Forty years after war
Reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the last combat troops being withdrawn from Vietnam, veterans say the lesson to be learned is total commitment.
”If you’re going to fight a war, do it and don’t hold back one bit,” said David Baudo of Howland, who served in Vietnam in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade of the U.S. Army during the war.
”You don’t commit men and women to a war unless you intend to win,” added Russell Houck of Champion, who also served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division.
Friday was the 40th anniversary of the departure of the last major contingent of American ground troops from the country where more than 58,000 of them lost their lives during the war.
It was President Richard Nixon who began the process known as ”Vietnamization” when he took office, or the process of gradually withdrawing U.S. troops until the South Vietnamese became stronger and could hold off the North Vietnamese on their own.
That, however, did not work. The South fell to the North in 1975 and became simply Vietnam.
A common refrain among those who served in Vietnam during and after the war was that armies in the field fought with too many restrictions because of political concerns.
Chuck Wilmouth of Warren was a in the Marines during Vietnam and served in a hospital at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, where soldiers who were wounded in Vietnam came for treatment.
Wilmouth said he agrees with Baudo and Houck, especially after seeing the cost of war close up and hearing those Marines say that they were hampered by fighting with too many restrictions.
”They didn’t allow us to win,” Wilmouth said.
Lynn Waldron of Warren served in the Air Force in communications in 1966-67 and was stationed at two bases in South Vietnam during his tour. He said a big lesson for him is how the public supports troops in the field now because of what happened during Vietnam, which caused a lot of division in the country.
”That’s why everybody backs the troops today,” Waldron said.
Houck said he was in Vietnam in 1970, when the first units began to be shipped home.
”There were a lot of questions,” Houck said. ”There were a lot of restrictions imposed on us. Our rules of engagement may have cost us lives.
Baudo said he was in Vietnam after the Tet Offensive and there was not a lot of action in his area. Still, he said, the departure of American combat forces did nothing to assuage the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese were not prepared to take on the burden themselves.
”They (the North) obviously didn’t give up,” Baudo said.
Baudo also said another lesson from Vietnam is that troops in the field need the support of the public.
”You should really back up your military,” Baudo said.
Wilmouth said the wounded he was seeing were ”demoralized” because they were upset they were not allowed to fight the enemy the way they were trained.
Houck said despite the restrictions, he considered it a privilege to serve his country.
”It seems in retrospect we prevented ourselves from winning,” Houck said.
Waldron said the war still has a grip on him, even today.
”The things you see, the things you experience, you never forget,” Waldron said. ”The sounds – you never forget.”