Fifty years later, veterans still suffer rebound effects from inhabiting thick jungles during one of America’s most brutal wars. “Inside the Vietnam War,” airs tonight, December 28 at 8 p.m., in a special encore presentation on the National Geographic Channel. An outstanding memorial tribute by USA TODAY, it features individual interviews of veterans from all fifty states and the District of Columbia.
Marine Security Guard Bill Newell stood post at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon on April 29, 1975 when he got the news that two of his fellow Marines became the last Americans to die in that terrible war. Charlie McMahon and Darwin Judge were killed by rocket fire as they defended the Saigon airport. Newell evacuated the next day in the next to last U.S. helicopter lifting off of the embassy roof. An iconic photograph of people trying to grab onto the final copter out of Saigon lives in the hearts and minds of veterans and their families everywhere. The USA TODAY documentary tells the story of Reggie Mason at the vicious battle of Khe Sanh. A member of the Walking Dead, the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines Unit, Mason was assigned as shadow for the medics treating the wounded and dying on Vietnam battlefields. His job was to bring the medics themselves back alive. “You’re in a 6-foot hole, and the Earth is shaking so bad,” he said of the incessant bombing raids.
Kelly Davis, daughter of Jeffery Davis, describes her feelings about her father’s suicide in front of an oak tree facing The Wall–the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. “He experienced some real horrible stuff,” she said.
“USA TODAY Special Edition: 50 Years Later” is a meaningful effort to cover a horrific era in American history. Unlike treatment of returning Vets by reporters forty years ago, each soldier’s story is told with precision and compassion. Quite a change as some today still talk about being spit on, hit with flying objects and cursed at by ordinary citizens thanks to media efforts to demonize the military.
One public television special showed President Lyndon Johnson pushing around mock targets in a scale model battlefield as generals and military advisors stood mum around him. He didn’t want U.S. attacks to “come in from the north.” Perhaps this inanity reveals best what our soldiers were fighting. Incredibly, vicious jungles in Asia were being moved around in simulation by a clueless man thousands of miles away; a politician trying to wage America’s first politically correct war in order to satisfy anti-war liberals in his own Democrat Party. Soldiers’ lives, decimated in living color on America’s home television screens provoked the modern era, ‘War is Hell’ odyssey. Contests won in the horror of the jungle were lost in the halls of the nation’s capitol by politicians who had never marched in battle!
Photo credit: Gregory Jordan (Creative Commons)