Saturday, August 15, 2009

30, err, make that 40 years ago today

If you turn on the TV this weekend, you can't escape the media talking about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, or the commercials for a new movie about Woodstock. Certainly the three day event was an important moment in the history of the country, and became a part of American pop culture.

But an article in the VFW magazine this month reminds us that while the three days of peace, love, and expanding your mind through modern chemistry were going on, 109 Americans gave their lives in Vietnam. John at This Ain't Hell retyped the entire article because it wasn't available online (until just yesterday) and it is worth reading.

Panel 19 West, Line 43-64-

Newsweek described them as “a youthful, longhaired Army almost as large as the US force in Vietnam”. One of the promoters saw what happened near Bethel, NY as an opportunity to "showcase” the drug culture as a “beautiful phenomenon”.

The newsmagazine wrote of “wounded hippies” sent to impromtu hospital tents. Some of the 400,000 of the nation’s “affluent white young” attended the “electric pot dream”. One sympathetic chronicler recently described them as “a veritable army of hippies and freaks.”

Time gushed with admiration for the tribal gathering, declaring; “It may well rank as one of the significant political and sociological event of the age.” It deplored the three deaths there - “one from an overdose of drugs [heroin], and hundreds of youths freaked out on bad trips caused by low-grade LSD.” Yet attendees exhibited a “mystical feeling for themselves as a special group,” according to the magazine’s glowing essay.

The same tribute mentioned the “meaningless war in the jungles of Southeast Asia” and quoted a commentator who said the young need “more opportunities for authentic service”.

Meanwhile, 8,429 miles around the other side of the world, 514,000 mostly young Americans were authentically serving the country that had raised them to place society over self. The caualties they sustained over those four days were genuine, yet none of the elite media outlets were praising their selflessness.

So forty years later, let’s finally look at those 109 Americans who sacrificed their lives in Vietnam Aug. 15, 16, 17, and 18, 1969.

An American Profile

They mirrored the population of the time. A full 92% were white (seven of whom had Spanish surnames) and 8% Black. Some 67% were Protestants and28% Catholic. A disproportionate number - more than one third - were from the South. Over two thirds were single; nearly one third were married. Not surprisingly, the vast majority (92%) were under the age of 30, with 78% between the ages of 18 and 22.

Overwhelmingly, (87%), they were in the Army. Marines and Airmen accounted for 8% and 4% of the deaths respectively with sailors sustaining 1%. Again, not unexpectedly, two-thirds were infantrymen. That same proportion was lower-ranking enlisted men. Enemy action claimed 84% of their lives; non-hostile causes, 16%. The preponderance (56%) had volunteered while 43% had been drafted. One was in the National Guard.

Of the four days, August 18 - the last day of “peace and love” in the Catskills when the 50,000 diehards departed after the final act - was the worst for the men in Vietnam. Thirty-five of them died on that one miserable day. Many perished in the Battle of Hiep Duc fighting with the hard luck Americal Division in the Que Son Mountains. In fact, 37% of all the GIs who lost their lives in this period came from this one unit.

So when you hear talk of the glories of Woodstock - the so-called “defining event of a generation” - keep in mind those 109 GIs who served nobly yet are never lauded by the illustrious spokesmen for the “Sixties Generation”.

By Richard Kolb

Woodstock certainly deserves a place in American history. But to rank it in importance above the 109 young men who gave everything in the cause of freedom is a disservice to those men and their families.

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