[What follows is a brief summary of Episode Ten of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Special “The Vietnam War” along with my personal commentaries, songs, and writings about where I was during this period. – Former 1Lt. Richard Morris, A Co. 2nd Bn 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 1967-68]
Last Episode (Ten): “The Weight of Memory” (March 1973 – Onward), Thursday, Sept. 28:
Tim O’Brien, Vietnam Veteran and author of The Things They Carried, said that soldiers carried many things: diseases, leeches, lice, each other, and many others.
[I was delighted when Kirkus Reviews described Cologne No. 10 For Men as “A funny and serviceable satire about the gross rationalizations that propel war and peace.” “. . . like Catch-22 or M.A.S.H. . . .carries echoes of Tim O’Brien’s similarly toned The Things They Carried.“— Kirkus Review]
The Paris Peace Accords, officially titled the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam, was a peace treaty signed on January 27, 1973 to establish peace in Vietnam and end the Vietnam War. The treaty included the governments of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the United States.
POWS and MIA
Following the accords, the North Vietnamese returned 591 American prisoners of war (POWs) during Operation Homecoming. On March 29, 1973, the last U.S. soldiers left South Vietnam: 200 Marines. The U.S. listed about 2,500 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action, but only 1,200 Americans were reported killed in action and body not recovered. In 1991-1993, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs led by John Kerry, Bob Smith, and John McCain “found no compelling evidence that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.”
One hundred forty-five thousand NVA troops remained in the South, the North had positioned surface-to-air missiles just north of the DMZ, and the new Ho Chi Minh Trail was a paved road. By August 15, all parties were to cease all operations.
For two more years, the North and South fought an endless civil war. And Americans couldn’t get their minds off it [except me*]. Was it worth it?
* [I say “except me” because I was in my isolated mountain community building my family (three children by 1975), building my business by adding a small prefab housing facility, and immersed in energy-efficient passive solar design, and participating in community theater and other events.]
[Excerpt from Wikipedia] Shortly after midnight on June 17, 1972, Frank Wills, a security guard at the Watergate Complex, noticed tape covering the latches on some of the doors in the complex leading from the underground parking garage to several offices (allowing the doors to close but remain unlocked). He removed the tape, thinking nothing of it. But when he returned an hour later and discovered that someone had retaped the locks, Wills called the police. Five men were discovered inside the DNC office and arrested. They were Virgilio González, Bernard Barker, James McCord, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis, who were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. On September 15, a grand jury indicted them, as well as Hunt and Liddy, for conspiracy, burglary, and violation of federal wiretapping laws. The five burglars who broke into the office were tried by a jury, Judge John Sirica officiating, and pled guilty or were convicted on January 30, 1973.
Nixon said, “I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in.”
On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommended that the president of the United States be impeached and removed from office because of obstruction of the investigation of the Watergate break-in and other unlawful activities.
Nixon resigned the Presidency on August 9, 1974. Vice President Gerald R. Ford of Michigan took the oath of office as the new President to complete the remaining 2 1/2 years of Mr. Nixon’s term.
In Vietnam, one-fifth of the workers in the South were unemployed. The army cut the pay, and twenty-thousand deserted. Fuel, ammo, artillery shells, grenades, and bullets ran low.While the Watergate scandal riveted Americans’ attention and forced President Nixon to resign, the Vietnamese continued to savage one another in a brutal civil war.
In the 1975 Spring Offensive, Le Duan attacked Phuc Long province followed by the key Central Highlands city of Buon Ma Thuot. These operations were intended to launch a general offensive in 1976. However, the South Vietnamese realized they could no longer defend the entire country, given the cutbacks in American aid, and they ordered a strategic withdrawal from the northern half of South Vietnam. The retreat was a debacle, however, and the southern forces were routed. They abandoned the Highlands. Hue fell, then Danang. A flotilla of boats with soldiers and civilians headed south towards Cam Ranh Bay. By the end of March, eighteen North Vietnamese Divisions were pursuing six ARVN Divisions.
Panic was rampant among the 200,000 South Vietnamese who had helped the U.S. South Vietnam requested $722 million in emergency aid, but Congress voted against any. Evacuation of Saigon broke every rule. People escaped on aircraft, boats, helicopters. However, U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin was not interested in leaving. The ARVN held on for twelve days, and on April 21st, President Thieu resigned. He was not invited to the U.S. by President Ford.
On April 27, 1975 rockets landed in the center of Saigon, and small boats full of refugees left the harbor and sailed for sea. There was a call for choppers from off-shore ships.
President Ford ordered Ambassador Martin to leave, and 129 Marines in the building went to the roof to await helicopters.
When hundreds of thousands of North Vietnamese troops poured into the south, Saigon descended rapidly into chaos and collapses. There was no bloodbath, but one and a half million South Vietnamese went through re-education–supposedly for three days of study, a month long for officers [It is said that some spent years.]. The Communists bulldozed cemeteries to eliminate names of the enemy dead. Altogether, three million soldiers–Northern and Southern–were killed, plus 58,000 Americans. Washington refused to recognize the Communist government, which abolished capitalism and set up collective farming.
Sino-Vietnamese War– March 16 – February 17, 1979
On March 16, 1979, Chinese troops crossed the Vietnamese border and captured several small cities, withdrawing a month later. China launched the offensive in response to Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia in 1978 (which ended the rule of the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge). China and Vietnam each lost thousands of troops. Vietnam lost almost as many troops as the U.S. lost in the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam Memorial
In April 27, 1979, four years after the Fall of Saigon, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was incorporated to establish a memorial to the veterans of the war. Jan Scruggs, a wounded Vietnam veteran, led the effort. Eventually, $8.4 million was raised by private donations. A year later, a site was chosen, and on March 30, 1981, the design by Maya Lin, a Yale architect, was selected over 1420 other designs, with the names of the more than 50,000 U.S. servicemen killed in the war inscribed on the black granite.
In 1985, the U.S. had no diplomatic relations at that time, but our veterans kept traveling back as tourists. So, we entered into a negotiation with Vietnam to restore diplomatic relations, led by Senators John McCain, John Kerry, and Bob Kerry. Le Duan was dead, and the country had embarked on a more pragmatic economy, although the government was still Communist. Hanoi began to help the U.S. find MIAs. In 1994, we lifted the trade embargo. In 2000, President Bill Clinton visited the country followed by Obama in 2016.
Many ghosts remain from the war, including the casualties and poisoned soil from Agent Orange, and the tons of ordinance that are buried in the ground, ready to go off. North Vietnamese mothers continue to come south looking for their sons and daughters to take them back for reburial in the North so their souls will not wander. In America, we have ghosts from PTSD, which in World War II was combat fatigue, and in World War I, shell shock.
[Sometimes I still sing love songs that I wrote in Vietnam to my wife back home (“Mirage,” “Barbara,” and “I Needed A Girl Like Barb’ra” — see Skytroopers CD links below). I recorded them on a tape with Sgt. Mendoza, a most excellent guitarist who helped me on the rear firebases, and then I sent them back to the world. I’m glad I was able to sing them to her in person.]
For my other blog posts on the Vietnam War, see: