The GI in Vietnam

Feeling in Vietnam is that most back home, including lawmakers, do not understand or accept the truth that the conflict in Vietnam is war.  That the bulk of America considers Southeast Asia with confusion and mild contempt.

A soldier returning home from Vietnam will find that people can’t yet point the country out on a map, can’t guess the number of weekly casualties, can’t figure out who the enemy is, and can’t understand what it’s all about except they guess freedom is involved.

The public worries more about living with a possible tax increase. Officials worry about living with world opinion. The GI worries only about living.

His world there is nightly blackout and mortar traffic. It’s alive with booby traps that can blow his legs or his life to shreds. It’s occupied with an enemy and an ally that look exactly alike. He would give a month’s pay for a sound sleep. And ten years of his life for a night at home.

Moreover he is usually a very young guy in a hell of a fix. A pink-cheeked, tousle-haired, tight-muscled fellow who, under normal circumstances, would be considered by society as half-man, half-boy. But right now he is the beardless hope of free men.

He listens to rock’n’roll and 105mm howitzers. He has learned to like beer because it is cold and smokes because he gets free cigarettes in his C rations. He still has his trouble spelling, and writing letters home is a painful process.  But he can break down a rifle in thirty seconds and put it back together in twenty-nine. He can describe the nomenclature of a fragmentation grenade, explain how a machine gun operates, and, of course, utilize either if the need arises.

He obeys now without hesitation. But he is not broken. He has seen more suffering than he should in his short life. He has stood among hills of bodies; he has wept in public and in private because his buddies have fallen in battle and he has come close to joining them.

He has two pairs of fatigues, washes one and wears the other. He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but not his rifle. He keeps his socks dry and his canteen full. He will share his water with you if you thirst, break his rations in half if you hunger. He can do the work of two civilians, draw half the pay of one and find ironic humor in it all.  He has learned to use his hands as a weapon and his weapon as his hands. He can save a life or, most assuredly, take one.

What a man he is already.

LT. R. L. Kellermeyer

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