Tragic Valor of Marines at Con Thien

Exclusive: Memorial Day is exploited by politicians glorifying war and armed services recruiting new soldiers, but it should be a time to reflect on the ugly reality of warfare and the tragic valor of the combatants, says war correspondent Don North.

By Don North

It was known to local missionaries as “the Hill of Angels,” but to the occupying Marines, Con Thien was a little piece of hell. Just two miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (the DMZ dividing line between North and South Vietnam), it was a barren, bulldozed plateau of red dirt 160 meters high and ringed with barbed wire, studded with artillery revetments and crisscrossed with trenches and sand bag-covered bunkers.

To the east stretched the “McNamara Line,” the 600-meter-wide “barrier” ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara which the Marines had cleared and sowed with seismic and acoustic sensors and minefields.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara leaving Saigon, September 1967 following one of his many trips to gauge the war in Vietnam. He shakes hands with U.S. Ambassador Maxwell Taylor. (Photo credit: Don North)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara leaving Saigon, September 1967 following one of his many trips to gauge the war in Vietnam. He shakes hands with U.S. Ambassador Maxwell Taylor. (Photo credit: Don North)

At Con Thien in 1967, American commanders in Vietnam failed to recognize that loyalty should flow downward as well as upward. The commanders’ loyalty should have been to their Marines facing the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) as much as to their superiors in Washington.  U.S. Marines died in droves at Con Thien; they deserved better of their commanders.

I was there. My ABC News team – consisting of cameraman Nguyen Van Quy, soundman Nguyen Xuan De, and myself – was next on the list for an assignment out of Saigon. We drew Con Thien, the most dangerous place in Vietnam that week. Nearly a half century later, as Memorial Day 2016 approached, I thought back on that assignment.

In that part of Quang Tri Province, the McNamara Line was anchored in the east by Firebase Gio Linh and in the west by Con Thien. Secretary McNamara, ever on the lookout for clever, logical and arms-length solutions for defeating the enemy, floated the idea of the barrier in March 1966, at a meeting of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

High-ranking U.S. military professionals pretended to take his myopic vision seriously and construction began in April 1967. But anchored by those two fire bases, the McNamara Line could be flanked on either side of the combat bases. And the North Vietnamese side of the DMZ was off-limits from U.S. ground attack. NVA divisions, operating within range of their 135mm artillery, were free to target firebases and roving Marine patrols with deadly accuracy.

A Flawed Strategy

So, why was there a base at Con Thien in the first place? Simply because the 160-meter hill, if taken by the NVA, could have facilitated hits on the key U.S. staging area at Dong Ha. Aside from denying the hill to the enemy, there was little reason to protect Con Thien. But its vulnerabilities also made it an inviting target.

North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap

North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap

The commander of NVA forces, the renowned General Vo Nguyen Giap, victor of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, was trying to replicate that victory along the DMZ. But the battle doctrines he followed were based on a rigid command structure and similarly rigid thinking, reflecting someone “unschooled in the art of war,” according to Marine historian Eric Hammel. Nevertheless, Hammel concluded that “all of Giap’s flaws as a planner and leader were more than compensated by the self-defeating policies and attitudes in the camp of his enemies. At least Giap took responsibility for his setbacks.”

My news team found the First Battalion, Ninth Marines at Con Thien suffering from blazing heat and choking dust as they were targeted by snipers and under constant threat of ground attacks.

What made duty at the outpost a special misery was the hail of artillery from NVA batteries tucked away in the northern hills of the DMZ. The 135mm guns were well camouflaged and sheltered in caves; the NVA quickly rolled out the artillery to fire, then just as quickly rolled them back again to shelter. Although Americans retaliated with artillery and air strikes of their own, they were not able to stop the hundreds of shells that each day took a toll of Con Thien’s defenders.

Heavy Casualties

On July 2, 1967, the Marines’ Alpha and Bravo Companies launched Operation Buffalo, a sweep in the area north of the base. But faulty reconnaissance and inadequate observation allowed an undetected NVA force to ambush the Marines.

Eighty-six Marines of Bravo Company were killed and 176 wounded; only 27 members of the Company walked out of the battle unaided.  An estimated 1,290 NVA were killed, even so, by anyone’s definition, including that of the Marines, it was the enemy’s victory. Although American casualties in Vietnam were rarely specified, the Marines acknowledged that it “was the worst single disaster to befall a Marine Corps rifle company during the Vietnam War.”

U.S. Marine tank is used to transport dead and wounded Marines from engagement with NVA forces surrounding Con Thien 1967. (Photo by Robert Stokes)

U.S. Marine tank is used to transport dead and wounded Marines from engagement with NVA forces surrounding Con Thien 1967. (Photo by Robert Stokes)

The NVA were well aware of the U.S. Marines tradition of not leaving their dead behind, and they prepared for the Marines’ return. On July 3, air strikes and Marine artillery were directed to the battle area in preparation for retrieval of the bodies. Marine reinforcements lifted off from the carrier USS Okinawa, and early the morning of July 4, they attacked on a six-company front to reach the dead. Marine Skyhawk attack aircraft lay down suppressing fire as our ABC crew recorded the recovery operation.

As we slowly advanced with two battalions, it soon became obvious that the NVA had pulled out during the night but left numerous booby traps behind to further bleed the Marines. Many bodies had been rigged with grenades and almost all had been mutilated or desecrated in some way. The bodies were spread over a wide area of low bushes. Two days lying in the blistering sun had bloated the bodies and burned them black. One dead Marine had his genitals cut off and sewn to his face, with a photo of his girlfriend stabbed to his chest.

Many of the recovery teams wore gas masks as some protection from the ghastly stench, other Marines retched and vomited. They placed the corpses in green rubber body bags and carried them to a clearing where the remains were loaded on Marine tanks. Personal effects were collected and placed in upturned helmets.

Many in the work party made it forcefully known they were not pleased that a TV news crew was accompanying them on a mission to reclaim their dead. We shot sparingly and from a distance so as not to upset them. In any event, those grisly scenes would never be used in a U.S. news program.

The Aftermath

The next morning, our ABC News crew entered the base at Con Thien. It felt like being at the heart of the war. We could look north across the Ben Hai river which marked the Seventeenth Parallel and see the North Vietnamese flag waving from a tall pole. We could look beyond the flag to see puffs of white smoke and hear the rumble of shells being fired in our direction, giving us about 20 seconds to find the nearest bunker.

Don North of ABC News crossing stream in Mekong Delta with US Army 9th Division.

Don North of ABC News crossing stream in Mekong Delta with US Army 9th Division.

Late in the afternoon, one of the Marine artillery pieces took a direct hit; its crew had not been able to retreat to a bunker in time. As rockets and shells continued to drop in, an Army Special Forces medic jumped out of a bunker and joined a half dozen Marines trying to save the life of a badly wounded comrade. They took turns pumping his chest to strengthen a weak pulse and giving him direct mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while shouting encouragement.  “C’mon Sidell, you can make it buddy! Don’t give up!” Lance Corporal Jimmy Sidell from Atlanta, Georgia didn’t respond with either a gasp or a pulse as his Marine buddies worked on him for almost an hour.

Another NVA shell hit with a deafening impact just a few yards away. Our film camera was blown off the cameraman’s shoulder; Sidell’s buddies recoiled from the concussion but never missed a beat pumping his heart.  Finally with the body growing stiff, it was clear Sidell wasn’t coming back. Through sobs and curses, the Marines tied an identification label to his boot laces and carried him to a tank waiting outside the wire that would serve as his hearse.

I cried too, even as I tried a “standupper” to conclude my report. In New York, ABC News  located Sidell’s parents  in Atlanta and warned them the report of  their  son’s death would be on national TV the following evening.

It was clear that what motivated these Marines to endure the daily hell of Con Thien was not victory or satisfying the chain of command but their strong devotion to each other.

High-Level Complaints

The MACV Commander General William Westmoreland was not satisfied with the effort the Marines were putting into making the barrier work. In October 1967, he complained, “the barrier has not been accorded a priority consistent with operational importance.”

Engineer companies showed enormous courage working in daylight hours, in the open with heavy equipment and suffered a higher percentage of casualties than the rifle companies at Con Thien.

Dean Rusk, Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert McNamara in Cabinet Room meeting February 1968. (Photo credit: Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office)

Dean Rusk, Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert McNamara in Cabinet Room meeting February 1968. (Photo credit: Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office)

Another part of the problem was that Marines are traditionally an offensive organization. Building in-depth defenses is not their forte, especially questionable ones like the “McNamara Line.” Marine Corps generals complained that the barrier plan was a constant irritant. Holding static defensive positions prevented the Marines from conducting “pacification programs” and from attacking the enemy’s infiltration routes.

Major General Rathon Tompkins, commander of the Third Marine Division, referred to the McNamara Line as “absurd.” Lt. General Robert Cushman, the Marine commander in Vietnam, later admitted, “We just weren’t going out getting everyone killed building that stupid fence.”

After the Tet offensive which began on Jan. 30, 1968, and demonstrated the resilience and determination of the NVA and the Vietcong, Secretary McNamara agreed to step down. At the end of February 1968, a broken and distraught McNamara attended a farewell luncheon at the State Department and spoke tearfully of “the futility, the crushing futility of the air war.” Perceiving him as growing soft on the war, President Lyndon Johnson quietly arranged for McNamara to take over the presidency of the World Bank.

General William Westmoreland was replaced on June 11, 1968, as commander of MACV. On Oct. 22, his successor General Creighton Abrams ordered all construction associated with the McNamara Line halted. The fate of the barrier was finally sealed on Nov. 1, 1968, when President Johnson announced a bombing halt in the DMZ and North Vietnam. Marine units were under orders not to set foot or even fire into the DMZ.

Tallying Up a Folly

During the period of the McNamara Line construction from September 1966 to October 1967, 3rd Marine Division casualties were 1,400 killed in action and 9,000 wounded.

Forty-six years later, I am reviewing my scripts, video and notes from Con Thien. I see now that the anger I felt at the misguided strategy and the compassion we felt for the Marines’ suffering was not fully expressed. It should have been much clearer that the U.S. strategy was not only flawed but resulted in an unnecessary waste of lives.

Graves at Arlington Cemetery

Graves at Arlington Cemetery

I am reminded of an observation by Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for the New York Times: “Reporters who witness the worst of human suffering and return to newsrooms angry see their compassion washed out by layers of editors who stand between the reporter and reader. The creed of objectivity and balance … disarms and cripples the press and transforms reporters into neutral observers or voyeurs.”

As Marine historian Eric Hammel concluded, “Americans were bound by the moral poverty of their political leaders, and the North Vietnamese were bound by the intellectual inflexibility of their Communist Doctrines. The soldiers of each side suffered mightily in the stalemate that ensued.”

We need to pay tribute this Memorial Day to those who served at Con Thien and learn from their sacrifice. It can be fairly said that anyone who seeks glory in battle would not find it in the mud and heat of Con Thien, but anyone who seeks tales of extraordinary valor need look no further.

Don North is a veteran war correspondent who covered the Vietnam War and many other conflicts around the world. He is the author of Inappropriate Conduct,  the story of a World War II correspondent whose career was crushed by the intrigue he uncovered.

46 comments for “Tragic Valor of Marines at Con Thien

  1. June 2, 2016 at 08:46

    “Giap’s genius resides in his firm grasp of strategy, specifically revolutionary war or “people’s war”, as Giap prefers to call it. Giap’s strategy of revolutionary war totally integrated two principal forms of force—armed force and political force, military dau tranh and political dau tranh. Their combined use created a kind of war unseen before: a single war waged simultaneously on several fronts—not geographical fronts, but programmatical fronts—all conducted by one and the same authority, all carefully meshed. It was a war in which military campaigns were waged for political and diplomatic reasons; economic measures such as land reform were adopted to further political ends; political or diplomatic losses were accepted to forward military campaigns; and psychological campaigns were launched to lower enemy military effectiveness. All actions; political, military, economic, and diplomatic, were weighed for their impact on the other elements of dau tranh and on the advance towards the final goal—victory. Giap’s grasp and application of grand strategy clearly characterizes him as a genius and one of the premier strategists of the twentieth century.” – Senior General Vo Nguyen Giap: Military Genius or Communist Butcher? Major Clinton D. Wadsworth, United States Marine Corps

  2. bfearn
    May 30, 2016 at 14:35

    Propaganda “the virtue of the vicious”, from Oscar Wilde, is powerful stuff.

    “extraordinary valor” to go and kill innocents in a country that never threatened or attack America? As one of the good guys, even Don North has yet to figure things out!!

  3. David G
    May 30, 2016 at 13:20

    “So, why was there a base at Con Thien in the first place? Simply because the 160-meter hill, if taken by the NVA, could have facilitated hits on the key U.S. staging area at Dong Ha. Aside from denying the hill to the enemy, there was little reason to protect Con Thien. But its vulnerabilities also made it an inviting target.”

    Well, denying an advantageous position to your enemy from which they could attack a “key” base of your own, would seem like a militarily valid reason for wanting to defend this hill—so I’m not sure why the U.S. command is being faulted for that decision here.

    I guess that since the “Marines are traditionally an offensive organization”, this battalion—and a reporter who identified with them—felt they were a little too special for this mission. Better to let the Army do it, and have those soldiers die in this miserable spot doing what needed to be done, while the Marines went out “conducting ‘pacification programs'”, attacking when and where they chose, at concomitantly less risk.

    I think maybe the U.S. sense of entitlement in this demented, criminal war wasn’t limited to the higher command.

  4. Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
    May 30, 2016 at 10:41

    Robert McNamara turned against Vietnam and felt remorse for supporting it? I didn’t know that! I can’t remember reading about it on his Wikipedia article!

    • Erik
      May 30, 2016 at 18:00

      Yes, his autobiography itemizes the failures to “consult” the people and to be “open and honest,” not acknowledging that such failures are usually high crimes under the Constitution. Wikipedia is trolled by US agencies and the right wing, who constantly re-edit articles back to their own views, and appear to have trolls on the Wikipedia staff.

  5. voxpax
    May 30, 2016 at 05:00

    Is a common language enough to call a piece of earth a nation. Is being born on that piece of earth a reason to force anyone there to defend whatever some call the dominant ideology. All of us suffer from brainwashing of the highest order by having had to attend these ridiculous primary schools etc. All I got from school was a permanent back problem caused by all this sitting still for hours on end on those terrible stools. They literally broke my back already then.
    And now we are talking about America, France, Russia, the West, the East, the South and the North.
    America and the rest of those Nations we are talking about, foremost the America you, we, are trying to bring back to sanity does not exist, it is pure fantasy, a fatamorgana in the desert of mentally deranged Primates.
    Were it not for the hundreds of millions of lives murdered in the name of those ill concepts during the course of what we deranged Primates call history of Civilization, nobody would feel the desire to talk in those terms.

  6. Joe Tedesky
    May 29, 2016 at 22:56

    Here is a link that may shed more light onto this subject;

    Below is a paragraph in regard to Michelin Rubber

    “As GIs in Vietnam we saw the often-stark realities of Vietnam and could compare them to the “truth” the American people were being told. We saw the corrupt Saigon generals making money hand over fist while their armies would not fight. We saw the hate in the eyes of the local villagers who never welcomed us as “liberators” bringing us bouquets of flowers as we had seen in World War II movies. The only Vietnamese who seemed to want us there wanted greenbacks in return for drugs, booze or women, or all three. We also saw the enemy fight and had to admire both his bravery and tenacity in taking on U.S. tanks, planes and helicopters with grenades and rifles. We supposedly valued human life while our enemy did not. Yet we paid the owners of the Michelin plantations $600 for each rubber tree we damaged, while the family of a slain Vietnamese child got no more than $120 in payment for a life.”

    The sad part is, I don’t believe much has changed after all of these years. Why?

    • Skip Edwards
      May 30, 2016 at 01:33

      Because many, if not most, Americans look at war as a spectator sport with tail gate parties as entertainment. Bring back the draft and watch things change.

      • Joe Tedesky
        May 30, 2016 at 02:27

        I agree Skip. Back in 1968 I enlisted, after one close friend of mine loss both legs while on patrol in Nam, and another grade school buddy never returned after requesting a second tour of duty in that deceitful war. In boot camp my company commander erased my wish list duty station, which was Vietnam, and that was because he had loss his faith in that war, after he had served over there for two tours of his own. Later on, while stationed with the Amphibs, and later with the Seabees, I learned quite a bit about Vietnam from the many returning Vietnam veterans, I came to meet. Hearing about it, is nothing even close to having experiencing it I know, but never the less it effected me, as it did many people. Today, I would love to encourage young people I know to serve, but due to this country’s ignorant egotistical leadership, who never hesitate to send in the troops, I just can’t bring myself to urge anyone to enlist. Lastly, you are right about the draft. Sorry for such a long winded post, but I just wanted to reply in the most sincere way I could.

  7. John
    May 29, 2016 at 22:12

    As we speak…the neocons are prepping us for war. Russia and China are their targets, and your children will be sacrificed…..And not a word is spoken to stop this world wide crime……

  8. Bruce
    May 29, 2016 at 21:30

    Fact remains fresh today; those are THEIR Countries and We REMAIN The enemy.

  9. May 29, 2016 at 19:44

    A very powerful article for Memorial Day. I especially agree with the observation that reporters’ empathy can be blotted out by editors, and then the writing comes across as neutral or even voyeuristic. I think this also applies to first-person stories about the poor and homeless, which often report horrendous actions in a cold, factual way; and this tends to negate the human sympathies that readers would have if the articles were presented with more compassion, which the reporters themselves may well feel, but it is not considered professional to express such feelings in their writing. Too much objectivity is a bad thing.

  10. Erik
    May 29, 2016 at 18:06

    There is always doctrinal inflexibility in revolutions, and we must look to the causes of rebellion: in NV it was colonial exploitation and denial of self-government, far worse than the causes of the US revolution. The US was the first nation to rebel against colonialism and the last to defend it, and its defense had no rational basis whatsoever. The propaganda changes but the cause is the same. The fault was entirely in the demagogic US leadership, the corrupt military industry, and the control of US elections and mass media by economic concentrations. They simply have no good intentions at all, and would act quite oppositely if they had. If the US had spent its bloated military budget on humanitarian projects since WWII, it would have lifted half the world from poverty, and would have no enemies. Instead we have made the world our enemy and have killed over six million innocents for nothing at all.

    Every US war since WWII has attacked socialist governments on behalf of rich oligarchies, and the US has denounced all anti-colonial, nationalist, and egalitarian insurgencies as “terrorist” to prevent public awareness of the real causes of insurgency and the real causes of US “foreign policy.” In fact these are not wars of foreign policy, they are wars of domestic policy. These foreign wars are intended to prevent socialism in the US and to subvert constitutional rights in the US.

    The people of the US need to learn that ideas like “terrorism” and “communism” are nothing but the standard rationales for right wing power grabs that have destroyed democracies since long before Aristotle warned of this millennia ago. The right wing Must create foreign enemies to pose falsely as protectors and accuse their moral superiors of disloyalty. That is why the US right wing must have continual war or cold war. That is the only reason for the mass media propaganda about “GWOT” and “terrorism.” The destruction of constitutional rights and press freedom and economic security is not an unfortunate accident, it is the motive.

    • Skip Edwards
      May 30, 2016 at 01:25

      A very intelluctual, well thought and worded comment. Please everyone, re-read this. Absorb it and use it the next time one of those chicken hawk members of Congress comes to your town begging for support and your money.

    • Rob Roy
      May 30, 2016 at 22:33

      Erik, Thank you. I agree, with one exception. The American Revolution was not to throw off colonialism and unfair taxes and have democracy. That was the propaganda flag. It was because the rich and powerful had slaves and weren’t about to give them up. There was a case in London brought by a slave against his enslavement in 1772. When wind of this reached this soil, the writing was on the wall. Either get out from under British rule or have England’s laws against slavery become laws here. That couldn’t be allowed, thus the American Revolution (as our wars have always been clothed in ideals of freedom and democracy to get the people’s support). Thus slavery continued here for nearly a century. Our country has been venal since its beginning. And by the way, the constitution, though it turned out to be a pretty good document was never for “the people” –such as non-property owners, slaves, common folk…not at all. It was written by those same powerful, rich people for, yes, themselves. Little did they know that someday we would all try to use it. Though, frankly, it is disappearing along with the Bill of Rights and our civil liberties. So, I guess, things have come full circle. Thanks for your well expressed thoughts.

      • Erik
        May 31, 2016 at 07:40

        It is interesting to consider that colonial slave owners feared liberation by England, although they were not a majority at the Constitutional Convention. England certainly led the US in abolition of the slave trade and later of slavery, but it also depended upon the cotton trade and supported the South more in the Civil War. One would want to know whether slavery was a bias at the Convention, or just represented there. It would be interesting to read more of the pro-slavery Convention thesis if the source is thorough and well developed.

  11. geoff teague
    May 29, 2016 at 17:39

    vietnam is a nightmare and it continues with a government that has learned to suppress dissent and a media that kowtows to the criminality of the war mongers. the american people remain complicit and choose to remain ignorant. corporate power is plowing ahead to undermine the last vestiges of our constitution and the whoring press leaves nothing to chance in its desire to please their masters. it is a disgrace and the only memorial we should recognize is the death of the bill of rights. our soldiers lives have been wasted in the notion that the politicos always spout ‘they fought for our freedom’. not mine and not yours.

    • Skip Edwards
      May 30, 2016 at 01:20

      Thank you so much for your words.

    May 29, 2016 at 15:32

    The “Hill of Angels”/“McNamara Line”/”Stupid Fence” of 1967-1968 was repeated at Hamburger Hill in 1969. After the worthless HH was captured by the US Army, it was abandoned. Media reports in the aftermath of HH were the beginning of the (slow) end of US participation in the Vietnam war. And, NO, no key lessons have yet to be “learn(ed) from their sacrifice”.

    • Skip Edwards
      May 30, 2016 at 01:18

      It is the politicians who start the wars. It is the young who die. Why do we keep allowing this? And why don’t we remember all the innocent people in other countries who suffer like us, only far more, as they have no safety nets.

  13. steve
    May 29, 2016 at 15:29

    Great stuff and thank you. I felt your anger and appreciate what you did for us, the reader in difficult times.

  14. Kelso
    May 29, 2016 at 15:16

    Thank you–I was a 1/9er–

    • Peter
      May 30, 2016 at 01:32

      Were you there? My godfather 2lt Doherty was a 1/9 FAO and was immolated in the brush after an ambush on july 2. He was only 22. I am crying as I type this.

      • Dosamuno
        June 3, 2016 at 13:24

        1/9 ers not only refer to the marines, but also to an Oakland gang which trafficks in heroin and weapons.
        I think the marines are more dangerous, more deranged, and have done more harm.

  15. May 29, 2016 at 15:12

    the author starts out stating his distaste for celebrating war … and concludes with a call to celebrate the heroes of the war.
    perhaps it would help to recall the strange specter of war, and pain of loss … not to honour the heroes, but to demand that action be taken to prevent future war.
    when somebody stands up and demands an end to war politics, they are met with condemnation for not standing behind the troops. they are invited to stand in front of them if they will not, “SUPPORT THE TROOPS!”
    the causes of the war, and the dignity of “THE TROOPS,” are tied together by messages such as the article above. this makes protest of war politics, an assault on the dignity of “THE TROOPS.”

    • Skip Edwards
      May 30, 2016 at 01:13

      “Thank you for your service” mechanically stated by people who have no idea of what they mean sickens me to no end. Wake up people and make a contribution for which I can sincerely thank you. Make a contribution which ends all war!

      • James J.Kent, M.D.
        May 30, 2016 at 14:27

        I felt the same way. It is so good to know that I’m not the only one. I finally voiced these feelings to my wife of sixty plus years last night after the concert and immediately felt better. I was a Marine Lt. who resigned my commission in 1961 to go to med school. There i switched to the army reserves to get the $21 a month for going to the meetings a few blocks from where we lived. M.D.s were treated differently by the draft then so I wound up in RVN. At one time I had my office across the street from the headquarters of the unit I left to go to med school.
        After I returned I got a copy of a book by Smedley Butler. He was Commandant of the Marine Corps in the late ’30s when the marines were tasked with defending the US corporate owned banana plantations in Central America. I recommend that like minded folks read that book. It is titled, “War is a Racket.”

  16. Bill Bodden
    May 29, 2016 at 13:41

    “Americans were bound by the moral poverty of their political leaders, …”

    and still are.

  17. hjs3
    May 29, 2016 at 13:38

    To Ms. Harris’ comment it was Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th POTUS and retired Five-Star general that first warned the American populace of the Miltary Industrial Complex (MIC) as he left office in January of 1961…
    “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

    He certainly had the “persist” more than a little bit right if you examine the last fifty years…Truth of the matter is that war is Big Business and the United States is in the business of war…

    • Skip Edwards
      May 30, 2016 at 01:08

      Realistically speaking, it is the only business the US has to export. We are a dying empire drowning in the tar pits like a dying dinosaur and dragging all life down with us.

  18. Pablo Diablo
    May 29, 2016 at 13:31

    The Dulles brothers knew drugs=money. The French were making a bundle off opium and after WWII we wanted a cut. When we were losing in Vietnam, agent orange moved the opium crop to Afghanistan. You know the rest of this ongoing story.

  19. David Smith
    May 29, 2016 at 13:23

    Unfortunately this article repeats three of the many talking points of the Big Lie used to deny the failure of the US military in it’s obscene escapade in Vietnam. The first is “they wouldn’t let us win!!!!”. In this case politicians are blamed, but one obscene version found in the aptly named ” Idiot’s Guide To The Vietnam War” blame anti-war protesters. American generals eagerly pushed for this war and were lavishly supplied in men and equipment. Westmoreland concocted the foul Search And Destroy Doctrine and said it would win. To put it bluntly and accurately the NVA and NLF defeated the US Army and Marine Corps and not by some alledged unfair advantage. The second it the myth of gigantic numbers of NVA killed. At minimum there were double counts,”count ’em on the way out and count ’em on the way back”, plus deliberate exagerations and in the example cited by Don North merely “estimates” often by computer, a field day for Army and Marine bull crap artists. Third the lie that General Giap was an incopetant. “Marine historian Eric Hammel” is a dishonest jackass(and given the opportunity I will call him one to his face). This is the typical contard party line of “stupid communist”. Yes, General Giap did not go to officers school and he defeated French and American generals who did, and who had a vast advantage in equipment. The NVA was not ” inflexible” but constantly modified doctrine to match conditions. Against the vast American war machine they operated a regular army by irregular force doctrine. It would be comical to watch Eric Hammel, or any US officer, operating under the conditions the NVA had to face. After forty years it time for an end to the dishonest brain flatulence, adolescent insults of our adversary, and shrill handflapping finger pointing of blame at everybody except the guilty.

    • Dosamuno
      May 29, 2016 at 13:47

      Well said.
      I couldn’t agree with you more strongly.

  20. Bart
    May 29, 2016 at 13:20

    “In any event, those grisly scenes would never be used in a U.S. news program.” So sad; so criminal.

    Your descriptions above echo what is in the book, “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes.

  21. Dosamuno
    May 29, 2016 at 12:55

    —As Marine historian Eric Hammel concluded, “Americans were bound by the moral poverty of their political leaders, and the North Vietnamese were bound by the intellectual inflexibility of their Communist Doctrines. The soldiers of each side suffered mightily in the stalemate that ensued.”


    The Vietnamese wanted to expel the colonialists who first invaded Vietnam in the guise of Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century. The French set up the ruling “suppletif” class–kind of Vietnamese Mandarins, who ruled the damn country until the Japanese came.

    The Americans supplanted the French because of the influence of the Dulles brother who had their own cards in the game.

    The marines and soldiers who died in Vietnam, including my 20 year old cousin Alan, died defending imperialism.
    The Vietnamese who died, died defending their country from barbarians.

    • Dosamuno
      May 29, 2016 at 13:13

      —I cried too, even as I tried a “standupper” to conclude my report. In New York, ABC News located Sidell’s parents in Atlanta and warned them the report of their son’s death would be on national TV the following evening.

      Any tears for the death, injuries, and destruction wreaked upon Vietnam? Any regrets about the Phoenix program?

      This article is an apology for American exceptionalism. It shows no understanding of why the marines were in Vietnam, what they were doing there, and the aftermath for the Vietnamese, whose country was destroyed.

      I will not be shedding tears for dead marines.
      Nor will I be displaying any flags.

      • Dosamuno
        May 29, 2016 at 17:54

        This is journalism as taught in the Dan Rather School of War Correspondence.

    • Skip Edwards
      May 30, 2016 at 01:01

      Thanks for telling it as you have. I am sincerely sorry for your suffering and the loss of your cousin.

      • Dosamuno
        May 30, 2016 at 13:39

        That’s kind of you, Mr. Edwards.
        Thank you.

    • Kelso
      June 1, 2016 at 11:21

      I wish it was all that simple–but it is not.
      But be assured the Communist did not win the War, Capitalism did.
      Go to Viet Nam and see it–it is flourishing.

      • Dosamuno
        June 3, 2016 at 13:16

        “Go to Viet Nam and see it–it is flourishing.”

        I would say, “festering”.

        Yes, the Washington Consensus has run amok.
        It’s visible in Eastern Europe, America, Asia, and Africa
        with its concomitant misery and degradation.

        Three cheers for American foreign policy!

  22. Pablo Diablo
    May 29, 2016 at 12:35

    So sad. TEARS for Memorial Day. Can we ever end this futility? A few people get rich off of war so they can buy politicians who vote for war (i.e. Hillary). Will it take 40 or 50 years to find out why we are in Honduras, Ukraine, Libya, Syria, still in Iraq, Afghanistan? Most Americans don’t even know where these countries are or what we are fighting for. Excuse me, but it is NOT “terrorism”.

    • May 29, 2016 at 15:43

      Tears here too. Thanks, Don. Just thanks. ray

  23. Betty Harris
    May 29, 2016 at 12:04

    ?Man may very well be the only animal capable of self destruction.
    Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay

    Our children sent into this war were sacrificed for human greed. Any people who want freedom must take it for themselves so that no military industrial complex that wants war ends up using our children as cannon fodder so some greedy white men can get rich off the sale of war equipment.

    All Vietnam gave us was injured children and drugs as those children that came back from the war were addicted and had access to the suppliers.

    • Dosamuno
      May 29, 2016 at 12:48

      !El Pepe!
      !Qué lastima que no sea un candidato aquí!

      “Pepe” Mujica.
      Damn shame he isn’t running for president here.

    • A Vietnam Marine
      June 5, 2016 at 20:41

      Betty Harris: You seem to not have a real grasp on historical reality. With the act of “drawing the line in the sand” in SE Asia, US president John F Kennedy started the eventual downfall of Russian-backed communism that was spreading like wildfire all over the Third World. If we had not done what we did in Vietnam, who knows where Ivan and his communist buddies would be today? Yes, the politicians in Washington totally screwed up the deployment of American troops and the Rules of Engagement caused more deaths than necessary but America is still around and the USSR is not.

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