The Rights and Judgments of Vietnam Vets

The Rights and Judgments of Vietnam Vets

Human Rights:

I have debated with myself for days as to whether I would take this challenge or not. My decision to came about from an assignment my daughter had in school and a documentary my husband recently watched. Due to the contents of this hub, I need to first warn you that it is not for the faint of heart.

My topic is about the human rights of Vietnam Veterans.

I am a child of a Vietnam Vet. I have watched over the years the downfall of my dad’s mental state from the things he experienced serving his time. I couldn’t comprehend his outbursts towards certain people while growing up, I just knew that there was a deep bitterness towards them. It was a topic he avoided unless he became depressed while drinking. Then, in those rare moments, he would tell a story of what he had seen or done.

My daughter last month (in November of 2010) was given an assignment in school to interview someone in the family that had served, or is serving in the military, to honor the vets for Veteran’s Day. She chose to interview my dad. I had to warn her before hand that the Vietnam War was viewed differently than others because of the actions of soldiers serving in that war. It was hard to explain to her that a soldier returning from serving in Vietnam was spit upon, ridiculed, and considered a baby killer. There were no open armed welcome with banners and flags flying. I wasn’t even sure what my dad would share with her or even if he would. Many of her classmates were having problems getting interviews from their grandparents that also served in Vietnam. They wanted to protect them from the horrors of war. This only fueled my daughter’s interest into why it was such a taboo subject.

This is where the documentary my husband was watching became part of the conversation.

The True Experience of My Lai

Earlier this year (2010) a documentary came out called “The True Experience of My Lai.” It gave a detailed account of a massacre cover up from the Vietnam War.

In December of 1966, 140 members of a company called the Charley Company began training under Captain Ernest Medina. Captain Medina came up with the idea that the Charlie Company would be known as the Death Dealers. Their trademark being the placement of an Ace of Spades upon the diseased VC.

While training, Charlie Company was voted the best company in the Twentieth Battalion. Lieutenant William Calley was the leader of the first platoon, under Captain Medina. Lieutenant Calley was a person that was always trying to please Captain Medina, resulting in Captain Medina’s resentment of him. Lieutenant Calley let the rank of platoon leader go to his head.

In December of 1967 Charlie Company arrived in Vietnam ready for war. They were surprised and taken back as their first month was spent in free-time and hanging with the locals. They had set up the image that American’s weren’t killers. In their second month, they were sent to Task Force Barker. Task Force Barker was known as a free fire zone. (Free Fire was the constant round of bombing of villages.) The soldiers were caught off guard as they encountered hostility from the people they thought they were saving. Reality of the war set in with every booby trap, mine and sniper round.

The soldier’s mindset changed as they tried to adapt to losing men. Everyone and everything became the enemy. Hatred set in till the rule book was tossed out, resulting in the pillaging of the villages. Immoral and unimaginable acts began to play out as the lack of discipline became lax. It was reported that Captain Medina had no interest in knowing the details of the soldiers misbehavior.

The Charlie Company was led to believe by officials, as they marched the terrain, that they would be meeting head on with the enemy around the My Lai area. It was determined by soldiers that Colonel Henderson wound up Captain Medina, who in turn wound up Lieutenant Calley, to face the enemy. Revenge was on the mind of the soldiers fighting the unseen enemy. Orders were made and plans set. They were to kill it, burn it, and poison it. It was assumed that there were no civilians. If they were there they were considered the enemy and supporters of the VC. Captain Medina felt certain Charlie Company would be facing the VC’s and supporters of the VC. He never questioned his orders. In the Army, the motto was “Follow Me.”

That next day would go into the history books as the biggest cover-up of its time.

Troops were ready for anything. They wanted to prove themselves as a fighting unit. They went in expecting great resistance. Little did they know that their enemy was miles across the other side of the map. Charlie Company was ordered to go in quick and aggressive. As radio chatter claimed the helicopters were taking fire, the company hit the ground firing at anything that moved. They had assumed that only the VC’s were present and the villagers were gone. It took one person to open fire on a civilian for the chaos to begin. The devastation was catastrophic. Interviews with the villagers described in great detail the horror of being on the receiving end of an army full of anger, frustration, and following orders. Kill or be killed. Photos were taken by an army combat photographer. The slaughter was heartbreaking.

Helicopter pilots and gunners patrolled the area looking for resistance. Seeing non, they watched in dismay as the bodies of citizens began to pile up in the roadway. One pilot, Hugh Thompson, lingered by and marked the body of a young injured woman with a chest wound. They watched as a captain approached the woman. Kicking her, he stepped back and blew her away. The men in the helicopter were astonished at what they had just witnessed.

Eventually orders of cease fire were given. Lieutenant Calley’s platoon took charge of moving the bodies. The remaining citizens were herded to a ditch on the East side of town. Helicopter pilot Thompson confronted a soldier to help the citizens out. The soldier remark was we will help them out of their misery. Giving Charlie Company the benefit of the doubt, Pilot Thompson didn’t want to believe the soldiers were needlessly killing the citizens.

Lieutenant Calley then gave the order to soldier Paul Meadlo to kill the remaining citizens. Meadlo having a strong sense of duty and trained to follow orders, open fire. Lieutenant Calley yelled at another soldier to help, but the soldier turned and walked away.

Surviving villagers gave their account of that horrific day as some leaped into the ditch, hiding under loved ones as bullets whizzed by. Many watched their family die with no way or hope of helping them. The soldiers became desensitized as they followed the orders of their leaders.

Pilot Thompson couldn’t take it anymore and recruited others to help save the villagers. Orders were given to the helicopter gunmen to shoot anyone who fired upon them. Pilot Thompson and three others took it upon themselves to fly the villagers to safety at a nearby hospital. One villager gave his account of the fear he felt as he lie in a ditch surrounded by blood and seen the Americans walking toward him to help him.

A cover-up began immediately after the cease fire took affect. By the time the soldiers returned to camp, Captain Medina had radioed in forced figures of the enemy killed. The cover-up was constituted within hours. Captain Medina ordered the soldiers talk to no one or answer questions. That included the media.

Pilot Thompson reported to Colonel Henderson what went on that day. Another gunman did the same. Pilot Thompson became upset when no action was taken by his superior officer. He was then sent on dangerous missions by himself. He began to believe that he was to be eliminated.

A Commander’s Analysis claimed, “This operation was well planned, well executed, and successful. Friendly casualties were light, and the enemy suffered a hard blow.” They denied killing any citizens. Charlie Company was sent to disappear into the jungles for 54 days without a change of cloths. Many fell sick. Others began to think they were sent there to die. The company changed as they began to believe that no one cared.

One year later, a journalist was visiting with friends from the Charlie Company. He had been hearing rumor about that fateful day. Upon the mention of Pinkville, the journalist made inquiries into the truth behind the rumors. The cover-up was being exposed. As rumors of the cover-up climb the ladder, the machinery of justice started to clamp down on the members of the Charlie Company still enlisted. An investigation was inevitable once the army combat photographer sold the photos from the war showing the dead bodies of men, women and children.

Defending the actions of the soldiers of Charlie Company from the orders given were near impossible as the people protested, outraged by the now deemed baby killers. When the Secretary of the Army was question as to whether he thought there was a cover-up in My Lia, he answer that he didn’t see a reason there was. Other officials in the investigation were shocked. It was obvious that those in power who could have done something didn’t. Those in power who knew something, ignored it.

Charges were made against:

Colonel Henderson- charged with dereliction of duty, failure to report a war crime, and false swearing

Major McKnight- charged false swearing

Major Calhoun- dereliction of duty, failure to report a war crime

Captain Kotouc- maiming

Colonel Parson- dereliction of duty, failure to obey lawful regulations

Captain Medina- assault with a deadly weapon, premeditated murder

Lieutenant Calley- premeditated murder

The soldiers of Charlie Company to this day firmly believe that they were following orders. Some soldiers went to war believing it was a necessary war. They were going to free these people from communism. That idea changed the longer they stayed and fought. Many are still haunted by their actions to this day. Each one was taught to follow orders and not doing so resulted in punishment. The motto became “Kill or be killed.” There was no tolerance for disobeying orders.

Lieutenant Calley served four months for his charges. Charges against the other officers resulted in in acquittals or were dismissed. Pilot Thompson was awarded a metal for his bravery.

Vietnam and American victims are still suffering the effects of Agent Orange

In Conclusion

My husband and I have raised our children to face the realities of the world. It isn’t always a happy go lucky place. To better understand the mindset of soldiers and what is expected of them, we had them watch this documentary. After watching this video, I sat back in awe.

I could see now why my dad had avoided talking about the war for years. Although he was not a part of the Charlie Company, he admits to doing things he regrets, but he lived by the code "survival of the fittest".

I sat and listen to my dad describe a few of the things he experienced to my daughter. I have a clearer understanding why he is so bitter…drinking to drown out the memories.

He tells my daughter that he didn’t ask to go kill these people. He was drafted...placed in a position where he had no choice. He wept as he told her you couldn’t trust anyone. He watched as a four year old child blew up his friends (the soldiers) with a grenade. Survival was the first thing on a soldier’s mind.

He pulls out a year book and points out the friends he lost to snipers, booby traps, Agent Orange and mines. He recalls coming home and being told he couldn’t get a job because he was a vet. He tells her about the disrespect and prejudice they faced.

He tells her order to keep from repeating history, one must learn from their mistakes.

I walked away from that conversation with a deep respect for those that had tried to do what they thought was best.

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Comments 19 comments

travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 5 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

WOW...this story is powerful and has moved me. Your closing line is so true and we ignore it at our peril.

Alternative Prime profile image

Alternative Prime 5 years ago from > California

Awesome Hub,

What an emotional piece. Touching in every way. Very happy I stopped by to read it. Simply a wonderful writing.

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 5 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Travelespresso and Alternative,

Sorry it took me so long to reply back.

I couldn't help but feel emotional sorrow for both the military and the people of Vietnam. There is so much hate and bitterness that develops with any war that it is no wonder people are prejudice. To listen as my dad explained to my daughter his part in the war, I could see where he is haunted and filled with guilt by it. Yet, there is still a defensive mechanism that kicks in when he is confronted by disrespect for being a vet. To picture the treatment the vets received upon their return home is just mind boggling. They were drafted to a war, spit upon for fighting that war and defending their orders, then send home to be ridiculed; unable to get a job because they were a soldier. Years later they are still fighting for respect.

My children are at an age where they are able to serve their country, if they chose to. I felt that if they watched this documentary it would help them to better understand what happens in a war. It is too easy to be led astray if one is unaware of what they are getting into. Both of my children have a deep respect for my dad even though they don’t always agree with some of his actions. At least now they are able to understand why he is the way he is.

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Bless your daughter and your dad for having that conversation, and bless you for encouraging it to happen.

From another war, WWII, my dad came home destroyed by the atrocities he not only saw but also committed. Alcohol became his shield, not letting anyone in nor himself out.

Perhaps in these decades coming, even more will be revealed about the Vietnam era and about the psychological damage all wars create.

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Sally for your comment.

I agree, my husband has been coming across alot of documentaries about the Vietnam war that are just mind boggling. It is no wonder that so many of these soldiers are mentally unstable in some ways. It is so sad to see so many taking their own lives over it, or turning to drugs and alcohol to deal with it.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago from New England

I am not a vet , but my brothers and many I know were, I have always had a huge respect for the Viet Nammers, A sad sense of social shame took place in America in that time, Heres an sad admission , I never told my brother Al ,the Marine Viet vet that I was so proud of him and Glad that he made it home untill just a few years ago! America should be collectively ashamed of our lack of social and emotional maturity. An so, what do we do now? "I support the troops , but not the war" I have a mixed reaction to that too. We either have to become , collectively ,more patriotic . Or, we have to get out of the Big Brother mentality politically , economicly and militarily. Get to know your father well, for he is one of the great ones. And he will pass one day , like all the old soldiers. We as a nation are losing our ability to appreciate ouur patriots sacrifices. Excellent hub! Stay well.

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 5 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Ahorseback, I am lucky enough that my dad lives so close by. My children were lucky enough that my dad didn't hide the truth from them about what war really was. Many kids in my daughter's class had a hard time getting their grandparents to tell them anything about the war, unless it was a family member that died. It was discouraging for my daughter that after all the school reports were done, her's was passed over for a more "favorable" report to honor a vet. Needless to say my daughter saw first hand the lack of respect even today that the Vietnam vets get.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago from New England

You tell your daughter for me that just what she is doing is the most honorable thing a child can do! She wins in my book. Just think how this brought the two of them together.Amazing.

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks, I will...

Wintermyst profile image

Wintermyst 5 years ago

Alot of my friends were in the special forces during the Vietnam War. Tell your dad not everyone was an idiot and thank him for me. I am proud he was a soldier. I am sorry he lost so much for others sake. Tell him I honor and love him for giving up so much for me. If the majority of the country didn't support him, I definately did. Well written. Well said.

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 5 years ago from USA Author

Thank you so much for your comment and I will. He will be happy to know that someone cared.

Loves To Read profile image

Loves To Read 5 years ago

Up and awesome tipoague, more people need to hear the truth about the way our soldiers were treated for protecting our countries. We have the same problems here in Aus regarding the Vietnam vets. They should have been given some form of counseling and be honoured as heroes. So many have taken their own lives because of the shame they could not get past. A couple i know have said that they expected to fight men. Not woman and children. Their lives have been totally screwed up as most of them cannot bring themselves to talk about that time in their lives.

There are some wonderful Nam Vets here on hubpages who are still fighting their demons. These wonderful men deserve the utmost respect and i am proud to have them as my friends. Great story....

Peace and Blessings

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Love to Read,

My dad for the longest time wouldn't talk about his experiences unless he was drinking. As we got older he began to open up more to us. Once my son came of age to serve in the military, he wanted him to know that it isn't always what the advertisements claim it to be. Dad was big on us learning how to survive on our own in case a battle like this was to come here. He said as long as you had a rifle you would never have to worry about going hungry or protecting your own.

A few years ago some of his buddies from Vietnam began to have a yearly get together. I think this has helped him to open up more and face some of his demons. I was surprised and glad that he was able to share his experiences with my daughter for her school paper. It was sad, though to see the teacher pass it up. It is obvious even today that people don't want to deal with the truth and blame these soldiers for being the ones that screwed up. Maybe someday the younger generations will come to acknowledge them and respect what they have done.

Thanks again for your comment. God Bless:)

vietnamvet68 profile image

vietnamvet68 5 years ago from New York State

I wrote about this subject once before and unfortunately our Government will never learn from its mistakes.

God Bless

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Vietnamvet,

I have to agree. I grew up listening to these stories wondering why my dad had so many issues. Now that I am older, I have a clearer understanding of what he went thru. It is a shame that those that served in that war are still treated so poorly.

Thanks again for stopping by...God Bless!

Legal Studies Course 4 years ago

Thanks for Great post. I really like this article.

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Legal, I am glad you liked it!

wheelinallover profile image

wheelinallover 4 years ago from Central United States

Great post, tells it like it was for those returning home during the Viet Nam era. It didn't matter where you served Vet's were treated as second class citizens. I have friends who still won't talk about what they did in the war. Drinking and drug use were rampant both during the war and after. Those I knew had to find a way to cope with the life they were forced to live.

Voted up, awesome, and Sharing on facebook.

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks wheelinallover, My dad didn't talk about it much unless he was under the influence. Even then, he was selective about what he had to say. My daughter wrote a paper on an interview with my dad about the time he served. It was interesting to hear his side again as he told it to his granddaughter. He even told her most people that served avoid talking about it. Sure enough, she asked a few kids in her class if their grandparents would talk about it, and they said no. It is a shame to see how they were treated then and still how they are treated now. I can see why they choose to use drinking and drugs to deal with what they saw and had to do to survive. Thanks again for stopping by and sharing this.

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