldiers in an attempt to honor these men who served over there. These men who were chest-deep in a rice paddy with a gun over their head as the bullets whizzed by. Plus, I wanted to show how the American public changed during the course of the Vietnam Conflict. After extensive research, I decided that the best place to start was at the first point of the conflict—the coup of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. This event had tentacles that were entwined around the entire fabric of the conflict.Silhouette fedora

What are your experiences with and perceptions of the Vietnam Conflict? If you are younger, or if you remained stateside, has any revelation regarding our soldiers surprised you, as I was startled by that woman’s statement? I would love to hear from you! Where do you think the Vietnam Conflict first started, and why?