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Untold Stories: Heroes to Remember on Vietnam Veterans’ Day
A soldier who led his wounded comrades to evacuation after being wounded 18 times. A machine gunner who charged an enemy position on his own. A teenager who sacrificed his life without hesitation to save his comrades. That’s the Vietnam War the media and government doesn’t want you to know.
There are so many inspiring, beautiful stories about the great heroes of American history which are scarcely ever told. One happens on them accidentally—buried in a thick, out-of-print biography, in small print on a museum sign, casually and fleetingly mentioned in an obscure educational video. America cannot return to greatness in the future if we do not truly understand the greatness of our past. That is why I am writing an article series to tell a few of these little-known but moving “untold stories” of American greatness.
Other articles in this series have included the Indian prophecy of George Washington’s future greatness; trailblazing Marines throughout US history; Mack Robinson, groundbreaking black athlete and born winner; the slave turned Patriot double agent James Armistead Lafayette; and the citizens of Greencastle, PA who saved their black citizens from Confederate enslavers. Today I want to celebrate heroes of the much-maligned Vietnam War.
Today, March 29, is National Vietnam War Veterans’ Day. Veterans of the Vietnam War are perhaps the most underappreciated veterans in American history. “There was no fanfare to greet us when we returned from the war…We might have been coming back from a walk to the corner grocery store,” recalled Capt. James R. McDonough. But even that doesn’t capture the full reality.
Vietnam veterans were actively vilified and attacked by radical “peace” activists when they came home, as were the veterans’ families. My great-uncle Bruce Webb was a Marine killed in Vietnam, and his widow received phone calls telling her that her husband deserved to die. Her house was broken into and mementos of her dead husband’s military career were stolen. And the attacks didn’t stop after the first few years. I personally saw someone get in the face of a man wearing a Vietnam veteran hat and scream insults at the veteran for having served in the military. “Disrespect for Vietnam vets is fact, not fiction,” wrote Vietnam veteran Bob Feist. He described spitting, egging, insults; he bought a wig to hide his military haircut. And these weren’t isolated incidents. “I am not aware of many Vietnam vets who were not subjected to some disrespect, either personal or from the culture that called us ‘baby killers.’” The insults were often based on exaggerations or myths of American abuses in Vietnam.
58,220 American soldiers died in the war, and up to 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers and over 2 million civilians were killed as well—not to mention the many tens of thousands murdered by the Communist North Vietnamese both during and after the war (we left Vietnamese to die with our withdrawal that was celebrated as “peace”). As even the New York Times admitted, “Terrorism was a central component of [Communist] Viet Cong strategy.” So why am I telling you this? Because there are hundreds of thousands of American soldiers who were mocked instead of praised, attacked instead of celebrated. We need to set that wrong right. So today, on National Vietnam War Veterans’ Day, I want to highlight a few brave heroes of that war who have not been given the honor they earned.
First, a soldier of almost legendary achievement [emphasis added]:
“CMD. Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins
Vietnam War - 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) - 1934-2020
‘I’m just the keeper of the medal for those other 16 who were in the battle, especially the five who didn’t make it.’ -Bennie G. Adkins
On 9 March 1966, some 2,000 North Vietnamese army troops attacked Camp A Shau in Vietnam. There were 17 American Special Forces Soldiers and about 400 South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group troops in the camp. Adkins, then a sergeant first class, killed as many as 175 of the enemy and received 18 wounds during the battle. He then led the wounded to an airstrip for evacuation while evading the enemy. In recognition of his actions, President Barack Obama presented him with the Medal of Honor.”
Young Milton Olive III reminds us that freedom is never free.
“PFC. Milton Olive III
Vietnam War - Company B, 20 Battalion (Airborne), 503D Infantry, 173D Airborne Brigade - 1946-1965
‘I’m over here in Never Never Land fighting this hellish war.’ -Olive in a letter home
In October 1965, Olive and his platoon were moving through the jungle when they were surprised by an ambush. In the midst of the firefight, a grenade landed near Olive and four other Soldiers. He grabbed it in his hand and fell on it, letting his body take the full force of the blast. With no hesitation, he sacrificed his life to save the other four. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.’”
One sergeant became a sort of one-man advance guard during a North Vietnamese attack:
“Sgt. Stanley C. Goff
Company B, 20 Battalion, 1st Infantry, 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division
‘I was firing like hell. I probably went through two thousand rounds.’ [-Goff]
Goff was drafted into the Army in January 1968. In August, he was in Vietnam conducting a sweep and clear mission with his infantry company. As his platoon moved out of a wooded area and crossed an open rice paddy, it came under intense enemy fire. Goff, a machine gunner, exposed himself to enemy fire, charged the enemy position, and provided covering fire that allowed the rest of the company to advance. He received a Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor.”
Goff later co-authored a book with fellow Vietnam veterans Robert Sanders and Clark Smith called, “Brothers: Black Soldiers in the Nam.”
There are so many other heroes. There’s CW04 Walter R. Jones III, a door gunner and then crew chief who was seriously wounded when his helicopter, “carrying South Vietnamese soldiers into a landing zone,” was shot down by the enemy. He logged 324 combat hours during only six months in Vietnam, and later recovered to become a UH-60 Blackhawk flyer. “No PZ [pickup zone] is too hot—you get in there and get ’em out,” Jones said simply of his service. There’s also 1st Lt. Sharon A. Lane, the only Army nurse killed “as a direct result of hostile fire.” A rocket hit the ward where she was caring for patients on 8 June, 1969.
And not all heroes of the war were human. Sgt. Robert A. Kollar was a dog handler with the 58th Infantry Platoon (Scout Dog) in 1968 and 1969. The dogs were trained to sniff out “enemy snipers, ambushes, mines, or boobytraps.” Kollar’s partner was a German Shepherd named Rebel M421, and Kollar remembered Rebel’s service, and the service of the other dogs, with pride.
So today, remember to say a prayer for the Vietnam veterans or thank a veteran for his service. Such gratitude is too long overdue.
(The stories and several of the images for this piece came from the National Museum of the United States Army.)
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