11/07/2014

Wars and Thanksgiving Day







I originally posted this story on Hubpages about three years ago.  It is about the time North Korea fired on a disputed island that belongs to South Korea.  I discussed my own experiences in Southeast Asia. I hope you enjoy it since this is the month of Thanksgiving.

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Thanksgiving Day and the Vietnam War

This week was one that has stung me quite a bit (more on that later). What jogged my memory was the shelling between North and South Korea this week. It appears that we are, once again, headed toward another war in Southeast Asia. This war has never officially ended, of course. Unlike the Vietnam War, in the Korean War there was never an official winner or loser. But, this statement, in and of itself, is a bit disingenuous. There is never a real winner or loser in wars. There are only survivors. Sure, it was vital that we won WWII. But, as my late father once told me; "Losing that war was never an option." So, it was with a bit of unease that I felt with the report that North and South Korea were on the verge of war. China is keeping its stance of supporting a corrupt regime in North Korea. Why? Possibly it is the thought of a U.S. supported, unified Korea, just south of their border, as the impetus of their support for the North Korean regime. The idea of a nuclear North Korea has to be unsettling to China. I can't imagine they are happy about that. South Korea can't be happy with a million man army just twenty miles from Seoul. There is no way North Korea would win this war. But, they would destroy much of the infrastructure of South Korea before their ultimate surrender. The questions that haunt me; Does North Korea have the ability to launch a nuclear weapon on Seoul? Would they do it knowing full well the consequences of that action? The threat of nuclear weapons were given more thought than many people realize during the Vietnam War. The Soviet Union came close to entering that war with more than just training North Korean pilots.
 
I was placed in Vietnam on temporary duty back in November of 1970. The war was winding down, more and more troops were reluctant to go into the bush to fight a faceless enemy. But, thankfully, I never had to be an Army grunt (infantryman). I was a communications tech with the U.S. Navy. During my six month deployment, I was volunteered for swift boat (or riverboat) patrol during this time. I had never seen combat and was never trained for it until 72 hours prior to actually going on my first patrol with U.S. Marines and other Navy personnel. The swift boat patrol needed a communications tech and I was quickly volunteered. I didn't know what to expect. I was quite naturally scared, as you can imagine. The Marines on board were ribbing me about it, calling me "newby" among other names. We were going out on a recon mission early Thanksgiving Day of 1970. There had been heavy Viet Cong activity in this particular area. We knew we were going to meet stiff resistance.

So, we had our Thanksgiving Day feast on the eve (Wednesday) of this holiday. I remember not being able to eat much turkey and dressing. I was a scared 19-year old kid from Alabama. Like so many, all I wanted to do was go home. I didn't want any part of this war. In fact, I joined the U.S. Navy to get out of this war. Eighteen months after I enlisted, I found myself in Vietnam. So, we ate and went back to our barracks to try and sleep. We got up at 2AM on Thanksgiving Day in 1970. I thought I was going to throw up before I ever got on the boat. There the boat was, with .50 caliber machine gun turrets throughout. Now, there was not a word spoken throughout. Even the Marines were anxious. For some reason, that made me feel better because I wasn't alone in my world of fear. Everyone was geared up and ready on this Thanksgiving Day. I couldn't help but wonder how my family was doing on this day thousands and thousands of miles away from this wretched little war. I was glad my mother had no idea of what her oldest son was about to do.

There was radio silence, of course, as we went on this patrol on Thanksgiving Day. There was no sense in inviting an attack. But, as it turned out, we didn't have to wait long for that very thing to happen. We had gone into a narrow area of the river when mortar rounds started dropping all around the boat. Heavy machine gun fire hit the boat with the "whap, whap, whap" crackling that I can still hear today. Radio silence was a thing of the past now as I radioed in we were under heavy attack. I gave our coordinates and the big Huey Cobras were on the way. Shortly after this happened, our entire communications depot was destroyed by machine gun fire. I just happened to be away from the console when we took fire there. Like 50% of swift boat patrols, we had casualties. There was one African-American Marine who had been mortally wounded in his upper chest. I remembered he told me he was from Brooklyn, New York. The Navy medic told me to stay with him as he shook his head before attending to other wounded personnel. I knew what that meant. The medic had done all he could do. So, I held this young black Marine in my arms as the life slowly drained from him and listening to his cries for his "Mama." I cried with him, on that Thanksgiving Day, until his cries went silent.

So, it appears history will, once again, repeat itself in Korea. I hope to God I am wrong. If North Korea invades South Korea, our troops will have to defend themselves. If our troops are killed, then President Obama will have no choice but to send more troops and ships to Korea. I hope our troops don't have to go back to Southeast Asia to try and win another war with a communist enemy. I wish our troops were home from the Middle East. But, in this turbulent world, there are always going to be wars. On this Thanksgiving Day week, please remember our troops who are out there doing what has to be done. They are doing as ordered. They are our boys and girls. God Bless our troops no matter where they are this American Holiday week.


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