Cook honors Vietnam War heroes with tribute

Submitted photo Retired Maj. Steve Cook, of Elkins, is shown here in 1975, while serving as a Special Forces team leader during simultated combat-jump exercises and field training in Germany.

Editor’s Note: This is the final article in The Inter-Mountain’s Unsung Heroes series for 2019.

Welcome home, Vietnam War brothers and sisters. This article is intended for a variety of audiences; Vietnam War Veterans, family members and Gold Star Mothers. Other organizations, agencies, clubs, college students, faculty and history buffs may have an interest in this article and gain new insights and unique perspectives into an unforgettable and misunderstood war. This article is succinct and not a complete expose illustrating the Vietnam War and hopefully will correct many of those misconceptions about the Vietnam War.

I have a myriad of reasons for writing this tribute. First and foremost this article will honor all Vietnam War veterans. Recently, I respectfully declined to participate and be interviewed for The Inter-Mountain’s “Unsung Heroes” series for 2019. At several of the Elkins veteran organizations over the years, several of my Vietnam War buddies from the area veteran’s organizations have asked me to tell their story. Their request and my passion for these Vietnam War veterans inspired me to write this commentary for them, to honor them in lieu of telling my story. Initially, I was reluctant to honor their request, however, time heals and it is time that I write this tribute and tell their epic story.

For decades after the fall of Saigon in April, 1975, pundits, historians, scholars and veterans could not agree on the primary reason the U.S. went to war in South Vietnam. Evolutionary synthesis concluded the Vietnam War was a proxy conflict of the Cold War. A proxy war is a conflict between two states or non-state actors where neither entity directly engages the other. Proxy wars have been especially common since the close of World War II and the rise of the Cold War, and were a defining aspect of global conflict during the latter half of the 20th century. The Vietnam War was by definition a major proxy conflict in the Cold War. Much of this was motivated by fears that direct conflict between the U.S. and Soviet Union would result in nuclear holocaust, rendering a proxy war a safer way of exercising hostilities. The Vietnam War was a proxy war with significant effects.

The Cold War began soon after World War II and ended in 1989 without any direct combat between the U.S., Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and China. The Cold War was fought indirectly with surrogate countries, arms races, propaganda, economic embargoes, unconventional warfare, conflicts, crisis and proxy wars in peripheral nations like Vietnam, Cuba, Korea and the Berlin air lift mission. There was no fixed beginning for the U.S. war in Vietnam. The United States entered that war incrementally, in a series of steps between 1950 and 1965. The United States became involved in the war for a number of reasons, and these evolved and shifted over time. The U.S. didn’t deploy to South Vietnam to fight a war or to conquer a nation, nor did the U.S. desire to remain as an occupation force. The Vietnam War began as a United States military crusade rather than a detailed coordinated military force on force protracted operation. The U.S. sought to avoid major combat engagements through a plan to create a durable, functioning, democratic and prolonged South Vietnamese military, government and society. Initially, our national strategy was to help the South Vietnamese win their war and prevent the toppling of dominoes in South East Asia. Later, our strategy changed and our mission was to obtain a negotiated peace. Our military ensured both missions were successful. The U.S. government insisted on this negotiated peace agreement. However, after the peace agreement was signed, the U.S. Congress abandoned the South Vietnamese government, allowed them to flounder and eventually lose their war.

The Vietnam War began as a result of a U.S. strategy of containing communism during the Cold War. The U.S. government supported French colonialism in South East Asia because America needed France as a military ally to check and contain the Russians and communism in Europe. In 1950, the U.S. established the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Vietnam to assist the French in the First Indo China War. Eventually, the French lost the war in Vietnam.

President Kennedy vowed to not allow South Vietnam to fall to communism. Although reluctant to commit ground combat forces, Kennedy increased the number of U.S. military advisers to 16,000 — up from 900. Kennedy rounded another turning point in early 1961, when he secretly sent 400 Special Forces (Green Berets) soldiers to teach the South Vietnamese how to fight a counterinsurgency war against communist guerrillas in South Vietnam.

Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, escalated the war and committed U.S. ground combat troops. In August 1964, he secured from Congress a functional (not actual) declaration of war: the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. With the arrival of the Marines in South Vietnam in 1966 and the escalation of the air campaign, America’s military role in Vietnam crossed the line from advice and assist to offensive warfare. The United States government withdrew with honor from the Vietnam proxy war in 1972.

America and the world did not understand why the U.S. became involved in South Vietnam. The U.S. deployed its military and support programs to South Vietnam to train the South Vietnamese military and to stabilize the country. The U.S. also provided economic, political, Civil Affairs and various other humanitarian programs to help the South Vietnamese government. Training the South Vietnamese military involved U.S. and allied military ground offensive operations and several external strategic bombing campaigns against the north. These U.S military operations were limited and were conducted for security and to buy time for the South Vietnamese to organize, train and conduct limited offensive operations for confidence and spirit de corps. These short range and initial goals were achieved through search and destroy operations in South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese military’s brief successes were only cosmetic and nothing substantial. For political correctness, President Johnson later changed the name of search-and-destroy operations to reconnaissance-in-force. His anomaly was futile, insidious, and mandated new constraints on U.S. forces in South Vietnam. Our long range goals were to train the South Vietnamese military and work ourselves out of a job. The U.S. wanted to train a South Vietnamese military that could conduct unilateral military operations at will against an invading North Vietnamese Army. The U.S. never intended to seize and hold any territory in South Vietnam except large base camps for security, logistics and support. The U.S. and the South Vietnamese military succeeded until Vietnamization. Vietnamization was an American term for the process of progressively turning primary responsibility for the conduct of the Vietnamese War back over to the South Vietnamese. Vietnamization eventually resulted in diminishing returns for the U.S. and the U.S. was negotiated out of South Vietnam three years prior to the South Vietnamese government losing their war.

The Vietnam War was the one of the longest military conflicts in American history and claimed the lives of more than 58,000 American military. Over 300,000 were wounded. The Vietnam War was the most unpopular war in which Americans ever fought and the final toll in suffering, sorrow and national turbulence can never be calculated.

The Vietnam War polarized America and could be considered a modern day contemporary civil war in South Vietnam. For more than two million veterans of the Vietnam War, the wounds never healed. Serving in the military or especially the war, was unpopular, especially among some veterans who fought it. I never heard any Vietnam War veterans say anything negative about the war. Many veterans experienced shunning in society and had profound physical and psychological difficulties including Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), homelessness and substance abuse during the post war period. Do not judge these heroes unless you have walked a mile in their jungle boots through the jungle in a combat environment. Remember, once upon a time we were all like you.

The Vietnam War wasn’t the war you knew; it was the war we fought and we fought it our way. The majority of Vietnam War veterans were volunteers. We were instrumental in developing Airmobile, Air Assault and counter insurgency tactics, techniques and procedures that would ensure and enhance success on the battle fields in South Vietnam. Many of these combat procedures were later adopted and integrated into U.S. Army doctrine.

As young men we had a special calling. We were called to be soldiers. This calling was a difficult challenge because of the inherent perils, hardships and separation from family and close friends. After high school we usually selected the easier tasks and challenges in our brief pre-military life; but this time a tough, difficult and harsh challenge of the Vietnam War selected us. We served a tour and some veterans served multiple tours in South Vietnam. Every Vietnam veteran knew and understood what real honor was and it was an honor being a soldier.

We survived the poignant, riveting carnage and the gripping trauma of war. We were just ordinary soldiers accomplishing extraordinary feats against superb North Vietnam Army Hard Corps Regulars in combat. Vietnam War veterans soldiered hard, fought hard and partied harder. We were perpetually under extreme stress, hot, wet, thirsty, hungry, filthy, in pain and endured genuine sacrifices.

We were engaged in combat operations almost daily and saw and experienced horrifying, brutal and direct combat repeatedly that humans aren’t intended to see or experience. North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong unconventional military operations in tropical jungles were a new crucible for us. We modified, developed and adapted Unconventional Warfare tactics, techniques and procedures quickly and learned by trial and error to fight and defeat the North Vietnam Army in every major engagement in the Vietnam War. The carnage of firefights, mortar attacks, the stench of human decay and flesh torn and broken and the camaraderie and bonds of men at war were part of our combat experience. These highly trained soldiers of mettle had a strong sense of patriotism, pride, selfless service and team work. Uncommon valor was a common virtue. It is impossible to encapsulate the warrior-leader ethos of these men and their almost impossible mission that portrayed the American combat soldier at his best. We were proud Vietnam War veterans who were bound by duty and honor and a unspoken oath sealed with blood. We fought and died for each other.

The U.S. military never lost a major battle in South Vietnam. From the Demilitarized Zone to the Delta; Cam Ranh Bay to Cambodia the U.S. combat forces searched for the enemy, found the enemy and defeated the enemy. Long standing enemy sanctuaries such as the U Minh Forest, Iron Triangle, Parrot’s Beak, Fishhook, War Zone C and D, Central Highlands, Khe Sanh, Ashau Valley and the Rock Pile were invaded, searched, cleared and no longer remained enemy safe heavens. These search and destroy operations were never ending and were conducted in abhorrent third world jungle and mountainous environments. The days and nights were either hot and dry or hot and wet. The nights were sometimes surprisingly cold, especially in the Central Highlands. We called these “four dog nights.” Occasionally the trees, bamboo and wait-a-minute vines were so thick that we had to craw beneath them. South Vietnam had a variety of animals. Some of the existing animals were deer, bear, tigers and large spiders. U.S. combat forces faced the daily challenges and perils of moving through waist deep mud and water with blood sucking leeches, procuring water from stagnant water sources, venomous spiders, bugs and snakes, rabid rats, man-eating tigers, diseases including malaria, filth and the perpetual threat of snipers, booby traps, punji stakes, mortar, rocket and ground attacks. Sometimes our movement was disrupted by fire ants and bees. Some military C-rations were mere mystery meat that some dogs would not eat. Beginning in 1969, the majority of artillery requests had to have the local Vietnamese District Chief’s initials included in the fire request. This additional requirement was unnecessary, redundant, added additional time to receive the artillery fire, lowered morale and was detrimental to U.S. forces. On occasions, U.S. forces were ordered to operate outside of the artillery fan and range. Through these catastrophic dangers, hazards, risks and political constraints, U.S. combat forces prevailed and were terrific.

Enemy attrition was General Westmoreland’s goal and objective used in South Vietnam from 1965 to 1968. This war of attrition was Westmoreland’s strategy and was his best ad hoc tactic to defeat the VC and NVA. U.S. and allied forces used this directed dominate approach in their military operations. General Westmoreland knew that the enemy would not be able to withstand the massive firepower and technology the U.S. could bring to bear against them. Search and destroy missions and operations were the U.S and allied forces primary offensive tactic against the enemy. Enemy forces, base camps, caches and logistical systems were identified and located using a variety of intelligence systems. Once these targets were identified and located, ground forces were inserted by helicopters into landing zones on the targets or as close as possible. Several landing zones were usually used. Multi-battalions were involved in these large scale search and destroy operations. Upon landing at these landing zones the battalions assembled and conducted sweeps through their assigned area of operations. Occasionally a few battalions would form a blocking force on one end of the area of operations. The majority of these search and destroy operations killed many enemy and yielded massive caches, logistical systems, arms, ammunition and material. Although several search and destroy operations produced only minor results, all were successful. The benefits of these search and destroy operations were:

1. Demonstrate U.S. and allied resolve and tenacity.

2. Demonstrate that the U.S and allies could penetrate and attack any enemy base areas jointly.

3. Prepared the South Vietnamese government and military for Vietnamization.

4. Keep the enemy moving. If the enemy chose to fight he knew that he would die. When the enemy moved:

A. He could not train.

B. He could not plan an attack.

C. He could not construct booby traps.

D. He could not attack U.S or allied forces.

E. He was subjected to observation and attack.

F. He had to build new base camps, caches, commo sites, training sites and logistical systems.

G. His old base camps, caches, training sites and logistical systems were usually found and destroyed.

H. Occasionally he had to evade back across borders into Laos or Cambodia.

General Westmoreland was frequently criticized for using attrition tactics. After the 1968 TET offensive, the term “search and destroy” was replaced with “reconnaissance in force.” This term was a politically correct term that appeased the peaceniks.

The Vietnam War was the genius of a politically correct American government. However, no greater honor could be bestowed upon Vietnam veterans than to serve their country and fight communism. We were engaging the enemy 12,000 miles from home, not protesting or burning flags and draft cards, or defecting to Canada. Vietnam veterans performed with a tenacity and quality of valor that America may never truly know or understand. Our path, mission and faith were steadfast. Vietnam veterans deserve a far better place in history than now offered them by the self-proclaimed spokesmen of our so-called generation.

The Vietnam War affected every American directly or indirectly. Many Americans have a relative, friend or know someone whose name is etched into the Vietnam War Memorial Wall. America must come to grips with the perils of not only the Vietnam War but also future wars. Some Vietnam War veterans and their relatives are still fighting the war. Sometimes these relatives endured hardships equal to or more arduous than those of the veterans.

This commentary is a no spin, grassroots, epic snap shot of a time when young men were suddenly thrust into combat, and about the coming of age of these soldiers, many still teenagers. We were common Americans who volunteered and conducted combat operations to the best of our ability with the goal of coming home alive and uninjured. We were America’s best and could have chosen another profession that was safer or less demanding, or more profitable. This editorial is a first-person account of high school teenyboppers suddenly answering the call for duty and turning into elite combat warriors virtually overnight, and of their families who waited anxiously for them to return home. We learned our superb work principles, ethics and morals from our parents. Any benefits parents received were earned by hard and honest work. Free government give-a-ways were not in our family plan. We were old school in an era before political correctness. We carried our books and didn’t need any sissy back packs. The teachers believed in the “Board of Education” that they kept in their desks to maintain order and discipline in the classroom. Most parents supported the teachers paddling and sometimes took us out behind the wood shed when we came home and doubled the corporal punishment. We had to try out for little league sports. Playing little league was not a right; we had to try out for the team. If we did not make the cut we went home. If we made the team we played hard and when the season was over no one received a trophy just for showing up. Mama and Papa bear taught us to use sir and ma’am when answering or addressing adults. Time out was not in their lexicon. We didn’t have calculators, computers or cell phones. We used the stubby pencil method and slide rules to solve problems. It was mandatory that we learn our multiplication tables in school and we stood and recited them frequently in class. We were meat and potatoes guys who never heard of quiche, granola or lattes.

Bad press, negativity, ignorance and discrimination still plague us. I was disgusted with the two books used to teach Vietnamese history at a local college. These quick draw authors were premature and got it wrong! They were very negative and in the first book I read and reviewed the author states in his forward that “the United States clearly lost the war.” I took a strong exception to his statement. How can any author make such a statement? I read these books first with interest and hope, then with incredulity and finally with anger. Books written on a war shortly after the war ends are usually inaccurate because the authors haven’t had time to research and gather the facts. Because the Vietnam War was a new paradigm and venue for the U.S. military, research may take a generation. No history of war is complete or accurate without data and writings from senior participants on the enemy side. Some of the most heroic and inspiring stories and facts do not become widely known until decades after the war. North Vietnamese tactics and facts have recently emerged through research and translation projects such as that currently underway at the Texas Tech Vietnam Studies Center. Biographies, memoirs, after action reports and eye witness accounts from key principles on both sides must be read and analyzed. These new documents and first person accounts are more open, transparent and have provided new and intriguing insights that characterize and portray the Vietnam War more accurately.

Most authors saw a chance to aggrandize, or write a negative and biased book that reflected the majority of American anti-war dispositions. Researching facts was time consuming and exhaustive. It was easier for authors to simply write from emotion, and not facts to appease and pander to their core audience. The authors knew their books would be an easy sell that would reap monetary benefits, establish a reputation and tell the American public what they wanted to hear. But were these post-Vietnam War authors’ versions plausible and accurate? Veracity is important. Neo and lay authors should correct many of those misconceptions and fake news about the Vietnam War and veterans. Accurate heroic exploits and sacrifices must be documented and recorded of these American military heroes or they will be lost to history.

Public ignorance of the war is astounding and epidemic. High school history teachers and college professors often discussed the war and conveyed their personal perspectives rather than presenting the whole picture substantiated with facts. Most history books only gave a courtesy mention of the Vietnam War. Therefore the stories of valor and sacrifice may perish with the Vietnam Veterans. Most of the history books that I read and researched did not go far enough to explain our reasons for deploying and conducting military operations in South Vietnam. The books did not tell the reader about severe human rights violations, prolific communism and blatant military aggression that jeopardized South East Asia including the Philippines and how North Vietnam invaded and violated the sovereignty of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

General Giap was a brilliant, highly respected leader of the North Vietnam military. His published memoirs confirmed what most Americans knew. The Vietnam War was not lost in Vietnam-it was lost at home. The following quote is from his memoirs currently found in the Vietnam War memorial in Hanoi: “What we still don’t understand is why you Americans stopped the bombing of Hanoi. You had us on the ropes. If you had pressed us a little harder, just for another day or two, we were ready to surrender! It was the same at the battle of TET. You defeated us! We knew it, and we thought you knew it. But we were elated to notice your media was helping us. They were causing more disruption in America than we could in the battlefields. We were ready to surrender. You had won!”

Hoi B. Tran was a fighter pilot in the North Vietnamese Air Force. In his recently published book “A Vietnamese Fighter Pilot in an American War,” he writes the following statements. “I want to say it clear to all my Vietnamese and American brothers-in-arms, that the U.S. was never defeated militarily by the ragtag army of the North Vietnamese Communist. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the U.S. did not lose the war in Vietnam militarily. Ironically, politics dictated the outcome. Don’t be bothered; only ignorant or misled individuals would buy into the notion that America lost the war in Vietnam militarily. The last advice I wish to convey to my younger generation is: Never trust the Vietnamese Communist!” These important facts were never mentioned in any of the previous Vietnam War history books that I read.

The worst atrocity of the Vietnam War did not occur in Vietnam at all. The worst atrocity of the Vietnam War occurred in the United States when America shunned its Vietnam War veterans. Our nation had a solemn duty to care for its native sons and daughters who served in South Vietnam. Because of politics and failed policies on the home front, the U.S. government “copped out” — took the easy way out and viewed the Vietnam veterans not as heroes but as disgraced scapegoats and an imposition. The meaning of honor vanished on the home front.

Discrimination was rampant and protracted. For example, several Vietnam War veterans were refused membership at a local Elkins Veterans organization. We were chastised and told that we did not qualify for membership because we were not in a real war. Several other Vietnam War veterans from various states shared similar stories about their hometown Veteran organizations.They were told that they were losers and not in a real war also. In October 2014, I wrote an 11-page document on the Vietnam War and delivered it to one of the editors of a central West Virginia newspaper for publication on Veterans Day. The intent of this document was to honor Vietnam War veterans. The editor read this document in my presence and asked me for a bio and a picture. I delivered the bio and picture the next day. For some reason the paper did not print and publish this document, which I predicted, because the article was not politically correct; but, was factually correct. The editor’s blarney substantiates that selective citizens, agencies and institutions in central West Virginia are still discriminating against Vietnam War veterans. It is repugnant that a paper can publish pictures and stories of tasteless and disrespectful stories of tragic brutal murders but won’t publish a story written by a veteran to honor veterans on Veteran’s Day. The integrity and character of that newspaper is reprehensible.

The Vietnam War-era Gold Star Mothers (AGSM) experienced discrimination also. The AGSM was established in Washington, DC in 1928. A prerequisite for membership includes a son or daughter killed while in service to America. When the Vietnam-era mothers petitioned for membership they were disparaged, not welcomed and denied. In an arrogant and vulgar manner the national AGSM leadership told the Vietnam-era mothers that the Vietnam War wasn’t a real war and they were not qualified for membership. Slowly the stagnate attitude of the national AGSM changed and several Vietnam War-era mothers became members. Dissension remains between the two groups and although the AGSM has 2,000 members, only 90 are Vietnam-era mothers; not a good ratio.

Virtually all myths of the Vietnam War have been refuted, rebutted and debunked. In addition, another objective is to educate the world about the plight of the Vietnam veterans. Myths suggest that those veterans who obeyed the call of duty later became alcoholics and drug addicts in disproportionate numbers; or that they became convicts and unproductive losers, homeless or suicidal. Most Vietnam veterans returned home and lead productive lives. For example some remained in the military and rose to the highest enlisted or officer ranks. Others continued their education and became entrepreneurs and became very successful. Most continue to have jobs, pay taxes and are upstanding in their communities. Our national government statistics and governmental agencies reputable studies substantiate these facts.

The meaning of the Vietnam War isn’t told by statistics or body count; it is exemplified in the veterans that served. These American youth chose to serve a country which turned its back on them. How could America turn its back on its native sons and daughters? Future generations of young people may learn and be proud of their American heritage and freedom because of the valiant Vietnam War veterans. Vietnam War veterans never broke any promises of their military oath and accomplished every mission, sometimes against overwhelming odds. Our U.S. government, in its arrogance and miscalculation, broke its promises not only to Vietnam War veterans but also to America, South Vietnam and to the world. Perhaps our political correct government should be more prudent in the future about the promises it makes to the military because when our government capitulates, it betrays American heroes such as the Vietnam War veterans and other war veterans.

Rainbow herbicides are another peril that besieged Vietnam War veterans. Agent Orange is a catch phrase that refers to several herbicides that were used in Southeast Asia during Operation Ranch Hand from 1961 to 1971. Agent Orange was the code name for these herbicides developed for the military, primarily for use in tropical climates. There were a total of 15 known herbicides and possibly more used in Southeast Asia. Agent Orange and other herbicides were intended to deny an enemy cover and concealment in dense terrain by defoliating trees and shrubbery where the enemy could hide. These herbicides were principally ineffective against broad-leaf foliage such as that found in dense jungles terrain in Southeast Asia.

The two herbicides that compose Agent Orange are 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T. The latter is considered to be less biodegradable. A 50:50 mixture of 2, 4, 5-T and 2, 4-D, was manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. The 2, 4, 5-T used to produce Agent Orange was contaminated with 2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), an extremely toxic dioxin compound. It was given its name from the color of the orange-striped 55 U.S. gallon barrels in which it was shipped, and was by far the most widely used of the so-called “Rainbow Herbicides.”

United States Air Force records show that at least 6,542 spraying missions took place over the course of Operation Ranch Hand. By 1971, 12 percent of the total area of South Vietnam had been sprayed with defoliating chemicals, at an average concentration of 13 times the recommended United States Drug Administration (USDA) application rate for domestic use.

Spraying was usually done either from helicopters or from low-flying C-123 Provider aircraft, fitted with sprayers and “MC-1 Hourglass” pumping systems and 1,000 gallon chemical tanks. Spray runs were also conducted from trucks, boats, and backpack sprayers.

Studies have shown that veterans who served in the South during the war have increased rates of cancer, and nerve, digestive, skin and respiratory disorders. Veterans from the South had higher rates of throat cancer, acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer. With the exception of liver cancer, these are the same conditions the U.S. Veterans Administration has determined may be associated with exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, and are on the list of conditions eligible for compensation and treatment.

Military personnel who loaded airplanes and helicopters used in Operation Ranch Hand probably sustained some of the heaviest exposures. Others with potentially heavy exposures included members of U.S. Army Special Forces units who defoliated remote campsites, and members of U.S. Navy river units who cleared base perimeters.

While in Vietnam, the veterans were told not to worry, and were persuaded the chemical was harmless. After returning home, Vietnam veterans began to suspect their ill health or the instances of their wives having miscarriages or children born with birth defects might be related to Agent Orange and the other toxic herbicides to which they were exposed in Vietnam. Veterans began to file claims in 1977 to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability payments for health care for conditions they believed were associated with exposure to Agent Orange, or more specifically, dioxin, but their claims were denied unless they could prove the condition began when they were in the service or within one year of their discharge.

Other Rainbow herbicides used in Southeast Asia were:

Agent Purple: A formulation of 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T used between 1962 and 1964

Agent Green: Contained 2, 4, 5-T and was used between 1962 and 1964

Agent Pink: Contained 2, 4, 5-T and was used between 1962 and 1964

Agent White: A formulation of Picloram and 2, 4-D

Agent Blue: Contained Cacodylic acid

Agent Orange II: A formulation of 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T used in 1968 and 1969; sometimes referred to as “Super Orange”

Agent Dinoxol: A formulation of 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T. Small quantities were tested in South Vietnam between 1962 and 1964.

Agent Trinoxol: Contained 2, 4, 5-T. Small quantities were tested in South Vietnam between 1962 and 1964.

Agent Bromacil: Small quantities were tested in South Vietnam between 1962 and 1964.

Agent Diquat: Small quantities were tested in South Vietnam between 1962 and 1964.

Agent Tandex: Small quantities were tested in South Vietnam between 1962 and 1964.

Agent Monuron: Small quantities were tested in South Vietnam between 1962 and 1964.

Agent Diuron: Small quantities were tested in South Vietnam between 1962 and 1964.

Agent Dalapon: Small quantities were tested in South Vietnam between 1962 and 1964.

Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) are emotional wounds and are not new. They are just a new name for a very old combat anxiety. Every war and combat operation in history has had its share of PTS. Even the ancients experienced PTS. Veterans of all wars including Vietnam veterans have PTS to some degree. PTS and other psychological trauma doesn’t mean the Vietnam veterans or any other veterans are crazy. Quite the contrary! Major symptoms of PTS include the following: guilt, anxiety, depression, flashbacks, hyper-alertness, difficulty being intimate, various sleep disturbances, nightmares, trouble concentrating, intrusive memories, psychic numbering, anger, distrust, low self-esteem, difficulty with authority and self-punishing. We left Vietnam, but, for a few Vietnam never left us. The anti-veteran media defined us as a generation of PTS and suicide. Liberals hold that vets with combat-induced PTS are prone to violence. According to recent government research, a 2014 study debunks this popular perception. The study found no hard evidence that confidently links PTS with a propensity for violence. The real issue and problem is the public predicates their reactions on perceptions, not reality.

These fake perceptions were sobering because they made it difficult for veterans to find jobs. We only have a short time remaining before that is how America will remember us. This message is too often detrimental to Vietnam War veterans. If veterans hear this message that they need help often enough, they will start to believe it. To the vengeful media, Vietnam veterans are the embodiment of America. When you insult or vilify us you smear all Americans. Your hate emboldens us to work harder to save our liberty from your ignorance and bigotry. Too often some of our Vietnam War veterans resorted to self-medication of drugs and alcohol to experience oblivion. Most Vietnam War veterans had their own methods to deal with their PTS dilemma and predicaments. Most psychologists tell us it is okay to recall some of the carnage and painful hardships we experienced, but we need to do it in moderation. Sometimes, sharing these war stories with other Vietnam War veterans also helps and is therapeutic. It is okay to seek professional help if our flashbacks tend to get out of control. Doctors, psychologists and other veterans are there to help us. PTS is not exclusive or limited to veterans; relatives and other Americans are affected too. Since more than a third of war veterans’ wives meet the criteria for secondary traumatic stress, any treatment offered to veterans with PTS should address the traumatization of their families. Recently, research and experiments with acupuncture, yoga, animal interaction, learning to play a musical instrument and homeopathic cures have shown great potential in helping veterans recover. These alternatives to prescription drugs are better and have positive collateral effects on veterans. Another controversial treatment is psychedelic drugs found in molly and ecstasy. Recent tests have showed great utility and value in these psychedelic drugs. Treatment and usage gives people relief and the ability to revisit an event that is still painful without being overwhelmed.

This article will help all veterans, their families and America to better understand and come to some closure and aid in catharsis. It is almost impossible for any veteran to have total closure. Total closure has two parts; forgiving and forgetting. I have no animosity to any foe, threat or any people in Southeast Asia. As a Christian, I have forgiven them and prayed for them. Sometimes we are our worst enemy. Many of us constantly talk about the injustices we have faced and simultaneously talk about ourselves in a negative manner. I strongly encourage all Vietnam War veterans to look beyond the hate that binds so many of us together and realize that we must let it go, move on and get on with our lives! Forgiving has been shown to reduce anger, hurt, depression and stress. Forgiving can lead to an increased feeling of hope, peace, compassion and self-confidence. The difficult part is forgetting. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. No Vietnam War veteran will ever forget! I have learned to temper my feelings, think about other pleasant things and get on with my life. The civilian environment and society is different from the military. You don’t have that same sense of awareness that the person on your right and left is going to have your back. The camaraderie and sense of security is impossible to replicate.

In our era, the Army was great at training a soldier for combat. However, the Army failed when it was time to discharge soldiers and send them home. Vietnam War veterans never had a transition and decompression period to readjust and learn some basic job skills to better prepare, integrate and assimilate back into society. Psychologists should have counseled us also. Most veterans were discharged and shuttled quickly back into a ruthless society. We were simply told to “shut up,” “man up” and get on with our lives.

Throughout America we were treated as public pi’atas; a beating and whipping post of society. The news media was not kind to the Vietnam War veteran. Often we were used as props for charity cases. The majority of Veteran War charities are businesses and only operate to make a profit for their organization. The more emotional a story the more donations are received. Out of 20 major veteran nonprofit charities, only three discussed methods to empower veterans to achieve their potential. The remaining 17 talked about helping veterans in need. Vietnam veterans must do a better job and demand that the nonprofit charities communicate better with the public and explain that the veterans are an asset to the community and not a liability. We finally determined that this narrative of helping veterans may actually be harmful to veterans by promoting a negative perception.

The Vietnam War was America’s first television war. The news media exceeded its charter and attempted to develop and influence US foreign policy and tried to brainwash Americans on the home front. For the first time in history, families gathered around their television set and not around the supper table to have their family time. The news media revealed an aura of ignorance, apathy and notably and intentionally withheld facts about the Vietnam War. The public and American families could only judge the war as revealed through television and other liberal media information systems. Woman and children were seeing mind-altering, worst-case actual combat footage edited by the biased news media showing only the “Ugly American.” The news media were the first to commit Stolen Valor because they stole our honor. America became a casualty of this first television war. In reality, the only part of the nightly news with any creditability and credence were the commercials. The press associated homelessness, psychological problems and crime with the Vietnam veteran. The press was usually unfair. In 1975 for instance, the military wasn’t in South Vietnam and hadn’t been for two years; but we were blamed for losing the war. Hollywood portrayed Vietnam War veterans as having a long history of acts of violence. This characterization stigmatizes us and perpetuates the stereotype that we are inherently dangerous, misfits and a menace to society. You never heard the good stories about Vietnam veterans; all you heard were the bad ones. The public saw and heard our struggles and pleas but never acknowledged our victories.

The American society and environment wasn’t the status quo when Vietnam veterans returned home. The Age of Aquarius American society and environment often branded and called returning veterans entering college or the work force baby-killers, murderers and outcasts. Discrimination against us sometimes was rampant. Often the Vietnam War veterans weren’t ready for the culture shock of readjustment to American life. Sometimes a veteran had only four days to adjust prior to being back in “the world.” We learned very quickly that the world is cruel, brutal, unforgiving and that only the strong survive.

I landed at both east and west coast major airports several times when I returned from South Vietnam because of serving several combat tours. I did not see any blatant protestors and no one accosted me or spit at or on me. I don’t know of any Vietnam veteran returning home to a parade or hero’s welcome; nor did we want or need any. All we wanted was just a little respect and a shot and opportunity at the American dream. In the fall of 2014, the mayor of Elkins and the city council organized and conducted a parade for veterans. I understood the intent of the parade and the mayor should receive kudos for his initiative. After I read the parade line-up I decided not to participate in this parade. The parade included past and present politicians. Why did politicians march in our Veteran’s Parade? Were we honoring politicians or veterans? Another example of de ja vu.

These self-respecting and dignified Vietnam War veterans have proven that they have high quality of character and should have been given the rite-of-passage back into society. Vietnam veterans are diverse and have made many significant and valuable contributions to America. These heroes are critical thinkers with superb work ethics that plan and execute difficult tasks out-of-the-box.Vietnam veterans are the true grit and strategic reserve of America. They are multi-skilled with diverse empirical expertise that “Got-R-Done” for top management in corporate America. Vietnam veterans are the consummate American citizens; responsible adults who support their communities and strive to make better lives for their families and country. They are the synergy that has solidified the American work force with superb work ethics, managing and supervising skills and savvy to do difficult jobs extraordinarily well. Regardless of any job or task, Vietnam veterans can be depended upon to carry through to completion the most arduous and demanding of assignments. Imagine the gaps in our character and honor if we had not served. America’s general order number one should be to honor its Veterans. Society must reflect upon, listen, learn, understand and recognize the contributions and sacrifices of the Vietnam veterans. Vietnam veterans must never be forgotten. America must not think of its Vietnam veterans as part of the past but ones who made the present and future possible. All veterans’ unselfish sacrifice in wars against enemies of freedom deserves recognition, reference and gratitude. America should hold the memory of the Vietnam veterans close to heart because they are part of all we see around us. America should never abandon another generation of veterans again!

The Vietnam War Prisoner of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) issue concerns the fate of United States servicemen who were reported as prisoners or missing in action (MIA) during the Vietnam War and associated theaters of operation in Southeast Asia. The term has also referenced issues related to the treatment of affected family members by the governments involved in these conflicts. Following the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, 591 American prisoners of war (POWs) were returned during Operation Homecoming. The U.S. listed about 1,350 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action and roughly 1,200 Americans reported killed in action and body not recovered. Many of these were airmen who were shot down over North Vietnam or Laos. The fate of those missing in action has always been one of the most troubling and unsettling consequences of any war. In this case, the issue has been a highly emotional one to those involved, and is often considered the last depressing, divisive after-effect of the Vietnam War for the United States.

The National Alliance of Families mission was for the Return of America’s Missing Servicemen. This alliance was founded in 1990. Its goal was and is to resolve the fates of any unreturned U.S. prisoners of war or missing in action from World War II, not just Southeast Asia, and to gain the return of any live prisoners.

In the mid-1980s, the U.S. and Vietnam increased the frequency of high-level policy and technical meetings to help resolve the POW/MIA issue. The U.S. government viewed this work as a humanitarian obligation. The Vietnamese slowly began to return American remains that they had previously collected and stored. Eventually they permitted the U.S. to excavate a few crash sites. The Lao government, with whom the U.S. government maintained diplomatic relations, also agreed to several crash-site excavations in the mid-1980s.

Interest in the POW/MIA issue intensified in June 1992 when President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin told NBC News in an interview that some Americans captured during the Vietnam War may have been transferred from Hanoi to the Soviet Union: “Our archives have shown that it is true, some of them were transferred to the territory of the former U.S.S.R. and were kept in labor camps. We don’t have complete data and can only surmise that some of them may still be alive.”

A congressional committee issued its unanimous findings on January 13, 1993. In response to the central question of whether any American POWs were still in captivity, it stated: “While the Committee has some evidence suggesting the possibility a POW may have survived to the present, and while some information remains yet to be investigated, there is, at this time, no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.”

By the late 2000s, the remains of over 700 Americans killed in Southeast Asia had been returned and identified. Efforts continued to recover nearly 1,800 Americans who remained unaccounted for. Working jointly, American and Vietnamese experts focus on “Last Known Alive” cases, which involve missing Americans whom the U.S. believed might have survived their initial loss incident.

The MIA mission continues after 40 years. The official document that ended America’s military participation in the Vietnam War in 1973 contained a provision that supports many veteran organizations. Article 8 of The Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam also known as the Paris Peace Accords stipulated that the former combatants would cooperate to facilitate the exhumation and repatriation of the remains of war dead.

According to the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), 696 sets of American remains were recovered from Vietnam and positively identified as of May 2014. There remains 1,275 military personnel unaccounted for in Vietnam, 307 in Laos and 53 in Cambodia. It is crucial that Vietnam War veterans share with DPAA any intelligence they may have regarding the whereabouts of missing comrades. The DPAA made 201 individual identifications of remains of U.S. military troops in fiscal year 2017. This sets a new record.

A special recognition and shout out goes to Staff Sergeant Gail M. Kerns; local hero and prisoner of war. Staff Sergeant Gail M. Kerns was born February 24, 1947 in Valley Bend, West Virginia (WV). He graduated from Tygart Valley High School in 1965.

In September 1967, Gail was inducted into the U.S. Army. After completing basic and advanced individual training, Gail was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia to attend the 22 week Non- Commissioned Officer Leadership course.

In September 1968, Gail was sent to South Vietnam. He spent several days at Cam Ranh Bay in processing. Later, he was shipped to his base camp in Pleiku. He processed in and was finally assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division as a squad leader. On the morning of March 27, 1969, SGT Kerns and his platoon were on a reconnaissance in force mission to locate and report on enemy activity Northwest of Pleiku near the Cambodian border. His platoon suddenly came under intense hostile fire from well entrenched and well concealed North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers. According to several surviving platoon members, the platoon sustained heavy casualties and was forced to withdraw. SGT Kerns was among the initial wounded in the fire fight. There were eight U.S. soldiers listed as tentatively missing in action (MIA).

Several attempts were made to reenter and search the battle area in the afternoon. All rescue attempts were stopped and repelled by well-armed dug in NVA. To prevent further casualties, Company A withdrew to cover and concealed positions and called in airstrikes and artillery for several days. On March 30, Company A again attacked the entrenched NVA fortifications with no avail. Company A withdrew and called in airstrikes and artillery for one week. Upon completion of the bombardment, several Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) were sent into the area for a reconnaissance and a bomb damage assessment. During the reconnaissance, the LRRPs discovered five of the eight missing bodies. Those five bodies recovered were sent to the U.S. mortuary and identified. The LRRPs did not find SP/4 Clarence Latimer, Sergeant Raymond Czerwiec or Sergeant Gail Kerns. Soon the search and recovery effort terminated and all three soldiers were officially listed as Missing in Action.

Sergeant Kerns was shot in the left side of his head. When he regained consciousness he was a Prisoner of War. The NVA imprisoned Sergeant Kerns in a camp located in the mountains close to the Cambodian border. He was kept in isolation. Other American military prisoners tried to give Sergeant Kerns part of their food ration but were refused and rejected by the NVA guards. Sergeant Kerns lapsed in and out of consciousness for days. The other American POWs asked the camp commander to allow Sergeant Kerns to be moved in with them so they could help give him physical therapy needed to restore the use of his left arm. This privilege was also denied. Sergeant Kerns lost the use of his left arm and about 50% use of his right leg. As a result of his wounds, Sergeant Kerns developed epilepsy.The NVA guards provided very little medical assistance. His diet consisted of rice, bread and tea. Occasionally, he received bananas. SGT Kerns was in a 10 X 25 foot cage which he shared with three other prisoners. After several months, SGT Kerns regained some of his body motions, and was allowed to go outside and stretch his legs and body. There were 12 American prisoners in his camp. SGT Kerns spent two years in this camp in Cambodia.

In March and April 1971, the Vietnamese decided to move all the prisoners to Hanoi. The move was difficult because of the condition of his body. He walked part of the day and was carried on a bamboo stretcher part of the day. Walking up the hills was the hardest. He slid down the hills on his rear end. He had to suck it up and continue or risk being shot. One of his fellow prisoners fell behind and was shot. Halfway to Hanoi the march stopped and they were put on trucks.

After arriving in Hanoi, Sergeant Kerns was secured in the famous Hanoi Hilton. The majority of prisoners in the Hanoi Hilton were pilots. At night, he could hear the American bombers conducting bombing over Hanoi.

During his confinement in the Hanoi Hilton, Sergeant Kerns continued having seizures at irregular times ranging from small seizures to grand mal seizures. He kept his faith in God and God became a very big factor in his life. He also continued his faith in the United States and that his country was doing all it could to get him and the other prisoners home.

In January of 1973, things began to change for Sergeant Kerns and the other prisoners. All prisoners were given more to eat, extra time out of their cells and more cigarettes. They did not realize they were being prepared for their long trip home.

On Jan. 27, 1973 in Paris, France the Paris Peace Agreement was signed and the Vietnam War was officially over. It was decided that the prisoners would be divided into groups and released at two week intervals beginning with those who were the most severely hurt and those who had been held for the longest. His family was finally informed that he was alive and that he would be in the second group to be released. His family was not told of his injuries.

A week prior to his release he was given a new shirt, pants, socks and a lightweight jacket. The North Vietnamese government let him bring home his prison uniform. On March 5, 1973 Sergeant Kerns was placed on a U.S. Air Force C-141 plane and headed for Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. As he came down the ramp of the plane at Clark Air Force Base, he walked with great difficulty supported by a nurse. There was a discussion as to whether he should go down in a wheel chair, but he insisted on walking. When he stepped on American soil at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington DC, he dropped to his knees and kissed the ground to symbolize his gratefulness in returning home.

After receiving medical attention at Valley Forge Military Hospital in Pennsylvania, Sergeant Kerns returned home to Valley Bend, WV, with his wife Rebecca and to a new home.

Sergeant Kerns was medically retired in September, 1973 as a Staff Sergeant. His military awards include the Purple Heart, Bronze Star with First Oak Leaf Cluster, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Civil Action Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Vietnam Gallantry Cross, nine overseas bars and the M-16 Expert Badge.

Staff Sergeant Kern’s ceaseless efforts to conduct himself strictly in accordance with the Code of Conduct and policies of the prisoner organization in the difficult conditions of a communist prison clearly demonstrated his loyalty, love of country and professionalism. By his unselfish dedication to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Army.

Article 1, U.S. military Code of Conduct states, “I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.” West Virginia had the highest casualty rate per capita in the nation from the Vietnam War. There are 711 West Virginia Mountaineers on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC. Randolph County had 16 military killed in action in the Vietnam War. Tygart Valley Chapter 812, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is located in Elkins, West Virginia. In 2007, I was honored to be president of Chapter 812. I recommended that these 17 American heroes be approved as honorary members of Chapter 812. On Dec. 7, 2008 these heroic veterans who died in the Vietnam War were approved by the chapter and designated as Honorary Members of Tygart Valley Chapter 812, VVA. “Honorary Member Appointment Order 001; Dated Dec 7, 2008; Tygart Valley Chapter 812, Vietnam Veterans of America, Elkins, West Virginia appoints the following veterans killed in action in the Vietnam War as honorary members of Tygart Valley Chapter 812, Vietnam Veterans of America, Elkins, West Virginia.

James Vincent Antolini/SGT U.S. Army/May 9, 1968/Norton, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 57E-Line 18

Randall Arbogast/SP4 U.S. Army/May 31, 1967/Valley Head WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 21E-Line 20

Kenneth Ray Barkley/SP6 U.S. Army/Mar 23, 1969/Elkins, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 28W-Line 16

Garry Lee Burgess/SP4 U.S. Army/June 19, 1966/Pickens, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 08E-Line 62

Roger Dale Griffith/PFC U.S. Army/Jan 5, 1968/Elkins, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 33E-Line 36

Thomas G. Hess/SGT U.S. Army/May 3, 1970/Elkins, WV/Vietnam Memorial Panel 11W-Line 91

Bernard Francis Jones/CPT U.S. Army/ Oct 16, 1967/Coalton, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 28E-Line 15

Fred Michael Kerns/LCPL USMC/Jul 29, 1969/Elkins, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 20W-Line 71

Cecil Wilbert Kittle Jr./SGT U.S. Army/Nov 17, 1965/Huttonsville, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 03E-Line 82

Steve Paul Mollohan/SSG U.S. Army/Feb 6, 1966/Pickens, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 05E-Line 7

Gary Monzel Shannon/SP5 U.S. Army/June 30, 1970/Mabie, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 09W-Line 107

David Henry Shiflett/PFC U.S. Army/May 11, 1969/Montrose, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 25W-Line 55

Robert Lee Simmons/CW2 U.S. Army/Jun 9, 1971/Elkins, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 03W-Line 71

Samuel Reed Summerfield/PFC U.S. Army/Sep 16, 1968/Elkins, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 43W-Line 10

Russell Allen Taylor/CPL U.S. Army/Aug 26, 1969/Elkins, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 19W-Line 123

Robert Dewey Thompson/SGT U.S. Army/May 23, 1967/Wymer, WV/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 20E-Line 92.”

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13

Don’t grieve for them but remember the passing of an age when duty, honor and country were common American traits and a way of life for Vietnam War veterans. Every Veterans Day, ceremonies and memorials are special. John Roberts, a proud Vietnam War veteran, created the Idaho Field of Heroes Memorial in Pocatello, Idaho. At the 2014 Memorial Day ceremony, John Roberts said, “It’s not enough to know how many people died, it’s not enough to try and remember once a year that a lot of people have given that last full measure of devotion, it’s more important to know who they are.”

Every generation has its heroes. The greatest generation had the original Band of Brothers of World War II fame and they were superb! Recently, pundits, historians and real Americans have rediscovered this greatness in Vietnam veterans. We are awesome! It is chic and vogue to be a Vietnam Veteran now! Our pain, sacrifice, suffering, hardships and bloodshed together are without equal, peer and bonded us as combat blood brothers. Our greatness never left us and it never will.

Vietnam veterans have weathered decades of challenges. We never flinched or waivered when America called. Our finest hour was on the fields of battle. Diplomatically, we have made a positive difference in our community, state and the world. Our trek and saga continues. Our memories, solidarity, hopes, prayers and legends live on. And by the grace of God we are still fighting, caring and praying for each other!

— Cook enlisted in the Army in 1965. He served three tours in South Vietnam, along with other assignments throughout the world. He served 20 years, with 13 of those in Special Forces. He served as both a noncommissioned and commissioned officer. After retiring in 1986, he served as a Department of Defense civilian for years.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)