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Keeping Faith & The American Dream

Michael Roman - Sunday, November 10, 2013

This is not about ERP - A Guest Blog by John Del Vecchio Managing Member of Charlie Foxtrot Entertainment, LLC and a Vietnam Veteran.

On Saturday, November 9, 2013, the Johns Creek Veterans Association held a ceremonial Ground Breaking for its Veterans Walk.  John Del Vechhio made these remarks.

Wayne, John, Robby, Gerry, members of the Johns Creek Veteran Association, and town administrators, thank you for allowing me to participate in this dedication.

What a lovely memorial. I can picture it completed, see citizens coming here, walking through, or sitting, contemplating the plaques, the names, the events, the meanings.

And what a lovely country we live in. What an exceptional country we’ve inherited. Memorials remind us that this has been at great cost.

I would like to tell you some of my thoughts on The American Dream, and on Keeping Faith with those who have gone before us, with those who have sacrificed so much, with those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and from whose hands we’ve taken the torch to hold high.*

I am thinking of friends who did not make it back. Thinking of advice heard many years ago. “There is a reason why you are here and they are not. It is your duty to find the reason, and to live your life in such a way as to make their sacrifice not in vain.”

We have been given days, and years, and decades which others have not. How do we Keep Faith with them?

What responsibility, what duty, do we have--not just those of us who made it back, but we, The American Citizenry—what duty do we have to those who made it possible for us to be here today in this wonderful nation?

Does Keeping Faith mean more than saluting the flag and standing for the national anthem before a ball game? Is saying, “Thank you,” enough? Or does Keeping Faith mean something more?

Does it perhaps mean understanding our Rights and Freedoms as American citizens? Does it perhaps mean being vigilant and protecting those Rights and Freedoms when they are being attacked from without or being eroded from within?

Does it mean overseeing national decisions as to how our current military is used, and ensuring that it is not being abused?

Our troops—soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and the coast guard, in Viet Nam, in today’s wars, throughout our history—have been the will to defend, the will to pull the trigger. Without that will no nation can survive. Keeping Faith with them requires of our leaders, and of all of us, that we do not waste the will.

Let me back up.

As you know, I am a veteran of the fight opposing Hanoi’s war of expansion which sought communist hegemony over all of Southeast Asia. In 1970 and 1971 I was an Army combat correspondent with the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). Our area of tactical responsibility—we referred to this as our Area of Operation or AO—was northern I Corps, below the DMZ, from the South China Sea west through jungled mountains and across the A Shau Valley to the Laotian border. Our mission was to provide security for the civilian population in the densely populated lowlands by engaging a heavily armed, infiltrating force in the sparsely inhabited mountains.

When I was writing The 13th Valley in the latter part of the 1970s, the media was filled with negative stories about American troops. I wanted to tell the story of what I’d seen, of amazing soldiers doing impossible things in this unforgiving terrain. I wished to set the record straight for the 101st. I knew the media definitely had it wrong about my unit—and assumed they were talking about the Marines. I did not know, at the time, about Dai Do. For me that came later…John Kachmar**... (Mr. Del Vecchio presented him with a copy of book)… you’ll find a story of Dai Do beginning on page 115 of Carry Me Home...   The Marines, too, were pretty awesome.

How can we keep faith if we don’t know what these men did; why they fought; what was the cause; who was the enemy, and why did we oppose that enemy? Why did we engage in the fight in the first place? Who are we, We Americans, to go on extended excursions to foreign lands?

To answer to those questions would, of course, take semesters, but allow me to mention a few seldom recalled details about the origin of the war; and let me also mention that knowledge—truthful knowledge, not politically correct propaganda—is a miracle elixir… It lifts the spirits, and ameliorates the suffering of PTSD.

Let’s go back to I Corps—before America showed up. And to Hanoi. In January 1959—more than five years before the Gulf of Tonkin Incident—the politburo of the Communist Party of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Viet Nam [North Viet Nam], met in secret session in Hanoi and declared war on the South. During that month-long meeting three logistic routes from the north to the south were authorized. These were known as Routes 559, 759, and 959, for the month and year of their inception. Trail 959—September 1959—went west from Hanoi into Laos, then south into Cambodia; 759 was a series of sea lanes and landing areas, including the circumnavigation of the Ca Mau peninsula to land men and materiel at the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville; and 559 became the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail in eastern Laos with spurs crossing the DMZ, running south, down through I Corps, through the A Shau valley and the mountainous jungles west of Hue.

The first waves of communist fighters using these infiltration routes were political terrorists. One should make no mistake—our involvement, though not known at the time by this term, was a War on Terror. By 1960 communist terrorists from the north were assassinating between 50 and 100 South Vietnamese hamlet, district or province officials—including school teachers—each and every month! The terror grew to 100 assassinations and approximately 800 kidnappings per month by 1962. Terrorists terrorize! Hanoi dubbed this policy the ‘Elimination Of Tyrants’ campaign. Tyrants, I guess, meant to them hamlet chiefs and school teachers!

The 1962 numbers for South Viet Nam would be the 2013 equivalent of terrorists killing or kidnapping more than 250,000 American. A quarter million victims! And this was happening before the war “heated up.” At that time U.S. forces in Viet Nam numbered 900 in 1960, 12,000 at the end of 1962.

So were we right to engage in this fight?

Could anyone knowing and understanding what was happening question whether or not our forces were on a humanitarian mission?

The next six years, to Tet of 1968, received the far more, but not necessarily far more accurate, attention from our media.

Some less known but interesting facts and figures: Following the 1968 Communist Tet Offensive, the South Vietnamese citizenry, previously untrusted, was armed. Over the next three years, while US forces were reduced by 58%, communist terror attacks (assassinations, abductions and bombings) on villages and hamlets dropped 30%, small-unit attacks dropped 41%, and battalion-size attacks dropped 98%!

At the same time, rice production increased by nearly 10%, war related civilian injuries dropped 55%, and enemy defections increased to the highest levels of the war. Armed, the South Viet Namese citizenry became an effective force in protecting themselves and their property from an organized terror campaign.

Ahhh… but were we ever told this?

Or had our national focus shifted? In the pursuit of freedom errors and abuses had been made. Our attention was no longer on the pursuit, but only on the errors and abuses.

For those of you who served in later wars, feel free to extrapolate this scenario. Some things have not changed.

Critics of the War in Viet Nam called all tactics into question. You may recall Ted Kennedy condemning U.S. military operations in I Corps, in the A Shau valley, at Dong Ap Bia, at Ripcord and Khe Ta Laou. Seemingly he had forgotten that terrorists were infiltrating via this very route.

His focus, along with that of much of the media, had shifted. Recall the My Lai massacre: from exposure of that incident in 1969, to 1972, 473 nightly TV news stories focused on that one atrocity, yet not a single story was aired about the 6000 communist assassinations of South Vietnamese,  non-military government personnel in 1970 alone.

If we perceive American troops as barbarians—as undisciplined baby killers or drug addicts; or if we are ignorant of the foes atrocious acts and ultimate aims—can we say we have kept faith with those who fell?

Errors and abuses were addressed; American ground forces were withdrawn by early1972; the armed southern population carried the bulk of their own local defense; yet America’s focus remained on “the American atrocity.”

This political momentum led to the abandonment of our allies, and the people of Southeast Asia. The abandonment can be inferred by economic support. The US budget for the war, adjusted for inflation, fell by over 95% from 1969 to 1974. Weapons and ammo in the South became relatively scarce. In comparison, the final communist offensive which toppled the Saigon government employed 500 Soviet tanks, 400 long-range artillery pieces and over 18,000 military trucks moving an army of 400,000 troops down the Truong Son Corridor—that is through western I Corps below the DMZ, past Ripcord and Dong Ap Bia, through the A Shau Valley, and south. 400,000 troops!

U.S. abandonment of the South Viet Nam lead directly to 70,000 executions in the first 90 days of communist control; to the death of millions in Cambodia, to a half million Boat People fleeing the new oppression—many of those dying at sea; to more than a million people being incarcerated in gulag re-education camps; and to the communist ethnic cleansing of Laos.

Keeping Faith means knowing these things. It means remaining vigilant when the propagandists are stressing the errors or abuses that we as a nation have committed; yet simultaneously omitting the good, the honorable and the valorous we accomplished. Even worse, when they ignore the evil which we opposed.

Let me digress.

America the beautiful: it has been miraculous. Exceptional. A beacon… the shining light on the hill guiding those seeking freedom.

This is not genetic. We are the great Melting Pot, a land which has welcomed the diverse, huddled masses… a land which once celebrated the diverse aspects of all cultures, but that also subordinated diversity to unity—e pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One.

So if not genetic, could it be the system established by our Founding Fathers?  A system derived from concepts of the High Renaissance, forged in the rough environs of the new world, and perfected in conflict with tyranny?

Is it not that which we defend; which we proffer others; for which we risk our lives, the lives of our countrymen, the lives of our sons and daughters?

A number of years ago I came across the following thought, but I have rarely seen it repeated.

American Exceptionalism begins with the phrase: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of -------- Property. Yes, property! That was the 1774 wording from the Declaration of Colonial Rights drawn up by the First Continental Congress.

The concept of happiness, as you might suspect, was quite different 240 years ago… you know, back before TV, Movies, X-boxes, NASCAR or Atlanta Falcons. At the time Property and Happiness were almost synonymous. The hot topic of the day was Citizen versus Subject… A citizen could own property; a subject could only use the property of the sovereign, and then only with the sovereign’s permission.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of property: this is the American Dream. The pursuit of property means a person has the unalienable right to earn, to build, and to keep much of the fruits of his labor, ideas and diligence—without them being taxed to the extent they are taken away. This standard exhorts all to go forth and excel; it tells us that from our exertions we can, and should, benefit. The American Dream is not the house with the white picket fence, but the freedom to build, to have, to own and to be secure in that house.

This culture which the founding principles foster—through all the ups and downs and bumps and warts of the centuries—has provided not just the highest standard of living in human history, but the greatest liberty to develop self and family, ideas and ideals, associations and institutions.

Academics have interviewed infantrymen to discover why they fight. Scholars tell us that soldiers fight for their buddies, for the guys next to them, for the team. But they tend to miss the fact that motivation is not singular, nor is it always understood by the individual. The academic view, beyond a doubt, is accurate, but it is also shallow.

Protecting Mom, apple pie, and The American Way against all enemies foreign and domestic are all elements of that motivation. Yet the last may be subconscious. It is certainly more difficult to express. After all—my guys, Mom and apple pie are tangible; the American Spirit and a constitution establishing a government given rights by citizens, versus a regime in which subjects are given rights by a ruling elite—that’s a bit esoteric.

We fought and fight for all these reasons and more; but if we contemplate the sacrifice of so many, if we truly believe they did not die in vain, apple pie (and I love apple pie) comes up short.

So… when we—those of us given years others have not been given—judge ourselves, the criteria must include how true our lives have been to the great founding documents of our nation.

Without knowledge of our founding principles, without an accurate understanding of our foes and why we engaged in battle, we are at peril of losing the way—not simply for ourselves but for future generations. Let this be a challenge—a gauntlet thrown at our feet.

It is the preservation of American Exceptionalism that is worth fighting for, worth living for, worth risking life and limb for. It is the perpetuation of that Exceptionalism—built upon the dreams, aspirations and labors of free citizens—which makes the ultimate sacrifice of so many not in vain.

We have been given days, and years, and decades which others have not. Have we lived our lives in such a manner they would approve?

To those who have not had the years and decades, I wish to say: From your failing hands you threw us the torch to hold high; and you said, “If ye break faith with us who die; We shall not sleep…”*

To you, dear brothers, and dear sisters, I wish to tell you that there are many here, and millions across this beautiful land, who have not and will not break faith with you.

Rest easy. We have your backs.

*From: Flanders Fields by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD

**Kachmar: Marine, 2/4 @ Dai Do; highly decorated; Purple Heart

ED - John Kachmar is the City Manager of Johns Creek, GA

ED - Here is a link to Mr. Del Vecchio's Book - The 13th Valley  http://www.the13thvalley.com/

ED - You may contact Mr. Del Vecchio at johnd@charliefoxtrotfilms.com