Disillusionment upon homecoming

David Christian/lr
Tape 2, side 2
(Background sounds, inaudible voices)
Hello, there, transcription fans. Um, today is the 7th of July, 1983, uh, we're working on the Vietnam project, show number 13. The title of the show is "Legacies"; this is the second interview we're doing, and it's with David Christian. This is an interview with, uh, David Christian. Camera roll 4 is up.
(inaudible background voices), six.
Clapstick. Take 5.
David, when, when you went to Vietnam to war, you must have gone with a certain set of ideas that were motivating you. How would you describe the way you looked at the war then and the way you look at it now?
I went to, to Vietnam as a young romanticist, looking at the world with James Michener in the background, South Pacific part of my growing up, that play, uh, looking at the world from my mother's eyes. My mother served with MacArthur in WWII; she would share with me many of the memories of WWII and uh, war wasn't that ugly.
We were raised with the concept of heroics and the John Wayne movies and all that, and I was raised with that, and I was looking at Vietnam, but I would never get hurt, that I would never be injured; that I was doing my duty and I was going there and I was gonna kill the Commies, and I was going to come home. Uh, I personalized the thing.
We didn't know ideologies, I was eighteen years of age, I was the youngest second lieutenant, uh, at that time in the military, went on to be the youngest first lieutenant at nineteen, and when I came home, uh, I was promoted to the rank of captain, at the age of twenty. I could not vote or uh, drink, legally, in the state of Pennsylvania.
So, when I went to Vietnam, I went to Vietnam as a romanticist. When I came home, Vietnam to me was much more understandable, much, much more understandable than society, in and of itself. When I came home, that's when my, uh, rose-colored glasses were taken off or, and broken, by America, and by the politicians in America.
Say more about that. What, what were the rose-colored glasses and what broke them more precisely?
Uh, my perception, my perception of a returning warrior, a returning Spartan, a soldier, a person who loved their country. I saw young men, including myself, willing to die, for a little twelve-by-twelve American flag. We would take down the North Vietnamese army's flag, we would take down the Viet Cong flags, depending on what base camp we had entered, and we would run up the American flag- pride, spirit. Uh, it was just tremendous, the camaraderie.
Coming back to America, there was no pride in our service by fellow Americans. There was no spirit. In order to be accepted back here in the world, back in America, we had to disavow ourselves with everything we believed in. Beliefs, of what are, we were fighting for in Vietnam, beliefs of what we were raised about, because we wanted to be loved.
We were gregarious in nature, wanting to be accepted, and in wanting to be accepted, if you talked about Vietnam, mentioned your service in Vietnam, oftentimes you were rejected, so you would disassociate yourself with a very meaningful time of your life, probably the highest point for many people, the highest point of their youth, the highest point of their lives.
And they had to disassociate themselves with that high point, with that zenith, in order to be accepted by everyday Middle America. They really didn't a damn, really didn't give a damn, about our feelings, really didn't care if we bled on foreign soil, really didn't care about, uh, all the emotions, the energy, the uh, the drive that the boys had over there.
People talk about heroics, they talk about patriotism, and they often reflect, and with reference to Vietnam veterans as being non-patriotic, or not as patriotic as anyone else. The bullet that killed a soldier in the revolutionary war, the bullet that killed a soldier in WWII, the Spanish American War, at Normandy, at Inchon, it's the same as the bullet that would kill a man in Vietnam.
He would die the same way, he would die supposedly for the same cause. We came back to America, we found out that we were fighting hard, and when we were trying to supposedly beat the enemy, the politicians were playing games back here in the world.
They were fighting over the shapes of peace tables, whether the tables should be square or rectangular or circular; while they were fighting, our boys were dying, and bleeding, and I don't know if, if people can imagine what it's like to see your hand bleeding, your arm bleeding, and watching that blood fall into a soil of a foreign country.
I was ready to give my life for the yellow colored people of Southeast Asia because my family, my family being America, and my, the fathers of my family being the politicians, told me to go, and I believed in them, and I believe in America. Never, ever, ever, did I think that they were using the young boys as a political football, so that industry could reach its gains or politics could reach the gains, or whoever could reach their gains, or reach their objectives, and gain their objectives. Never did I think that.
Coming back to America, coming back to the world, we also, after years of suffering and frustration, trying to find jobs and do other different things, and having the American politicians turn their backs on these boys, come to find out that we were sprayed with this herbicide called Agent Orange, a poison, a dioxin poison. So we come to find out two things: One, we were used as a political football in a crazy Asian war in a faraway place that most people couldn't even pronounce, and number two, we were betrayed; we were sprayed and betrayed.
Our leaders, our family leaders, the great elected politicians, betrayed us, by having us sprayed with this poison without having the responsibility of going through enough investigative testimony for the House Armed Services Committee to find out the truth. Uh, over the years, since 1975, I've come to find out that doctors knew about Agent Orange; doctors knew about the harmful effects of this, and doctors were suppressed.
Some of the doctors worked for some of the largest chemical companies that supplied this herbicide, and the doctors were told, threat of loss of their job, threat of loss uh, of their seniority, loss of their security, that if they were to tell anybody, then they would be held liable and responsible and they'd lose all this, so they just suppressed the truth about this dioxin poisoning, and people lied before the House Armed Service Committee and the Senate Armed Service Committees about these harmful effects of these sprays, and they wanted to spray it on the triple canopy jungles of Vietnam, even at the cost and the risk of harming our own soldiers, and we found this out.
I testified before the Senate, uh, committee headed by uh, US Senator Arlen Specter, Republican from Pennsylvania. Right after I testified, on that issue, people drilled through an eighteen inch concrete wall to get into my office, crawled through a ceiling, and stole the papers that doctors had sent me with reference to knowledge, uh, knowledge and forethought about what they were doing with this dioxin with reference to Southeast Asia.
That there made me feel like the CIA, you know, all these crazy things were part of my life, and I thought it was absurd. The only way we knew about that robbery was because someone, after drilling through the walls and everything, their foot slipped through a ceiling, and then the State Police, and we called the FBI in, and they checked everything out, to come to find out that people had drilled through concrete to break a small lock and steal a file which may have established strict or vicarious liability to help weigh that benefit of the doubt.
If there's any doubt in Middle America that dioxin or Agent Orange or any of the effects of any of the service in Southeast Asia's caused harmful effects to the GIs, then it's my feelings that we should weigh the benefit of the doubt and give that benefit to the GIs that served.

The hidden enemy abroad and at home

Uh, you, you made a remark earlier about uh, it was easy to identify the enemy in Vietnam and difficult to identify the enemy at home. oh, who is the enemy, or, or was the enemy at home?
Well, first let me, in talking about the enemy in Vietnam, I'm gonna reflect back, many, many people, and there's the metaphor I used, that the enemy is much easily identifiable in Vietnam than back here at home because many people have the concept that the enemy was hard to figure out, and that's the reason that people could, could kill other people arbitrarily. That wasn't the case. We didn't go around killing people arbitrarily.
We knew who the enemy was in Vietnam, whether it be the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese regulars. I mean it was clear, battle lines were drawn, we would fight to certain point, and then politicians said we couldn't go any further. We knew the enemy, we could understand the enemy. The enemy carried rifles. Back here in the States, that's the hard enemy to find out, that's the discouraging enemy, that's the, the hidden enemy of the Vietnam veterans.
What happened was, all of America was hurt by the Vietnam war, like a wound, and that wound was never healed, and people took that wound, and they put it in a closet, and in putting that wound in the closet, it just festered and got worse, and what they had to do was take that wound out and to breed the wound as a doctor would, and learn from that wound, and understand from that wound, and cleanse that wound, so that we can become stronger and never suffer from that same type of injury or that same injury.
However, back here in America, in identifying the enemy, the enemy to put the wound in the closet, was elected officials, the politicians. Many, many people, and their frustrations and anxieties and, and their appetite to find out what happened in Vietnam, what's going on? Why is my son killed? Why is my brother hurt? Trying to find out- is my son going to go and die? Will he die in vain?
Asking themselves these questions, many people were receiving such frustrations, such levels of anxiety, they turned this frustration towards the Vietnam veterans, the returning veterans, for questions and answers, asking them questions, and these young, returning GIs were ill prepared to answer questions on ideology, ill prepared to answer questions on Communism, ill prepared to answer the questions on why we were there, why we weren't there; answer questions on, on Keynesian economics and inflation in South Vietnam, and these questions were bombarded on many returning veterans, and as a result, many of the returning veterans, they all came back one at a time, and I don't take that as a mistake, that whole units didn't come back together. The politicians realized...
We've run out of film.
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Tone zip; ADV below the peak level on the tape, zero on the VU meter, and uh, this tape's recorded at 7 1/2 inches per second with 60 Hz crystal neopilot zinc, it's transferred to 16 mm film at 24 frames per second. We're working on the Vietnam project, it's show number 13, "Legacies" today, it's 7/7/83 and I'm John Hampton and this is sound roll number 3. Camera roll 5 just went up, sound 6 is next.
Roll sound.
(inaudible) rolling (inaudible)
Take 6.
Okay, you can just pick right up on (inaudible)…
You know, the, the hiding, hidden enemy concept is what I was dealing with and what I was saying is I feel that it wasn't an accident that many, many people came back from Vietnam or most people came back from Vietnam one at a time, and I think that was be design, because after WWI and WWII, the politicians realized that these large numbers of veterans returning from a war became a strong bloc.
They elected their own president after WWII, they became a strong voting bloc, they formed their own organizations, and it's not an accident that Vietnam veterans, ten, twelve years, fourteen years after the fact, haven't come together, and, as a result, another portion of the hidden enemy in America, coming back one at a time, they had to face and confront society, suppress their, the uh, concept that they just came from a war, suppress the concept that they're pra—they're proud of their outfit, they're proud of their fighting, and go to the employer and ask him for a job.
And if they put down on the application, many times, that they were a Vietnam veteran, that was another form of an enemy, because the employers felt that this was negative, serving in Vietnam, felt because of the portrayal in, in the, uh, newspapers, of the portrayal, the negative portrayal in movies, that the Vietnam veteran was a time bomb.
As a result, if a man had to balance out, whether he was going to hire a Vietnam veteran, or someone who's the same age and same qualifications, oftentimes the person would take the other, would take the latter, the reason being is because there was no risk. You're asking employers to take a risk and many of the employers were employers that made money off the Vietnam War, would not hire Vietnam veterans.
They have the unemployment problem that Vietnam veterans face. You take a man out of society during his most productive years, in his formative years as a man, as a father, as someone who's going to contribute to the society, and if he doesn't matriculate back into the system, why give this person somewhat less of the GI bill?
Why give this person less benefits, less recognition, less acceptance? Was the pain and suffering any different for this person than those other people I mentioned in the other wars? That is, other veterans? No, you'd have to say. The loneliness, they were all the same. Jeez,, the heartbreak, it was all the same. Oh, I see guys fight so hard, I've seen guys die. Believe, we just wanted to come home, come home as a unit.
People ask me on college campuses, they ask me about what it was like to kill a man, and how I felt in killing a man, and I had to tell them that I felt very, very good, and the reason being is that that man was trying to kill me, and that's another concept, uh, a misconception that most people had here, back here, in this world, that we're pathological killers.
We killed because we were in a war, as other veterans killed in other wars. When it was over with, we came back home, we want to matriculate back in society and be accepted. We weren't accepted. And people weren't proud and mothers turned to the fathers and said, What's wrong with little Johnny? How come he's withdrawn? How come he's not out with the same old crowd? 'Cause his crowd changed and his crowd wasn't accepting him. Fathers turned to the community leaders; the community leaders turned to Washington, and everybody turned their backs on those who were in need of help.
And I've spoken out time and again. You know, why the high unemployment rates?, why the high suicide rates?, why the high marital problem rates? There's a lot of "whys" there that haven't been answered. Why not answer, and why not spend uh, the monies to come up? Why wait to take care of people for this Agent Orange situation? The Veterans' Administration, to this day, does not recognize Agent Orange as a compensable disability. It almost seems absurd. I feel that we should.

Perception of the Vietnam veteran

Was there some kind of difference in the war, in your view, that resulted in the different reception the nation has given the veterans?
Difference in the war as a soldier would fight a war, there was no difference. I would have to say that on the average, people saw more combat time on the ground in Vietnam than they saw in any other war; uh, heroics were measured in um, I guess the uh, Civil War, in the number of battles that people engaged in; the Battle of Gettysburg was a three day battle; um, people as they engaged in different battles, were given different degrees of heroics and perceived as heroes in that respect, because they weathered those battles.
In WWII, uh, you had Pearl Harbor; it was a two hour battle; volumes and volumes written on Pearl Harbor. In Vietnam, where all that time was fought, spent, uhm, much similar to the bombings of London, where people would be bombing London in, in the base camps, and people were out in the field, fighting, it was a legitimate war, and people were not perceiving as a legitimate war.
For the most part, people, unless you had a son there or a relative there, you didn't give a damn about that place. It was just, you were just going on with your business, everyday, pay your bills, buy your beer, get your jobs and upper mobility. So the perception of that war was, one, that it wasn't a war, and still to this day, they don't call it a war.
But the perception that hurts the Vietnam veteran more than anything else in America is that we lost the war. We, being the soldiers. We never lost one major conflict in Southeast Asia, including Tet. We kicked their butts. We would have kicked their butts on to Moscow if the politicians would have let us.
We were a good, well trained, proud army, and now, we were disgraced, not on the battlefields of Vietnam but back here, on the social battlefields, in the halls of Congress, those people, as they hoped the war in Vietnam would go away, and as they lost the war in Vietnam, the same with the social war and the social problems that we magnify and reiterate, and it almost becomes redundant in repeating these things, the Agent Orange and every other social problem that people have.
The politicians lost the war in Vietnam, and the politicians are losing the social war back here in the States. They're hoping the majority of the Vietnam veterans will die, die off, as losers, and that we'll carry to our grave that loser image. And I, I must tell you that I fought with all the allies, I fought with the Australians, beside the Australians, for the most part, they were engineers; New Zealands, there are many, many people who don't realize that you had Aussies and 'Zealanders, Thais, South Koreans.
We also had as allies South Vietnamese, and some of them were very good. We had all the groups that I fought beside. The best fighting units, pound for pound, man for man, were Americans. Americans. They did their fathers and their forefathers proud.
And you could have walked around with honor, for what they have given, and to be perceived as losers, that's the major difference, the major difference between the veterans of the Vietnam war, and the veterans of Korea, the veterans of WWII, the veterans of any other war, is that perception, that negative perception. They were returning to that negative perception, that rejection, excuse me. It just, it just never changed. It, it became worse, if anything.

Advocacy work for veterans

You uh, you came back with a very decorated veteran , uh, and in the Carter Administration, you actually went into government. Uh, just very briefly describe that experience, what you did and what the outcome of it was.
Uh, I came back from Vietnam, I wanted to be a carpenter in the beginning, uh, and I uh, before I went in the service, I wanted to be a carpenter, and there was a big push for everyone in the baby boom to get a college degree, and my mother suggested the military, and after the military, my purpose of the military wasn't for war, it was for the GI bill, and using the GI bill, uh, I got a college degree and I went into law school, and then after law school, I went on to the University of Pennsylvania and during that time, I was working for politicians for nothing, um, governors of different states, state senates and state assemblies.
Uhm, after my education was completed, I had a call from Washington, that would I please come to Washington, that I had a moral commitment to help veterans, a moral and social commitment. Um, I examined my conscience, and I examined my own family and I had two brothers that were Vietnam era veterans, one that spent four years in Vietnam, was suffering severely from Agent Orange symptoms, he had worked four years in chemical warfare; six foot one, weighs about 115 to 120 pounds, has growths all over his body.
He's unemployed, he's depressed, he suffers from a lot of social problems, and I thought, if that's in my own family, then yes, I do have a moral commitment to serve the Vietnam veterans. There was one theme that was ever present in combat in Vietnam, and that is, that we would never leave our dead and wounded on the battlefield, and I carried that same theme into government, into government service, that is, if I was going to do something, we could not leave our veterans for being dead or wounded from the social war, the social war from the social problems, and damn it, we're leaving them.
And I spoke out on the issues, and I was told that I made too many people uncomfortable. I was told by the Carter Administration, after a year and a half of working for them, flying all over the country, and speaking next to governors and senators and the whole nine yards, and next to the president, and I made too many people uncomfortable. My visibility was too, too high. And I asked which people I made uncomfortable in speaking about these issues...
Background voice, inaudible.
...outfits (unintelligible) held in high esteem by society
Clapstick. Take 7.
I hope they give the same amount of pay.
Do you, uh, do you remember where you, where you were?
Visibility. We were talking a visibility. I made people feel uncomfortable as a result of my visibility, and I want to know who I made feel uncomfortable. I called the White House, I said, Look. Who's upset with, with my actions, uh, and my speeches on behalf of Vietnam veterans. They'd never explained it to me, to any satisfaction, uh, all I was, I was called into Washington (sigh)...
I worked out of Washington. I was living in Washington, I commuted from Pennsylvania, uhm, it was a brutal type situation, and I was called in from the field; I was flying around giving speeches for the administration, called in, told I was making people, I'm doing a great job, however, I make people feel uncomfortable.
I made people feel uncomfortable about the issues I was talking about in reference to Vietnam veterans, and uh, they had to dismiss me, and I asked them at that time, were the people that I was making feel uncomfortable, the crowds received me very well. I could speak to crowds of four and five thousand people in Oklahoma and Texas and California and Florida, all over the United States.
Who was I making feel uncomfortable? None of the crowds. It was the politicians. It was the politicians that had to be accountable; it was those in Washington, the members of Congress, that had to be accountable. They were the ones that were feeling uncomfortable, no one else. Maybe even in the White House they were feeling uncomfortable, because they would have to do something.
We'd bring these people together; the common denominator, the common issues, and tell them that there is help. Excuse me; we're in the people business, I felt in the government. Part of the people business is addressing the needs of the people. Oh, I was a welfare graduate myself, raised on welfare.
I had an opportunity to do certain things, and I felt that if the system, properly applied to any problem, we could resolve that problem, and I was, I guess, idealistic, uh, naive to think that we could really solve, 'cause I use the word "we" as a pronoun, and there weren't a whole lot of "we"s in there. They even, the politicians've even taken Vietnam veterans and turned them into Uncle Toms to sell out other Vietnam veterans, to say that other Vietnam veterans don't have problems.
I, you know, I read and review the New York Times a "ranch hand" study, in reference to the "ranch hand" group, that pilots'd sprayed Agent Orange in Southeast Asia, and if I was still working in Washington, D.C., I would criticize that report, and that's the type of visibility that made people uncomfortable. And that report stated that the pilots had less of a tendency, uh, and, er, they died the same rate, their mortality rate was the same as other people who weren't sprayed with Agent Orange.
Well, a, a reasonable person would have to know that they weren't spraying Agent Orange around the cockpits of the plane. And that they were wearing protective clothing, whereas the GIs were walking on the ground where the Agent Orange was descending, where it was eating trees, and turning trees into toothpicks within days, a reasonable person would also conclude that this could harm animal life, and human beings are just a purer form of the animal species. I would have to say that it harmed many a people.
That type of study I would criticize, and in criticizing that, that would raise my visibility and the person who would try to put forth that whitewash, the elected official, the politician, or the bureaucrat who would try to stu—shove that down your throat, or stuff it down your throat, would be the person who would be uncomfortable. And he would be another hidden enemy, or she would be another hidden enemy, that I would have to confront in fighting this social war for Vietnam veterans.
The main theme that I would like to bring across, and the reason I'm bringing the Vietnam veterans together in this united Vietnam veterans' organization, is to have a voice, and the main theme that we want to address is our image. We do not like the loser image, because we did not lose, we fought gallantly, and we're proud of that. The second issue that we'd like to have addressed is all these other social problems that are affiliated with us.
The reason we have so many of these social problems, and the reason the media always focuses in on, on these social problems is because they're the only glaring thing that came out of Vietnam. Nothing positive came out on behalf of the Vietnam veterans, so oftentimes, if you're told that something negative, time and time and time and time again, and what's going to happen, you're going to feel that the only way you're gonna get any type of recognition for your service, or any type of understanding, is to do something negative, and oftentimes, that's the end result of the poor guy who served his country, the only thing he did to be treated as miserably as he has been, was serve his country in a crazy, crazy Asian war.
We treat our prisoners in this country and our welfare recipients better than we treat in many situations our Vietnam veterans. As a result, more Vietnam veterans are ending up on the welfare rolls and on the prison rolls because of this treatment.

Political conflicts among veterans

There was a fairly widespread impression that, that one of the reasons the Vietnam veterans haven't got a better deal is because they can't get together because they differ so much amongst themselves and they fight so amongst themselves. What's your, uh, explanation of that idea?
Well, again, I don't, I, you know, fighting amongst themselves as veterans, and Vietnam veterans in general, is no different than any other group fighting amongst themselves. I don't take that as an accident. Please, let us not be that naive. Let us realize that the only people that would be affected by Vietnam veterans coming together- it wouldn't hurt the Vietnam veterans- but it would make an accountability and a demand there from the elected officials.
Elected officials in Washington, DC, when I testify, if I testify for the House, or before the Senate in Washington, or if I testified before a, a committee in Texas, if I testify before a committee in New Jersey or Pennsylvania or Florida, the only question they ask is numbers, how many numbers.
They don't care about the pain or suffering; they don't care about the human beings. They care about numbers, so the only people that we, we would impact on with numbers would be the elected officials, so it behooves the elected officials to keep the Vietnam veterans splintered, fighting amongst each other, to pull one in under their arm, and say that we're accepting you and adopting you as long as you sell out another group, and it's not unique just to the Vietnam veterans.
They did it with the black groups, they did it with the Hispanic groups, they did it with the women's groups, what they do is just pit them, pit people against each other. That's a wrong, it's a social wrong, but the enemy again, is not the Vietnam veteran and the shortcomings of the Vietnam veteran, it's the elected officials playing on greed, um, and character defects of human beings to become Benedict Arnolds for their cause.
Tell me about the, the the climax of your experience in the government, what happened at the end.
With Jimmy Carter, my, my experience with the Carter Administration was highlighted, uh, I'd have to say it was best highlighted by an article written in Mary McGrory's off- uh, column, in The Washington uh, Post I guess it was.
And, uh, in that, during Veterans' Day, I guess it was 1979, I was told that, uh, I was going to be a speaker, myself and Max Cleland, who was heading the VA, so I invited all my in-laws and out-laws to Washington, DC and I was very proud that I was going to open up the ceremonies and speak to the nation during that holiday that, plus they were gonna commemorate a plaque for Vietnam veterans, and people are identified with me as a Vietnam veterans' activist and so, I was proud. It was gonna be a pinnacle for part of my career there.
I was told right before the speech that the president was showing up and that I would have to cancel my speech. So I said, What do I do? And they said, uh, You can give the Pledge of Allegiance. And I said, The Pledge of Allegiance? I'm very proud to give the Pledge of Allegiance, but I thought, Jeez, I still have my speech and in the back of my mind, I said, okay, I'll give the Pledge of Allegiance.
So when I walked out on that stage, and the president was standing to my immediate left, I did not want to start out with the pronoun "I," for fear that everyone would go into "I pledge of allegiance... And the whole audience was prepared; you know, they knew that this Christian was unpredictable; this Christian guy was unpredictable and he may try to do something, so they primed the audience; they had everyone stand at attention with their hands on their hearts, and some of them with their hands on their heads, saluting, and the president with his, his hand on his heart, and then, they introduced me, from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, uh, retired Army captain Dave Christian, one of our nations most decorated heroes, will deliver the Pledge of Allegiance.
And I started out with the pronoun, "it gives me a great pleasure to be here today..." and I went on to, I said, I'd like to spend a few minutes speaking about the plight of the Vietnam veterans and the social problems of the Vietnam veterans. They're unmet and unanswered.
I was told by the Secret Service and the government officials that day that I spoke for three minutes and forty nine seconds, and after that short speech about the plight of the Vietnam veterans, it's been goin' on for years, I then asked everyone to join me and our president in the Pledge of Allegiance to our country and our flag, and then I turned and shook the president's hand, and in shaking his hand, he said, "Son, you're going somewhere someday."
And Mary McGrory succinctly pointed out in her column in The Washington Post that yes, he went to the unemployment line soon after that (chuckle). So, my wife says to me, Can't you please keep quiet sometimes on some issues, and I believe that, uh, just like in combat, that our men are wounded out there, men just like my brother, um, suffering from the wounds of unemployment, the wounds of psychological problems, whatever those wounds may be, the wounds have never, a nation never saying thank you, truly and legitimately. We're answering those . . .
(inaudible) Where did you run out on that one (inaudible)
Just now. (inaudible)
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Clapstick. Sound 8.
Uh, you mentioned earlier that numbers count in terms of political clout. Um, in-country Vietnam veterans, uh, small minority of Vietnam era veterans, who are in turn a minority of about one third of the total number and who were of military age in the period of the Vietnam war, so you, you have, you're a minority of a minority, in fact. Who are your natural allies? Have you any allies of, in your own generation?
Ourselves, our parents, and in talking about allies, in talking about who the Vietnam veterans can turn to for assistance, um, whatever the problem may be, I would have to say that there's an old cliché, and people use it in many social programs. You have to help yourselves, and you have to help yourself before anyone will help you, so I would have to say that our natural allies in us dealing with the Vietnam veterans' problem and the social problem, a social war, as I qualify it, and clarify it, is ourselves.
Our strength, and our resources, and everything lies within ourselves. That's why I will not allow the politicians, as hard as they try to have me criticize another national Vietnam veterans' leader, I won't do it. I just will not do it. I'm not there to do that. I'm not going to be manipulated against someone in my own family.
If there's something that I dislike about the individual, I will tell the individual myself, but I'm not going to do it in public to the detriment of the Vietnam veterans' cause, and so, I would have to say, as allies and as, for—former resource for strength, it's ourselves, and until we demonstrate numbers, um, we're going to be flushed down the toilet of life by those in power.
Who, I must add, people in power, uh, duh, duh, today, did not serve, for the most part, in Vietnam. My local Congressman, when I came back from Vietnam, he couldn't believe that I was so severely wounded, and he asked me to take off my clothes so he could see the wounds on my body, my own local Congressman! Okay.
Another group, when I went to law school, people could not believe that I was so severely wounded, and they asked me to strip. People on the law faculty, before I came in, and showed them my wounds, and a man put a pencil in my bullet hole and was amazed at the severity of my wounds and that my body, you know, suffered such gunshot wounds and stuff. You know, that's, that's very, very degrading to a Spartan, a warrior, or just a human being, just a human being.
And I think about the kids on the battlefield, it really, really hurts my heart about Vietnam. I had kids die in my arms. I had a kid, he was from Rochester, New York, Jim Scottwas his name, we called him Scotty. He patched up my hand, I was paralyzed in my right hand, and he got hit in the back with a machine gun bullet as he was running back to the berm.
I crawled up and I kept holding on to him, I said, "Scotty, we're gonna get help, man, we're gonna help; they're gonna pull us out." We were in Cambodia. It was 1968. They wouldn't send people in, vis-à-vis choppers, they wouldn't have helicopters come in. We were callin' for artillery; we'd hit North Vietnamese regulars, greater numbers than our small element. We were asking for help.
And they were trying to infiltrate some ground troops in to get us. Scotty died. Scotty died. For Scotty, for the mothers of a Scotty, for the mothers and fathers of all those boys, to have this war recorded in such a negative fashion for those that've served, they're the ones that've really been impacted.
I just wish that people would understand how hard, how could, take the sons of Patton from WWII, how could you take the sons, the grandson of Pershing, from WWI. How could you take all these byproducts of great warriors and say that all of a sudden they became losers?
Life magazine did a piece, on all these great warriors, the Pattons, the, the, uh Pershings, Abrams who served with Patton in WWII, all these people, who were so excellent in their military careers prior to Vietnam, how could they all become losers, and be perceived as losers?
And in perceiving them as losers, what do you say about those that've died? Those that've died, how can you tell their family? How can you tell a person's family that your son died with honor, with heroics, and they say, For what? For what? What's my answer to that?
And I have to say, and take it from the large political arena into a small arena, and say, for his men. For his unit, for his team, he fought to help bring some one of us guys back alive. He fought as a brave American, and he was a byproduct of his father and his mother, and you'd have been proud of him, you'd've been damn proud of him.

Meaning of the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial

What about the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial? Uh, how do you view the decision to do it, the controversy over the design, and the final result last November?
Well, I, I came out as an early supporter of the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, um, endorsing the people that were putting it together, and the reason, um, whatever concept they'd come up with, people said, Do we need a monument? The early arguments were, Do we need a monument that's just going to be around for centuries for pigeon shit? Or do we need...
(Coughing in background) I'm sorry, can I, (unintelligible) Can you just start them... ?
People were asking me, and I was confronted three years before the Memorial ever came to be, as I was endorsing some of the leaders in the Memorial program and endorsing the Memorial, and people were asking the question, Do we need a memorial that's going to be around forever for pigeon shit?
Or do we need social programs for Vietnam veterans? And that question kept cropping up, and I would say, in such a rich country, as we've had in other wars, we've had social programs and memorials, why is the Vietnam War so different? Why can't have both memorials and social programs? And who's to say we're only to have one memorial?
You can walk around town and see the pigeons standing and sitting on hundreds and hundreds of memorials, to the Revolutionary War, to the Civil War, the Spanish American War, half the names, you don't even know who they are?
Why can't we? Why are we so unique again to only have one memorial? Let not the politicians, again, pit us against each other, and fight. We can have more than one memorial. You can't please everybody with every concept. If you don't like the one memorial that's there—do you know how many memorials are in Washington, DC for WWII heroics?
You have the First Infantry Division, you have the 101st, uh, Airborne, you have many, many memorials all around town. We can have the same thing, so let's not spin our wheels on arguing about that one memorial.
It's not the only memorial. Who says that they have to speak in absolutes? If they, the people that want us to argue about memorials, people that don't want us to use our energy to go back to Congress and argue for something else.
Well how do you feel about the result, the memorial that's there right now?
I felt very euphoric, very uplifted, um, I touched the name, uh, it may sound trite to, to many people, but uh, the people that I know that died, it meant something to me that that memorial will be here long after I'm gone. That memorial brings with it a great degree of reverence, the same type of reverence that you get when you visit the site of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, that, that solemness.
When you see, in the impact of the ugliness of war, when you see all those names listed there, it brings home the reality. All those names were human beings whose life was snuffed out in war, and war is so ugly, we have to understand it. And I think that's what that brings out to us, that here was a sacrifice, the supreme sacrifice from all these boys, fifty some thousand boys.
Here are their names, smacking you right in the face, and they're proud boys. Is the nation proud of them? The nation do them right? And, you know, it really drives home. Then you have to ask yourself, Why war? Why? Why these crazy wars? Now, two years, three years after we fight a war, traditionally, our losers have been better off, you know. Japan, we beat Japan on the battlefield and they're beating us here, economically.
Germany, West Germany; we beat them on the battlefield, they're beating us here economically. Vietnam is the best thing, what they could have done to help their country, was lose to us, and they would be economically self-sufficient. Unfortunately, they, they won, and they beat our allies, you have the South Vietnamese, and now they're starvin' to death, so, but uh, some groups say that we owe Vietnam an apology.
I feel that we owe no apologies to, as Vietnam veterans, we fought hard, we did what we were supposed to do, we did it gallantly, we did it with respect. I carried prisoners of war on my back for eight kilometers, nine kilometers, through the steamy, hot jungles of Southeast Asia, out of respect for a fellow warrior, a fellow Spartan.
All these, thee—these crazy stories about mutilations and killings and things like that, they're all exaggerated. M—our people, we got together our unit, and we came back to the States, we discussed the Calley incident, we all felt that Calley was wrong.
Okay, I think, I think we've just about got it all.
He was just startin' to say, "I must tell you . . . “
That's the end of (unintelligible) sound of this, uh, interview. There will be other wild, uh, sound, which we be on another cassette.

Wounds and medals of the Vietnam veteran

David Christian/nc
S R#
Tape 2, Side 1
...is to me unbelievable. Cuts across political lines. Everybody comes back to us, whether they agreed or disagreed with what we did in going back to Vietnam. They said the children are the innocent victims, and they deserve help, you know. And that's, that's a really good hook, using children.
But there is no sync picture to go with this.
Okay, we're rolling, this is Wild Sound.
Yes, my wife Peggy is pinning a silver star to my chest in a hospital bed. At that time, I had lost the use of my right arm, which was just after surgery. It was a very lonely awards ceremony. It was my wife and myself present.
Where was that?
It was 1969, Valley Forge Army Hospital . The acronym, VFGH, people used to joke about it saying very few go home, but it was really a very good hospital. (long pause)...
Again, I'm being congratulated, and um receiving another silver star by a major general in the um Dental Corp, very remote from combat, this general, I must say, but he came to my room. However, before the general came to my room, here to congratulate me, they made me take down all my get-well cards, and everything but the American flag over my bed.
So, that was the later portion of 1969, at Valley Forge General Hospital. (pause) Here in this picture, five gallant soldiers, many of them with canes, with partial faces, and injuries, and it's at Valley Forge General Hospital, again, I'm getting healthier, I'm now in the parade field, and I'm just about ready to receive at this time another silver star, an air medal for twenty five combat assaults from a helicopter and three more purple hearts. (pause)...
This was right after that ceremony. I'm wearing the combat infantryman's badge for being under combat for thirty days, and being fired upon by the enemy. The, um, also the um jump wings for being a paratrooper, and the medals, the purple hearts, and the air medal, and Silver Star. My wife, Peggy, the sign of the times there, the short mini dresses, um, is right beside me there.
Right after that I was promoted to the rank of Captain, and I still wasn't old enough to drink, as I mentioned, (snickers) in the United States. In some of the states in the United States, (pause) This picture is very unique. Most people in America, and most Vietnam veterans don't know it exists.
President Carter during that time that I gave a little speech, he was there to commemorate this plaque. Uh, I think he was so frazzled by my little speech there, he ended upset the tempo of the day. He started walking off the stage before he commemorated the plaque, and he had to be told by one of his subordinates that uh, that's the reason he was there that day.
This plaque is in Arlington National Cemetery, and that's my little boy in the picture, and his name is David, also. And, uh, I would like for him to serve this country some day, but I want his country to realize his service and how important it is and and that one thing that we learned from Vietnam, and that is if we're going to send our kids to another war, commit our kids ever again to war, the nation must be committed before that, and I so treasure my freedoms, so treasure my son.
And this picture demonstrates both my patriotism and my love of family. (pause) This is Max Cleland and myself, uh, in this picture, and Guy McMichaels, um, this is during the Carter Administration years. Max was the head of the Veterans Administration, after Max's departure with President Carter, I was offered to head up the Veterans Administration. Um, Max was a gallant person in his own way.
I'd asked him to use his position and highlight, and he could do so much for the Vietnam Veterans. In his own way I think he did very, I think he did quite a bit. I felt that he could have done more. When we were there as players to help with the problems of Vietnam veterans, and I won't criticize a fellow the Vietnam veteran. (pause, breathes deeply) That's a picture of myself, um, with many of my decorations for valor and service to my country and honor, and it's a very proud picture, um, my dress blue uniform, my captain bars on.
That was taken within the last year to demonstrate um (whew) what a combat soldier looks like and the valor looks much like Hollywood, um. But there's a severe price that one has to pay for all those medals and for that uniform and for combat. And that's what I want America to understand, the price of those medals.
This here is a small example, it's a recent picture of my badge of honor and the scars that I carry for the rest of my life. Most wounded veterans will be prisoners of the Vietnam War for the rest of their lives, or for whatever war they come from, and this is the price that often times is paid by a combatant. He must be, usually, um, shot, wounded, stabbed, in my situation, I was shot, hit with shrap metal, stabbed and burnt with napalm and that ended my military career. (breathes)...
It's a picture of myself and my brother, I have the white hat on, um, I was considered the physical casualty of the Vietnam war and my wounds were clearly visible, they were evident, whether the wounds would be gun shot wounds, or, even the parasite wound melioidosis I had diagnosed in 1969, and they thought that was going to kill me along with my burns. My brother has again, those hidden injuries, and he served four years in Vietnam with chemical warfare. It's a great case study.
Douglas suffers from all the clear symptoms of, that are affiliated with agenong and dioxin. And Doug's about six foot one and weighs between a hundred fifteen, a hundred twenty pounds, has growths all over his body that he applies black salve to. Douglas is only two years older than myself, and um, his mother would have been proud of him.
Douglas um, looks like he is dying very rapidly, aging very rapidly, if not dying, and um, I just wish America would do something. If it was their brother, or their father, or their son, for every politician in Washington, I'm sure they would do something. (pause)
Thank you.
(tape clicks)