The Lynn Department of Veterans’ Services and Lynn Veterans’ Council annual tribute to Vietnam Veterans last Friday at Lynn City Hall featured newly appointed Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services Secretary Francisco Urena and Past State Commandant Warren Griffin of the Marine Corps League.
Urena brought greetings on behalf of the Commonwealth and briefly thanked the Vietnam era veterans for their service and thanked Lynn for remembering its Vietnam veterans and those who did not return from their service in southeast Asia.
However, it was the keynote speech by Griffin that provided the event’s highlights.
Griffin, a Vietnam veteran himself, thanked the city of Lynn for continuing to honor the sacrifices of Vietnam veterans and then offered a testimony to the Vietnam veterans’ experience in America.
“I want to thank the people of Lynn for setting aside this day as an opportunity to recognize those who served in Viet Nam especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” began Griffin. “ Our nation became involved with the plight of the people of South Viet Nam during the Eisenhower Administration. This is significant because it was Eisenhower who oversaw the operations of the men and women of World War II in Europe. These were the heroes of the greatest generation. These were the men and women who were our parents. We had grown up listening to the stories of their exploits. We read their books. We watched movies of (their) triumphant battles …we were a generation who idolized those who came before us. We would look to grow up just like our heroes.”
Griffin then recounted the history of the United States’ growing involvement in Vietnam, from its beginnings as an effort to provide “army advisors” to the South Vietnamese, to the stated goal of ‘stopping the spread of Communism.”
It was a much simpler time,” Griffin said of the outset of the war.
However, “beginning in 1965, America heavily escalated the number of troops committed to the war in Viet Nam” and American troops became proficient in fighting both the conventional North Vietnamese Army and the guerrilla fighters of the Vietnamese Communists.
“The enemy was a very good fighting force dedicated to their cause,” noted Griffin. “But not superior to the American military. During all the years of our war in South Viet Nam, the American units did not lose any of their compounds to the enemy.”
However, the war in Viet Nam was not just about troop deployments and strategy, as Griffin made clear in his remarks, the Viet Nam war stands out in American military history because of the way our nation responded to the war and the way it was presented to the American public.
“The year 1968 is the year that America changed,” said Griffin. “(Just) as the year 1929 is the measuring stick by which the greatest generation begins to face the great depression. 1968 is the year that America began to question itself. . .January 1968 began the Tet Offensive by the combined forces of the NVA and the VC in an all-out assault of the US bases in Viet Nam. The battles of Hue, Phu Bi, Khe San, Saigon and others became chapters in our history books. They were difficult, bloody battles and left many dead on both sides. There is an historic fact that gets lost in some revisionist history. The battles were horrific but, we were victorious. The men who fought in these battles were heroes. Heroes in the same vein as those who fought at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, D Day or the Battle of the Bulge. They were young men fighting to the death not to let down his brother warriors and he didn’t. The North Vietnamese knew that they were not going to win the military battles but were trying to win the battle of the will and commitment of the American public.”
Griffin went further, “In 1968, America was being torn asunder at home. We were no longer accepting of authority. As a matter of fact we became very dismissive of authority – ‘Trust no one over 30.’ Those who looked to change America were gunned down, first Martin Luther King Jr. and then Robert Kennedy. President Johnson became lost in the wave of protests against the war and refused to run for reelection.”
Then Griffin began using statistics to buttress his argument about Viet Nam veterans.
“Who were these warriors? 2.6 million served in Viet Nam and of those 1 – 1.6 million were in combat. The first American to die in Viet Nam was James Davis in 1958. Just under 60,000 Americans were killed in Viet Nam, 61% of those souls were under 21 (years old).”
Of the generation that was of age during the Viet Nam war, almost 10% served in the military.
Among the misconceptions put to rest by Griffin – that most who served in Viet Nam were drafted into the service of our country – in fact 2/3 were volunteers; that World War II veterans saw more combat than those who fought in Viet Nam – in fact those who fought in the South Pacific during WWII saw 40 days of combat, but in 1 year the average infantry man in Viet Nam saw 240 days of combat due largely to the mobility of helicopters.
Also amputations and crippling wounds to the lower extremities were 300% higher than in World War II and 70% higher than in Korea.
Many believe that causalities among minority soldiers were higher than those of whites – in fact 12% of all casualties were minorities, the same percentage as the general population at the time.
“Due to the Hollywood portrayals of the (Viet Nam) war, (there was a popular) misconception that the Viet Nam veteran was a drug addicted, suicidal, baby killer who could not adjust to society,” added Griffin. “In fact drug usage was no more prevalent among Vietnam veterans than the general population of the same age group.”
“The unemployment rate of the Vietnam veteran is lower than the non-veteran of the same age group and personal income is 18% higher than non- veterans of the same age group,” noted Griffin.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the effects of Agent Orange and the withdrawal of benefits (G.I. Bill, Civil Service preference) previously granted to U.S. War veterans are all further examples of the overwhelmingly negative ways that Viet Nam Veterans were treated differently than both their predecessors and their successors in the American military.
None of this is to suggest that Griffin was anything but respectful in his remarks. Quite the contrary, Griffin was the perfect representative of the men he served with and a soldier to be proud of.
The Lynn Viet Nam War tribute, as always, was a wonderful way to honor the men and women who served when our country when called, remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in that service.
But thanks to the eloquent speech provided by Past State Commandant Warren Griffin of the Marine Corps League, it was also a reminder of the incredibly insensitive way that we as a nation treated these heroes – and of how they persevered and thrived despite that treatment.
Other noted guests included State Representatives Brendan Crighton and Donald Wong, Mayor Judith Flannigan Kennedy, City Council President Dan Cahill; Councilors Buzzy Barton, Peter Capano, Diana Chakoutis, and Lynn Veterans’ Council President George Fitzhenry.