During the Memorial Service at the 1st Infantry Division Reunion in Lombard, IL. John Thompson, a Vietnam Vet, gave the following speech. It was so well received at the reunion that I sought him out and ask permission to post his speech so others could read it. I hope you enjoy itand find it as moving as I did,
HHC, 2/2 - Lai Khe Vietnam, '67-'68
While I thank each veteran for his or her service in whatever war or peacetime they served in, I do seem to thank Vietnam veterans more maybe because I am one of you; maybe because I’m more involved with you.
And it's you Vietnam veterans that I’m going to talk about. I'm going to talk about a time - long ago - but not really that far away in most of our minds and daily thoughts, if not almost daily thoughts. And while I’m speaking about a specific group of veterans some of what I say will pertain to all combat veterans.
I don't know how each of you feel about your service... So I’ll speak somewhat in generalities and you can apply what fits.
First... I'm going to tell you something that I hope you've heard before but if you haven’t, it's about time that you did.
Let me tell you that you have nothing to be ashamed of for serving your country in that hell hole we know and remember as Vietnam.
You didn't go to Vietnam to save those little folks from the big, bad communist thugs. You went there because you were ordered there. And once there, you did your job and you did it well!
When you're reminded in some way of those times in Vietnam and your service there, by a certain smell; or, a sound; or, by a song of that era; or, whatever it is that brings you back to those times, I hope they're not all bad memories. I know your memories are all different. For some of you, they're not so good. For others your memories are about the courage and the sacrifices you saw on the battlefield. It's about those you served with.
Once you were there and having served your cherry time then working your way into their ranks, it didn't take you long to realize... You were all brothers!
You were young and not really that well trained. You didn't know what to expect or what the hell was really going on. You were in a war that few understood, mostly by our leaders. But you fought hard and won every single major engagement that you were asked to do.
I know that it was sometimes hard to understand how you made those sacrifices to take that hill today then walk off and leave it tomorrow and give it back to your enemy; to clear a zone for the farmers to harvest their rice only to have the VC come in at night and take it from them anyway. Some of you served among those Vietnamese people and seeing them just wanting to be able to live in peace and freedom. The average farmer could care less who ran that country. He just wanted to be left alone. That contact may have influenced you in some ways. But I think it’s that brotherhood that probably influenced you the most.
And when you came home, I don't know if anyone ever called you names and spit on you or not. I hope not. But some were! Jeered instead of cheered! But that shame isn't yours. It is on those that protested during those times. Not on you!
You have nothing to be ashamed of. You did your job! President Nixon said, and I quote - "no event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam war. It was misreported then, and is misremembered now. Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic." - end quote. The saddest tragedy of that era is those that fell into that trap.
But you can walk away from it all with honor. You went there because you were ordered there, and again, once there, you did your job and you did it well. Afterwards, it was easy to fall into the trap of thinking it was all a waste. You can question the circumstances. You can condemn the war. You can even condemn the politicians, the protestors and even the media. But never, ever, dishonor your fellow warrior for doing his job by your feelings of any guilt! Don't let those that died on those battlefields ever be dishonored by any feelings of guilt you may have.
So, you can stop asking that question of why you made it back and he didn't! He was a good guy! Why him and not me? Why did I make it home and he didn't?
I’ll tell you why. I'll tell you why you made it back. You made it back to honor him! You made it back to make sure that he, or they, will never be forgotten! You made it back to make damn sure their name is more than just another space on that black wall. Honor them! Remember their name! Remember their laugh? Never, ever, let their names be forgotten! Remember them with honor! And if that's a job you didn't accept when you came home, your new job starts today!
That's why you made it back! To honor them! Never... Let them be forgotten.
You made it back to honor that brotherhood that's formed only on a battlefield. That brotherhood is something that no one can ever take away from you - that bond that's seared into your souls. That's something no protester could ever have taken away from you. It's not about the politics of war. It's about your brother in arms. It's about that bond that nothing but battle can create.
It's not about being in some foreign land fighting for a people that you didn't even understand. It's about that brother on your left or right flank. It's those you fought with! It's those you fought for. It's those that you were even willing to die for. And you know that! Be proud that you answered the call and gave it your best never apologize for anything you did during or after that war! You have nothing to apologize for!
Let me tell you why else you made it home! After building the most powerful military force this world has ever seen, you came home to build an economy that surpassed any before. You made this a better country. That's what you did!
Hell! You even won the cold war.
Have you ever even wondered why there are so many people running around out there... pretending to be Vietnam veterans? I don't think I’ve ever run into anyone pretending to be one of the protesters of that era.
Why do our current soldiers thank you for showing them the way? Because that's exactly what you did! That's why!
No one can steal your valor! It's yours! You own it! Your memorial in Washington, DC is the most visited war memorial in this country! It has one of the highest visitation rates in the world. That is your honor!
And you did not lose that war! You all know about rules of engagement. Let me tell you about some that you may not know. Navy pilot lieutenant Phil waters, navigator and bombardier on an A-6 intruder, from the carrier USS Constellation, flying into Hanoi on a day bombing run could look down at the Sam sites on the dikes holding back the South China Sea. He could not attack them. No collateral damage, might destroy the dikes and flood the rice paddies with salt water ruining their rice corps. He could look into the huge hang day soccer stadium in Hanoi and see the Sam site inside of it. He could not attack that site! No collateral damage! Did you know that our pilots could not attack the Migs on the ground? No collateral damage. How long do you think it would have taken our massive airpower to have wiped out their entire air force? A week or maybe a month? But we could not attack them on the ground. These rules of engagement came straight from the oval office of Lyndon Baines Johnson, your president, and Melvin R. Laird your secretary of defense. You did not lose that war! The politicians may have. But you did not lose that war!
It has been falsely reported on the internet that general Vo Nguyen Giap, commander of the North Vietnamese Armies, may have said when he was considering his memoirs that if that war had lasted another six months they would have had to surrender. While that report is false, the reality of it could have been true. Think about it. No rules of engagement! But even with them, you won every single major engagement that you were asked to. You controlled the south. You could go anywhere in South Vietnam that you wanted to. Sometimes it might take a good battalion of iron rangers to get you there. But, once there I’ll bet you would have won the fight. With continued victories like those and the bombings of the Ho Chi Minh trail, Hanoi and Hai Phong without those rules of engagement, they would have had to surrender if our politicians had not given up too soon. You won your war!
Ninety one percent of you say they are glad you served! Seventy four percent of you
Say you would do it again - even knowing the outcome. You were not the drugged
Our culture that you were presented to be back then. Ninety seven percent of you were discharged under honorable conditions. Eighty five percent of you made a successful transition back into civilian life and even formed successful companies!
You became Doctors and Nurses. You became preachers and teachers and Professors. And for those of you who did, thank you for being there to tell those
Young students the truth about what you did. Your income exceeded that of non-Vietnam veterans of the same era by more than eighteen percent.
You may have confusing emotions about what you did, but there is one thing that you should never forget, that's the brotherhood of having been there and done that! Of walking the walk so others could talk the talk! Stand tall! Be proud of being a Vietnam veteran. You earned it! You earned it!
Thank you for your service! And welcome home brothers!
Written by John Thompson, SGT MAJ Retired, US Army
A, 1/16, 1st Infantry Division Vietnam, ’68-‘69
A, E, 1/501, 101st Airborne Division Vietnam, ‘71