Good Morning Guys,
I received the below article from Stephanie Kovac, the young lady from Fox News, who covered our reunion in April. It’s pretty moving. Thought we might want to share it with the Brigade. I’ll be meeting with John Moody from FOX News Group after Labor Day to present him with our plaque. I will then ask for a copy of the video of the interviews in Dallas.
Stephanie Kovac is a producer for FOX local news channel, Dallas Texas. She covered the 40th Anniversary reunion of the 82nd Airborne’s 3rd Brigade, Golden Brigade, deployment to Vietnam 40 years ago. She was born the same month and year, February 1968. Some may remember the 1968 Tet Offensive.
Airborne All The Way!
As a journalist, I’ve had the opportunity to not only witness history, but in a sense, write it. This weekend, I was afforded a rare luxury. It was as if I was allowed to step back in time and set foot on a page right out of my high school history book. The only difference was the room full of heroes I found myself standing among weren’t the ones I’d read about.
I was born in February 1968, the same month the 82nd Airborne’s 3rd Brigade deployed to Vietnam on February 20th- the same day they suffered their first casualty.
This weekend, I stood face to face with those who survived as I was assigned to cover their 40th anniversary commemoration. I thought for sure I’d meet a group of old timers eager to share war stories. Instead, I was introduced to a group of men who’ve been in some strange way frozen forever young in a faraway place.
I heard many stories of how they’d sustained their war wounds, and most of the time, the room resonated with laughter. It was as if there was a kind of camaraderie in killing that I couldn’t possibly understand.
Granted, I knew who “Charlie” was. The history books had taught me that.Â But, the stories of “gooks” took me back. Most of the time, the word seemed to slip, and was often followed with an immediate apology. I wasn’t offended. I thought it utterly fascinating that a generation who’d fought so bravely for freedom hadn’t yet succumb to the censorship in this country known as political correctness. As if these old warriors have anything for which to apologize?
This country owes them. Much more than an apology. This country owes them a tremendous debt of gratitude. This country owes them their due.
I’m not sure I have any greater understand of what Vietnam was really about, any better understanding than I had in high school. And, to hear the men of the 3rd Brigade tell it, I’m not sure that Lyndon Johnson really understood it either. Every time I posed the question “what were you fighting for“ the answer was the same. To stay alive.
The Golden Brigade, as they’re known, served 22 months in Nam. 227 were killed. Two remain missing. They never lost a battle.
Yet, my history book taught me that America lost the war. I now know we won it militarily, and lost it politically somewhere between Paris and Washington, D.C.. I can’t help but wonder if public perception was the real reason these men paid such a steep price for their sacrifice. Was it because we weren’t victorious on all fronts that those who came home from Vietnam had no homecoming?
Hearing the barrage of stories, it was easy to draw similarities between the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq. There are many who believe, like Vietnam, we have no place in Iraq. That it is not America’s duty to police the world. I wonder what it will mean to the young men and women on the frontlines today if politics cost us another victory? Will they come home to streaming yellow ribbons or anti-war demonstrations and banners of protest? Will they be welcome?
I’ve always heard “war is hell” but it wasn’t until I stood among these aging soldiers that I fully understood what that meant. It has been 40 years since these men fought in the killing fields of Vietnam. 40 years. And, each told stories in such vivid detail it was as if I was watching a movie. 40 years was a lifetime away, and as close as yesterday.
It was their eyes that told the whole story. Haunted by images time can never heal. Brimming with raw emotion. Sadness. Anger. Resentment. And, justification for it all.
Their stories seemed incomprehensible, unfathomable. It was as if a page had been torn from my history book.
How long had these men lived with the stigma of Vietnam? One returned home to find women wouldn’t date him because he’d served in Nam. Another ducked into an airport bathroom seconds after arriving in the States, hoping to change his clothes before anyone noticed his military fatigues. Another remembered only one parade- it was 40 yards long, and 15 years after the fact.
These men weren’t the Harley hippies that have become America’s stereotypical image of the Vietnam vet. They were doctors and lawyers, and officers of the law. Productive members of society who still live with Vietnam. Still go to bed with it at night. Still wake up with it every day. Still shudder that a song on the radio, or a copse of trees could cause them to “flip”. One told me a rock hit his windshield while he was en route to the celebratory event. He dove beneath the dash. That same man had six brothers and couldn’t relate to a one. He was the only son who’d served in the military. But, he found comfort in the room that night. And, every man among him understood his sense of peace.
It wasn’t as if these men were the best of friends then or now. It was circumstance that bonded them together as a band of brothers. And, I learned that bond may not have stemmed from what they endured together but what they lost. Their innocence.
Earlier this week, I sent a care package to a friend’s son serving in Iraq. I loaded up a box with beef Jerky, and mixed nuts; crossword puzzles, and a deck of cards; Chap Stick and anti-bacterial wipes; batteries, an international calling card, a disposable camera; and a can of Silly String to detect trip wires. I never met the kid. I don’t even know if he likes Jerky, and I don’t agree with the war in Iraq. But, I know freedom isn’t free, and that that young man is fighting for me. I pray he comes home to a hero’s reception.
The greatest history lesson I ever learned came long after high school, taught by the wounded warriors of the 82nd Airborne’s Golden Brigade. This time, there wasn’t a single page missing.
Welcome home, guys; Welcome home!