621 VVN – Brave Navy SEALs of Vietnam

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Vietnam Era US Navy Seals

Another Veteran’s Day is approaching when we will honor our veterans. To most Vietnam Veterans everyday is Memorial Day because most of us often remember those who fell in that war. We all appreciate what the Nation does to remember its veterans. In this episode we will remember two special Vietnam Veterans. Their story comes from Time.com and is titled: How Two Navy SEALs Saved Their Fellow Soldiers in Vietnam. It was submitted by Dick Couch the author of the book By Honor Bound.

The two honored veterans are Lieutenant Tommy Norris and Petty Officer Mike Thornton. They were both Navy SEALs who were awarded the Medal of Honor. Thornton’s award was the first time in modern history that a recipient received the Medal of Honor for saving the life of another recipient who happened to be Tommy Norris. Norris was awarded the CMOH as a result of his actions in the spring of 1972 when he went into North Vietnam to rescue two downed Air Force pilots. He pulled off the daring feat and then went back in to save a third pilot but unfortunately that pilot was killed before he could make the rescue. Norris’s actions were so outstanding they made a movie about the operation. It was called BAT 21 and starred Gene Hackman and Danny Glover.

Six months later Norris led another raid into North Vietnam which included Mike Thornton. In that operation the five man team encountered a battalion of NVA. Norris was seriously wounded and Thornton carried him one quarter of a mile while under heavy fire from the enemy to safety. Their exciting exploits were detailed in Couch’s book By Honor Bound.

Mike Thornton and Tommy Norris are members of a shrinking fraternity of CMOH winners. There are only 79 left and they both think that’s good because it means fewer Americans have to risk their lives fighting for their country.

620- Australia brings home Vietnam Vet remains

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Australian Territorial Cemetery in Malaysia, upper left and Richmond RAAF location in Australia

Losing a loved one in the Vietnam War was a terrible thing to happen to anyone. It causes changes and heartache that lasts a lifetime. The incredible grief of accepting the remains of a fallen hero is sometimes too hard to bear. Meeting and accepting the remains at an airport was a difficult obligation. Imagine if there were no remains returned for the grieving family to accept. It would make even more difficult putting the anguish and heartache behind.

For Australians killed in Vietnam the sad situation was made even worse due to the policy there that families had to pay for the remains to be returned home to Australia. Recently a total of 33 remains of Australians who died in Vietnam were scheduled to be brought home. The occurrence is written about in an article found in The Hawkesbury Gazette title: Remains of Vietnam War dead to return via Richmond RAAF Base Justine Doherty and Tim Barlass.

Doherty and Barless relate that “it’s been a very long time coming, but finally the remains of 33 Vietnam veterans and dependants are coming home – 50 years after they died. The remains will be flown into Richmond RAAF Base on Thursday, June 2 in two RAAF C17 Globemasters.” The Australian Department of Veterans Affairs said it will be one of the largest single repatriations of Australian service men and dependants in Australian history.

The article told the poignant story of the son of a fallen Australian Vietnam Veteran. The son’s name was Michael Bowtell, 55, of Orange. He related that when his father died in Vietnam his mother who had three children and one the way. The Army took away her housing assistance and then she was told she would have to pay 500 Australian Dollars to have his remains shipped home. She could not raise the money so her long lost husband was laid to rest in Malaysia but not his remains are coming home.

619- Hometown Heroes project in the heartland

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Long Tree 7th graders stand in front of the Capitol during a trip to Des Moines on May 6th.

Sometimes Vietnam Veterans wonder if anyone remembers or appreciates our service to our country in that God forsaken convoluted county fair they called a war. Especially after how so many of us were verbally, physically and spiritually abused when we came home. In this episode of this podcast we will learn that in one place out in the heartland of this great country the memory of Vietnam Veterans and their courageous deeds done for the country are being remembered. A story from The Lone Tree Reporter titled: 7th Graders Visit Iowa Vietnam Wall submitted by Tom Dickey tells the story of what one group of students are doing to honor the memory of Vietnam Veterans.

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Tom Dickey, Lone Tree Community School teacher.

Tom Dickey is currently in his twenty-eighth season of teaching at Lone Tree Community School. He’s currently the 6th and 7th grade Social Studies teacher, junior-high football coach, head girls softball coach, football and track announcer, and the transportation director. In his article in the Lone Tree Reporter he tells about the Hometown Heroes project his class has been conducting during the school year. The main objective of the project was to find resources that could give the student a good military picture of the local Vietnam veteran. The students were able to pursue 100 Vietnam Veteran contacts and through those contacts successfully obtained valuable information about 20 veterans.

Because of the outstanding work done by the students they were invited to the annual Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day on Capitol Hill in Des Moines. The students represented Lone Tree School with the highest character and respect and the way they conducted themselves was a credit to the whole Lone Tree community.

The class was recognized during the ceremony for their efforts by Dan Gannon the president of the Vietnam Veterans Association in the state of Iowa. It is a pleasure to feature the patriotic work done by this group of students from Lone Tree, Iowa.

618- US and Vietnam becoming best friends in Asia

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A model of a fighter jet is displayed at the Vietnam People’s Air Force Museum in Hanoi. President Obama announced the United States is lifting its embargo on sales of lethal weapons to Vietnam. (Linh Pham/Getty Images)

When one looks at the recent history of the relationship between the US and Vietnam they would be more than mildly surprised to find that the two countries are experiencing a growing friendship. Probably one of the strongest in East Asia. This surprising development is described in a story from The Washington Post titled: Vietnam and America’s surprising turn from foes to friends submitted by Adam Taylor.

Taylor starts by mentioning the recent historic trip to Hanoi by President Obama where among other things he lifted the remainder of the  self imposed lethal weapons embargo directed toward Vietnam. The president boldly stated the reason for the change in policy was only to correct “historical wrongs” and was only a natural course of events. We all know the president was lying (which he is wont to do, i.e. – you can keep your doctor and the Ben Ghazi was caused by a video). The real and obvious reason was the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room – expansionist China. China is pushing itself around in Southeast Asia and we are trying to prop up a proxy in the area to check the Chinese.

But whatever the motivation, the good coming out of it all is that the two countries are beginning to flush the vomit of the past down the toilet and becoming friendly again as we were during World War II.

Taylor lays out in his article the steps that led up to where we are today.

  • 1994: The United States lifts its trade embargo on Vietnam.
  • 1995: The United States and Vietnam normalize relations.
  • 2000: President Bill Clinton becomes the first U.S. head of state to visit the country since the war. Later, both countries sign a bilateral trade agreement, which paves the way for Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization.
  • 2006: George W. Bush becomes the second consecutive U.S. president to visit Vietnam since the end of the war.
  • 2007: Congress approves “permanent normal trade relations” status for Vietnam.
  • 2015: Obama welcomes Nguyen Phu Trong to the White House. Trong is the first Vietnamese Communist Party leader to visit the Oval Office.

The Vietnamese are good people and we should have good relations with them so this is a good development. Just hope the politicians don’t screw it up again.

617- We left a mess in Vietnam

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A Project RENEW explosive ordnance disposal team finds and safely removes 710 rounds of 37-mm armor-piercing projectiles from an abandoned scrap yard near the Rockpile, the former observation post of U.S. Marines from 1966-1968, on May 11, 2016. Courtesy of Project RENEW

In this episode we will talk about one of the many messes we left in Vietnam. In the estimation of the writer the biggest mess we left over there is the Agent Orange legacy. A legacy of sickness and deformed children. Another mess we left in country was that of unexploded ordinances. Many of the bombs dropped did not go off when they hit the ground but they still could pack a punch if disturbed. As a Cobra gunship pilot, the writer observed many cluster bombs being dropped by our Air Force and wondering if all those fireworks bomblets were going off. According to a story in the Stars and Stripes titled: Death from war-era bomb highlights challenge that remains in Vietnam submitted by Erik Slavin they did not all explode upon impact.

Unexploded ordinance is not a major problem for the Vietnamese. It is not as threatening as say an invasion by China but it is a headache that will not go away without a little help. The Stars and Stripes story reports that “In 2004, 34 people died and 54 more were injured by war explosives in Quang Tri province, according to RENEW statistics. In 2015, three deaths and four injuries were attributed to such explosives.”

Chuck Searcy, is a Vietnam veteran and international adviser for Project RENEW, which coordinates with Quang Tri government and international nongovernmental organizations to clear munitions, assist victims and support post-clearance development. He said this about the situation: “A lot of veterans and American citizens feel we have a moral obligation to try to bring closure to these issues,”

Searcy said this about the situation: “It’s time to wrap up the effort and try to really put in place systems that will allow the Vietnamese to deal with these issues, and manage them in the best way possible in the future. That’s the best contribution the U.S. could make. We seem to be focusing in that direction — and it’s the right thing to do.”

Many Vietnam Veterans feel more effort should be made to find the whereabouts of our POWs and MIA remains. What is your opinion? Feel free to state your opinion on the subject.

616- Vietnam arms embargo lifted and a little history

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President Obama and his Vietnamese counterpart, Tran Dai Quang shake hands over the lifting of the five- decades-long arms embargo on Vietnam

Big news! President Obama announced in Hanoi today that the US will be lifting its embargo on the sale of lethal military equipment to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Isn’t that a relief? The writer has been so worried about that pesky embargo that prevented the “mighty mouse” of Southeast Asia from purchasing the latest in armaments from the US. Especially since the expansionist giant from the north, China has been pushing its weight around lately. It seems China must be looking for a little lebensraum in the South China Sea by claiming ownership of the Spratley and Paracel Islands. The problem is that several countries in the area also claim the disputed specks in the sea.

The actions taken by China is causing concern by all in the region. They are afraid the gentle giant of the north will usurp not only the islands and their dredged up airfields and naval bases but also the rich fishing grounds and large petroleum deposits in the internationally recognized 200 mile space around land masses no matter how small. The neighbors also fear the Chinese could disrupt the flow of commercial shipping in the South China Sea if they controlled the islands.

The emerging dark clouds on the horizon have caused the US to stop its bellyaching about human rights violations in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam of open the gate for them to purchase all the weapons they want with all the money they will be raking in from the auspices of membership in the TPP.

The writer finds interesting the remarks made by President Obama in Hanoi during the announcement of the lifting of the embargo. He stated that the reason for the action was to correct mistakes made in the past and not because of the threat of Chinese expansionism. This is coming from the same person who stated numerous times “you can keep you same doctor under Obama Care.”

There were two articles featured in this episode. One from The Week website titled: US lifts decades-long Vietnam arms embargo and the other from CNN Politics tilted: How the United States and Vietnam have become unlikely friends submitted by Nathan Thompson.

615- Vietnam wants us back in Cam Ranh Bay

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Cam Ranh Bay

The times they are a changing when it comes to relations between the US and Vietnam. The times are slowly converting the former adversaries into close allies against the Chinese menace growing on the horizons of Southeast Asia. This trend is described in a story from The Times of India titled: Why might Vietnam let US military return? China. Submitted by Jane Perlez | NYT News Service. For the last few years Vietnam has been seeking a lifting of the embargo against the sale of military lethal weapons to that country. A partial ban went into effect in 2014 but the Vietnamese want more.

President Obama has taken time out of his busy schedule of determining which public bathrooms a person regardless of physical sexual makeup may use. He is going to the far east to apologize to the Japanese for dropping nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the former all out war. On the same trip he will make a visit to our former adversary with a stop in Hanoi where Senator John McCain spent some time as a POW.  It is expected by this writer that he will complete the lifting on all sanctions of lethal arm sales to the Vietnamese. Sources say the holdup is the former enemy’s less than good human rights record. Human Rights Watch describes Vietnam as one of the world’s most repressive governments.

It seems the Chinese have rained on this “make nicey nicey party” with their aggressive actions in the South China Sea. They are claiming full ownership of disputed islands in the Sea. They are the Paracels and Spratleys. The Chinese are converting them into military bases and hogging the recourses in the area included both rich fishing grounds and large petroleum reserves. In the new reality the US is considering lifting the ban on weapons sales to shore up the area and to hopefully prevent more wars in the area.

One of the prizes for the US lifting the arms sale ban is the right to use the large naval port of Cam Ranh Bay. So let’s see what our great leadership can come up with in this foreign relations conundrum.

614 – Marine Vietnam Vet Skip Nichols goes back in country

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Paula and Skip Nichols and Phuoc carry two baby pigs purchased at Khe Sanh Market for a Montagnard village near the old DMZ and Laotian border.

More and more Vietnam Veterans are returning to Vietnam to revisit places where so many memories were seared into their psyche. Some go for curiosity and others go to confront the demons that have haunted them for decades. One Vietnam Veteran, Skip Nichols of Walla Walla, Washington recently traveled back to Vietnam and his trip was chronicled in a story in The East Oregonian titled: Return to Vietnam by  Kathy Aney of the East Oregonian.

Aney describes how Nichols decided to join the US Marines after a recruiter visited his high school in Texas. After he completed radio and Vietnamese language school he found himself in Danang getting equipped for a trip to his home base at Camp Carroll and assignment to the 3rd Marine Regiment. His five month tour with the 3rd Marines was filled with constant patrolling with numerous encounters with the enemy. Once he was nearly killed during a rocket attack at Quang Tri while he was in the middle of taking a shower.

His tour was cut short when he went home on emergency leave due to his mother suffering a near fatal illness and then when he was about to return to Vietnam, his father experienced a stroke. That kept him from returning. While he was away many in his old unit were killed in action. He felt guilty for not being there with his buddies and thinking he might have been able to do something for them. That guilt has stayed with Nichols ever since.

After he left the Marines he got married and settled into a career in journalism. He retired as the editor of the East Oregonian in Pendleton, Oregon. Despite maintaining an easy going demeanor over the years he was still bothered by memories of combat in Vietnam. He decided to return and face his demons. He was accompanied by his wife of 46 years and a small group of fellow Vietnam Veterans. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for all.

If you would like to make a return trip to Vietnam here are a few agencies who can make that happen.

Vietnam Combat Tours

Top Vietnam Veterans Tours

Audley Travel

Luxury Vietnam Tours

Buffalo Tours

Insider Tours

More Fun Travel

613 – Lessons learned from LBJ’s actions in Vietnam

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Secretary of State Dean Rusk, President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara at a meeting in the White House, Feb 9, 1968 (photo by Yoichi Okamoto from LBJ Library Archive).

Another Memorial Day is rapidly approaching and again we will gather to honor the memory of all those who gave their lives to protect this country in the numerous wars the USA has had to fight down through its history. In all more than one and a half million have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Vietnam Veterans often think of the 53,307 Americans who gave their lives for their country in the Vietnam Conflict.

The writer of this piece often wonders if the price in American lives this country paid in Vietnam was worth it. 58,307 mother’s lives were devastated forever. True it was important to stem the spread of communism, but could it have been done differently and at a lesser cost of precious American lives?

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Michael A. Cohen is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and author of  American Maelstrom

The answer to that question lies in the careful and complete examination of the lesson of history, specifically in this case the lessons learned in Vietnam. A column in World Politics Review titled: LBJ, Vietnam and the Political Costs of Fighting a Hopeless War by Michael A. Cohen helps shed light on this challenging question. He describes how a “bull headed” Lyndon Johnson refused to take into account messages coming from the his political left to end the war and get out and more-moderate Republican hawks to take more measures to win the war with force. Johnson decided to eschew the pressure from both sides and continue pursuing a “middle of the road” policy to continue the same flawed middle-ground policy of insufficient escalation.

58,307 lives later Cohen concludes: “the real lesson of 1968, and of the wars in Korea and Vietnam, is that the American people are far more reluctant warriors and less wedded to the myth of credibility than politicians are. When it comes to the use of military force, they are more likely to punish a politician and a party that fights a hopeless war than to reward them. And it’s not just Democrats who make these mistakes.

Lyndon Johnson didn’t grasp that in 1968. One can only hope that future politicians learn from his mistakes.”

Check our Michael A. Cohen’s outstanding book American Maelstrom. Just click on book image.

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612 – Film Maker David Grabias Delivers Sober message with Hmong Film

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Hmong veterans of the Secret War in Laos attending General Vang Pao’s funeral in Fresno, California, in 2011. Courtesy of Artifact Studios

In previous episodes of this podcast local allies of the Americans in the Vietnam War have been featured. They include the Montagnards in Vietnam and the Hmong People of Laos. Both these regional groups were faithful and effective allies for the Americans in their fight against the communist forces attempting to take over the country and make it into their vision of a collective workers paradise. They had no interest in the bill of goods the communists were trying to strong arm sell to them. Unfortunately when we departed from Vietnam after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 those faithful allies were abandoned to face a harsh future communist brutality on their own. The fate of loyal allies in wars is something that must be carefully considered when contemplating war.

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David Grabias

A story from NBC News titled: War Wounds Resurfaced in ‘Operation Popcorn,’ Documentary on Hmong Arrests by Sahra Vang Nguyen highlights this point. Operation popcorn is a docu-drama produced by David Grabias about the 2007 arrest of 10 Hmong-American leaders and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. It details what Hmong operatives living in California were trying to do to help their fellow countrymen back home in Laos.

The movie producer Grabias said this about the  situation with refugees “The U.S. government has a history of going in and getting involved in regional conflict with surrogate allies. You can look at Afghanistan and Iraq in more recent history. What is our relationship with them during the conflict, and more importantly, our relationship with them after the conflict is over?”

He also said this “You can have a discussion about refugee issues and about who these communities are, what debt we owe them, what their place and role in America can be, in a way that’s a little less sensationalized. We can really get a sense of how these issues have played out over the last two decades.”

The movie, Pop Corn, will be making its national broadcast debut May 17 on the WORLD channel. CLICK HERE for more details.

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Hmong women in traditional dress attending General Vang Pao’s funeral in Fresno California in 2011. Courtesy of Artifact Studios