To our troops: Tell your stories

Tue, 04/24/2007 - 4:12pm
By: The Citizen


It seems I struck a nerve last week in my criticism of the behavior of British captives; those who disagree are entitled to their opinion.

I do not take a back seat to them or anyone, however, in my support of our troops. Before the President pulled the trigger, I thought taking Iraq by force was a bad idea, not because I had any reservation about our right to use force against Iraq, but because I doubted America’s stamina to do difficult things over a long period of time. Once the trigger is pulled, I am behind the President (Democrat or Republican) and our troops completely until the conflict is over.

Recently U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said for the TV cameras “The war is lost ...“ This disgraceful encouragement to our enemy, while our troops are continuing the fight, is a reminder of the mistakes our country made in the Vietnam War.

One thing I would encourage our troops to do when they return from Iraq is to tell their story. Perhaps the best way to explain why that is important is to share with you the dedication page in a book I am working on, composed of stories by Vietnam veterans. It goes like this:

“Dedication to the Story

“When a nation sends young people to war, that nation has several obligations: to provide all available resources to enable them to win, to provide complete moral support to the troops while they do the fighting and dying, to welcome them home with gratitude, and to make sure the truth of their story is preserved in our history.

“America failed to deliver on every one of these obligations in the Vietnam War.

“As war years passed and America grew weary of the conflict, the country listened to the radical left wing of the anti-war movement and their drumbeat that the war was immoral, that U.S. troops were somehow evil. Our own media became increasingly tilted to an anti-war agenda, emphasizing stories of American failure while ignoring stories of American success or enemy treachery. Even our devastating victory over the enemy’s 1968 Tet Offensive was reported by our own media as a defeat.

“Many of us came home from the war to an ungrateful nation that sometimes wondered if we had done terrible things in Vietnam. We had a story to tell, though as in any war for many of us finding the right words would have been difficult, or impossible.

“The war changed Americans in their late teens or early 20s from boys to men in a short time as they performed difficult and technical tasks under extreme pressure, led others, made life or death decisions and took risks for one another that would steal the breath of their families if they only knew, all while their civilian peers back home still focused on beer, girls, cars, the latest basketball scores and war protests.

“Young Americans in Vietnam learned from each other the real meaning of courage, loyalty and trust. They might have had more responsibility during that year than they would have the rest of their lives, and many received high honors from their country in various forms of recognition for service, sacrifice, achievement and valor. Most were and still are very proud of their service.

“But when they returned home, nobody cared.

“The Vietnam War was not a topic for polite conversation, and there was little interest in veterans’ stories since Americans already knew everything about the war; they had seen it on TV news.

“In the face of indifference and what seemed an alternate reality, Vietnam veterans often turned inward, or to each other, keeping their story to themselves.

“For many years ‘Vietnam veteran’ on a resume was the kiss of death. Hollywood movies and TV programs portrayed Vietnam veteran characters as dysfunctional misfits and losers.

“The Vietnam War continues to be perhaps the most misunderstood event in American history, still wrapped in the shroud of myths, half-truths and political agendas. The real loser in all this is America because the country never knew how proud it should have been of Vietnam veterans. Instead, for decades the country seemed to be ashamed of us, the living, breathing reminders of a war America still remembers with embarrassment.

“The truth was lost. A generation of heroes was lost.

“Even now, in our schools and universities, it is the myths and half-truths that are passionately believed about the Vietnam War and taught to students, still delivered in a political wrapper.

“Over the years our bellies have grown, our heads are balding and our hair more grey every year. If we don’t tell our own story soon, if we don’t tell the truth about how it was, good and bad, who will? If we don’t tell our story, how will our own family and heirs know the truth about us when they read what John Kerry said, that we might have been war criminals?

“And so, this book is dedicated to the notion that each veteran should tell his or her story.

“It is long past time we spit in the eye of those who disbelieve the honor with which we served our country. Whether you tell your story as your grandchildren sit on your knee, write it on a computer, write it by hand, or let someone interview you to draft it for you, tell your story. Dust off the old photographs. Tell shamelessly about the young men you realized years later that you loved, those who lived and those who never came home because to do so honors their memory. If you have carried guilt all these years because you lived while others died, telling the story might help you to let it go while at the same time you do your part to set the historical revisionists straight.

“Tell it honest. Tell it true. Don’t let the myths and lies prevail.

“Tell your story.”

[Terry L. Garlock of Peachtree City, Ga., is a certified financial planner. He was a helicopter gunship pilot in the Vietnam War. Email him at]

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