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Jul-13-2011 02:15printcomments

Vietnam Ain't Over

No Matter How Hard We Try To Forget

Gordon Duff in a different war with similar circumstances.
Gordon Duff in a different war with similar circumstances.

(CINCINNATI ) - Forty-two years ago I was in South Vietnam, serving as a Marine infantryman. What does this mean? Is 42 years “a sea of time?” To me, I am still the same. I am just as stupid, certainly, and am willing to delude myself into believing I could do now, what I could do then. Maybe I could.

Then I think back. I remember an amphibious landing back in ’69. I was on the USS Washtenaw Country (LST 1144) with the 1st Bn., 26th Marines. My platoon had been billeted somewhere in the bottom of the ship. I would call it “the basement.” The Navy guys called it the “Australian troop quarters.” No idea why.

We had been given new ammunition. I carried 22 magazines, around 400 rounds, plus two bandoliers, another 400 rounds. With that I had 3 days food, 4 canteens of water, a smoke grenade, two HE grenades, two “pop flares” and a mortar round. My WW2 era pack had everything else, what we called “writing gear.” I had nothing else. Uniform was camo pants, torn and bleached nearly tan, the “Vietnam boots,” worn rough, sole and leather cracked. There was a steel plate in the sole, you could see it sticking out.

I had one green T shirt and a small hat I had bought from a vendor at China Beach. The place from the TV show is imaginary. How imaginary, we can’t even begin to describe. “More than you could believe” would be accurate.

There were no dry socks. We didn’t wear them. Nobody wore underwear, it would rot off. Laundry was a combination of rain and walking through water. Bathing was pretty much the same also.

I remember getting on a scale while heading up toward the deck. It said “289 pounds.” Over half that was gear, part of it the life preserver the Navy made us wear. It must have weighed 20 pounds. If you dropped it in the water, it would sink like a rock.

This describes Vietnam, describes the Marine Corps pretty well. 90% acting, 90% phony and 10% doing the fighting and dying. With that came exhaustion, thirst, starvation and some anger. We could feel how much the Marine Corps hated us, how much America hated us.

No military was ever sent to perform a more corrupt and stupid task than ours at that time, or so I believed then. History has, of course, proven me wrong.

Through training in California, you could feel it, the hate. Nobody would look us in the eye, other than the wonderful people at the USO, San Clemente, Los Angeles. Thanks. I remember you guys.

Everyone else, looking at us made people feel uncomfortable. Marines didn’t come back. Being in a combat unit in Vietnam, one of the 9%, was a death sentence.

Vietnam, October '69

Vietnam was, like the wars of today, one fought by the few. There were still draftees then but avoiding the draft was easy. For the privileged, there was the National Guard and the Reserves. These organizations didn’t go to Vietnam, except with extremely rare exceptions. It was as hard getting into a National Guard unit as getting into West Point. I can actually attest to that.

Dad had to know a political boss or have “juice” in Washington. Today, these folks call themselves “veterans.” They don’t do it in front of real veterans. Some of us still bite. We remember.

Vietnam. It was a war fought by the poor, the patriotic, by my current definition, interchangeable with “insane,” and the wildly adventurous.

What it wasn’t fought by was the military. They sat that one out, letting draftees and “disposable” short term enlistees do all the combat duty. Regular military tended to stay behind, living in a world of barbed wire enclosures, “skivy girls” and the hum of air conditioning.

Those who really fought the war left immediately, ran for the door the second they could get away from the Marine Corps. They saw reality, a war fought by walking skeletons, a war without decent weapons, never a hot meal, not even Christmas, sleeping on the ground every day and watching friends die off one by one.

The “real Marine Corps” was what you saw if and when you got back to a base. To us they looked like pigs, fat, pink and overdressed.

There were people who never went out into the field because they had jobs. Some were worked to death, 12 hours a day. These weren’t “lifers,” professional military, the majority of whom during Vietnam were cowards and shirkers of the most deplorable kind. They were “us.” We remembered in training, the day assignments were given out. Some guy who couldn’t read would be assigned to an “Intelligence School” while those who refused to accept commissions were relegated to “WestPac ground forces infantry replacement 0300.”

By the end of boot camp, we knew what this meant and none of us wanted it. It was a sentence of death. In 8 weeks, we learned alot. We learned about the real military, corruption, incompetence, laziness. Marine drill instructors were hand picked, “dressed to the 9′s,” and of an ilk we would never see once leaving training. Our real senior NCO’s with some exceptions, were uniquely unexceptional, rural, uneducated, unmotivated, alcoholic and never ever ever to be seen in combat.

Do I mean the Marine Corps had no exceptional people? Not hardly! I was with nothing but exceptional people. They would be the best people I would ever meet, though I didn’t know it then. Half wouldn’t survive. Of those who did, some did exceptionally well, despite catastrophic injuries, certain psychological peculiarities of the combat vet, despite alot of things.

My squad, my platoon would be my family all of my life, a family that lived mostly in memories. A few of us stay in contact, now speaking rarely, years between even emails. Some families are like that. More of it, I think is that those of us who are still around, the numbers are miniscule, are having a bit of trouble holding on.

I look at the wars today, the military. I see troops better paid, better fed, were this a few years ago, I could talk about the incessant Bush era “thanking” that went on, the endless parades, the flag waving. Of course, by now, I simply see Vietnam all over again, an army destroyed, veterans filling prisons, living under bridges, losing their families. “Then” we were divided. Vietnam was fought by “liberals.” Combat vets were all Democrats, the guys who lived in the rear, the guys who watched us go off to fight the war, they were Republicans.

There were clear political lines, then, a freer press, a freer America. We recognized class war when we saw it. Real war is always class war, poor fighting to make rich people richer. If you don’t know it when you join up, you know it before your first week of training is over, at least we all did.

It took the current crop of veterans a few years to catch up but they are getting there. Where “there” is, now, that’s a question. Vietnam vets came home and fought to end the war. It wasn’t just a few. Not all were activists but all of us, the combat vets, were “anti-war.” Every single one of us.

Every combat Marine I met in Vietnam, every single one, was against the war. All thought it was insane because only a total moron could miss that. Vietnam was a tragic farce. Those who speak of it differently, huge numbers of them, either weren’t there and lie about it or went through a process of institutionalization. I won’t dwell on this much.

Few surviving veterans of Vietnam were real combat vets. Those who were, I am one, would rather have cooked food, driven a truck, I didn’t resent the others. I wanted to be them. When I got back, when we got back, they were still our brothers, we had no reason to think otherwise.

Then time went on and war became “glorious” again. Mankind began the evolutionary descent again.

With that came the phonies. Hundreds of thousands who never served in the military began claiming to be Vietnam combat veterans. They bought uniforms, medals, made up stories, joined organizations, became spokesmen for real veterans. Most “Vietnam veterans” I have met since 1970 are phonies.

Others, those who served honorably, doing the jobs they were assigned, found themselves able to informally “reclassify” themselves as combat troops. Nobody wanted to hear ab0ut truck driving. So, everyone, not only became a combat vet but also a former POW or Navy Seal or Marine.

I remember real combat. First times out, paralyzing fear. After that, you just don’t care anymore. After that, you are dead inside, a “dead” that never goes away. Real combat vets call the look that comes with that “the thousand yard stare.” I can kill someone as easy as looking at them. We all can but we work to convince people otherwise. We all became actors.

What we also learned was how to “not kill.” Killing requires “reasons.” Anyone who believes “reasons” is nuts. Anyone really in combat knows who needs killing. We also know we can’t talk about it. I won’t talk about it here or ever. I simply go on pretending to be a “real person” like everyone else except that I know the difference.

Others don’t.


Gordon Duff is a Marine Vietnam veteran. A 100% disabled vet. He has been a featured commentator on TV and radio including Al Jazeera and his articles have been carried by news services around the world. He has been a UN Diplomat, defense contractor and is a widely published expert on military and defense issues. Duff is Senior Editor at one of the most widely read Veterans Online publications Veterans Today

He is an outspoken advocate for veterans and his powerful words have brought about change. Gordon is a lifelong PTSD sufferer from his war experiences and he is empathetic to the plight of today's veterans also suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to feature Gordon's timely and critical reports on, a news organization staffed by a number of veterans, particularly former U.S. Marines. You can send Gordon Duff an email at this address:

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Joe July 21, 2011 6:25 am (Pacific time)

My letter is too Alberto, July 13th 2011. I was not in the ground forces in Vietnam, I was a Flight Deck Director on 2 Aircraft Carriers with 3 tours and 4 combat ribbions. But I guess I'm not a combat veteran according to a lot of incountry vet's. I just was on a ship working 22 hours per day sending aircraft to everyone that had trouble with VC over running there fire bases and other area's. We in 1972 spent 177 days on line sending anything that would fly, working round the clock to save anyone the called. (Gun Smoke)(Broken Arrow) and a few other call signs we had that put our lifes on the line. But still with all the ribbons and metals we are not Combat Veterans because we where Navy. Kiss me......

BG July 13, 2011 6:14 pm (Pacific time)

Ralph did you have a combat leadership role? Less than ten percent of officers (and enlisted personnel) were actually involved in day to day combat operations. Of course everyone in-country could be taken out at most anytime, it was the actual combatants that were involved in the daily slog. I was a platoon leader, and very rarely do I run into officers that were in combat leadership roles. Considerably different experiences that shape our perspectives Ralph. The war crimes I saw on a regular basis committed by NVA/VC still haunt me daily as do those Americans that died, often in most brutal ways. Vietnam has done well economically, as has China, but their human rights violations tell the real story about their anti-liberty agenda for the average citizen.People are still fleeing these two countries when possible, why do you think that is? Have you talked to some older Vietnamese living here in the states? They have the real facts for you if interested.

Anonymous July 13, 2011 12:57 pm (Pacific time)

Semper fi Gordon, few words for this one bro... Smedley Butler is smiling.

Ralph E. Stone July 13, 2011 12:35 pm (Pacific time)

I enjoyed your article. I too am a Vietnam veteran having served there as a U.S. Army officer. I remember the Tet offensive. I returned to Vietnam a couple of years ago. The Vietnamese were offering special tours to Vietnam veterans like the Cu Chi tunnels. The irony is, Vietnam emerged from the war as the economic powerhouse of SE Asia.

Alberto July 13, 2011 11:04 am (Pacific time)

Gordon you are spot on re: this statement "...With that came the phonies. Hundreds of thousands who never served in the military began claiming to be Vietnam combat veterans. They bought uniforms, medals, made up stories,

joined organizations, became spokesmen for real veterans. Most “Vietnam veterans” I have met since 1970 are phonies." Did you see those people who wore military garb who sat behind John Kerry (3 months he served in Vietnam!) while he testified before congress about bogus and unproven allegations? Most never had been in the military, much less in Vietnam. Also during WW II, 2/3's were drafted, and for Vietnam, over 2/3's were volunteers.

I was in Vietnam from 1966 through most of TET(1968), was medivaced to Japan, then to the states after several surgeries. I was pretty much non-political back then, but hated LBJ especially after his non-response after the USS Liberty war crime. Then saw what a democratic congress did prior to the Nam buildup in 1965 (173rd Airborne[my outfit 66-68] and Marines "both" from Okinawa), then later cutting off funds that led to major kills in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmmar)...gave us the boat people, and no one really knows how many "MILLIONS" died in these countries.

Most all the people I served with that made it back to the world would best be described as not being liberal (not all of course), though found it has been essentailly the non-combatants who have been the liberals. Appears most legitimate pollsters have the same results regarding vets and active duty personnel. Do you think this may be a reason that liberal democrats, while saying they want to count all military overseas ballots, STILL put up constant obstacles to getting those ballots counted? Every presidential election we see that happen. Gordon I also have experienced those pretenders who claimed to be something they were not. In the 60's it was pretty easy to expose them. For example I always ran into those who said they were Airborne. We in the Airborne have our special "Jargon" and it was easy to expose and appropriately humiliate these people. Quite often when they got exposed they would try the "sucker punch."

They got schooled very quickly. It appears your experience and feelings about Vietnam are different from mine to a certain degree, maybe our different upbringings and combat experiences impacted our perspectives? There are a lot of myths about Vietnam "combat" veterans out there, I suggest for those of you interested, just google "myths about Vietnam" and see for yourself. For example: "Vietnam Veterans are less likely to be in prison - only 1/2 of one percent of Vietnam Veterans have been jailed for crimes," (Note: Many prisoners claimed being 'Nam vets, and after review, they were like all the other phonies) and " 91% of veterans say they are glad they served, and 74% said they would serve again—even knowing the outcome."

There are some excellent primary sources out there. The stereotypes quickly get exposed, and that's not something agenda-driven phonies like to see happen, and there are a lot of phonies out there, and many are Vietnam veterans unfortunately. I guess all war periods have had them. Sicko puppies. If anything please keep in mind the following for us Vietnam veterans: Myth: The United States lost the warin Vietnam.

Fact: The American military was not
defeated in Vietnam. The American military
did not lose a battle of any consequence.
From a military standpoint, it
was almost an unprecendented performance
—including the Tet Offensive of 1968, which
was a major military defeat for the VC and NVA.

EndOfHistory July 13, 2011 3:52 am (Pacific time)

“The war did not end with my election. It entered a new phase.”
-- President Clinton on the Vietnam War

Sixteen years ago, President Clinton announced that America would normalize its relations with Vietnam. On the other side of the world, on that same day, Ratko Mladic was walking through the streets of Srebrenica and preparing for what would come next.

For most people, these two events seem unrelated, but they are not.

Read the rest of the article at:

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