40th anniversary: Woodstock and I

Terry Garlock's picture

If you were at Woodstock 40 years ago, you might remember the music, peace and love from that monumental event as if it were yesterday.

I know what it is to have clear and dear memories from 1969, too, but while you were in Woodstock, I was in Vietnam, a reminder of the deep division in our generation.

I don’t mind that so many of my peers opposed war and promoted peace; that’s an instinctive choice any child can make. But I do mind that so many evaded their responsibilities to the nation which gave them the freedom to dance with flowers in their hair.

Many of us were dubious about the war, too, but when our country called we raised our right hand, swore an oath and stuck to it. It didn’t seem right that while we were fighting to stop the spread of communism, anti-war protesters maligned us and encouraged our enemy. Maybe college students actually were motivated by the moral opposition they professed, never mind the self-preservation that surely swirled in their head. But that’s not what bothers me most.

Of the 3 million Americans who served in the Vietnam war zone, two-thirds were volunteers while one-third had to be drafted.

Over 16 million draft age males did not serve, though some would have if called, but for others dodging the draft became an art form. Some became perpetual students to take advantage of student draft deferments. Some used dirty tricks to fail the draft physical and score the coveted status of 4F — “not acceptable for military service.” Some scurried like bugs to the shadows of Canada or other hidey holes. Odious, yes, but other things bother me more.

Each semester I guest-lecture a couple hours at Newnan High School on the truths and myths of the Vietnam War, and it does bother me that the truth about that war remains tangled up in myths, half-truths and political agendas.

I am troubled that schoolbooks contain the politically-scrubbed sound bite version, which is too bad because the truth is complex, and no matter which side of the argument you favor, the truth about the war is not all that pretty. We’re getting closer to what really bothers me.

I was an Army Cobra helicopter gunship pilot with the 334th Attack Helicopter Company at Bien Hoa north of Saigon. Most of the pilots were about 21 years old like me, and I learned by watching them the true meaning of courage and loyalty and trust.

One of our pilots was still 19 when, on a mission near the Cambodian border, his front seat copilot was hit in the neck, and he flew as fast as that Cobra would go to the Tay Ninh hospital, but it was too far and his copilot bled to death on the way. The crew patched the holes, washed out the blood and found him another copilot because he had to go back where he was needed.

While the flower children were protesting and frolicking back in the world, my fellow pilots routinely put their lives on the line trying to protect each other and our grunt brothers on the ground. In my eyes they stood tall.

When I was shot down in a firefight, we went down hard and I was trapped in the wreckage with a broken back and paralyzed legs. Two fellow pilots, John Synowski of Ft. Worth, Texas, and Graham Stevens of Williamsburg, Va., landed their Cobra in the battlefield, got out, dragged me out of the wreckage and stood guard with their puny pistols until medevac arrived to take me to a hospital.

Later, when I thanked John and Graham for risking their neck to rescue me, they brushed it off, saying, “Any of the other guys would have done the same thing.” They were right. That’s how we were in Vietnam, proud Americans serving our country and struggling to bring each other home alive.

John and Graham were awarded the Soldier’s Medal for heroism saving lives, mine, but all the other guys were just like them. Here’s how John earned his Silver Star for gallantry.

In early 1970 an American unit was in contact with a superior enemy force in the jungle of northern III Corps and about to be overrun. John’s fire team of two Cobras was scrambled to help, and when he attacked the enemy position John was caught in a helicopter trap. The enemy placed anti-aircraft .51 caliber guns at the three points of a triangle, and when the Cobra pulled up out of a rocket run one of the guns would have an easy broadside shot. John took 51s through the cockpit, a pilot’s worst nightmare, and one round penetrated his chest protector wounding him in the chest.

He was lucky it bounced around first because it didn’t go through him and that it was hot enough to cauterize the wound and slow the bleeding. His copilot was hit, too, but the aircraft held together, they kept attacking the enemy and forced them to withdraw.

The families of those American men on the ground never knew their loved ones lived that day only because John was determined to stay with the job to defend them.

That’s the kind of young men I was privileged to fly with while our peers back home indulged themselves in sex and drugs and rock-n-roll. Woodstock was just the most visible part of the endless party.

In the 1960s counter-culture world turned upside down, those who refused to serve their country won accolades for their virtue while those in uniform were thought of as saps too dim to find a way out of it.

When these fine young Americans came home from serving their country in Vietnam, hippies routinely gathered at California airports to shout “Baby-killers!” or “Murderers!” or other insults, sometimes spitting or throwing unmentionables, while otherwise good people always seemed to be looking the other way.

For decades Vietnam vets were vilified in many ways, like distorted Hollywood movies, fueling the myth we were dysfunctional misfits. As a group, Vietnam vets earned my admiration; that their own country disparaged them bothers me most.

I always wished my peers, like the 400,000 gathered at Woodstock, had the good sense to decide for themselves what they thought of the war and at the same time to honor the service of those America sent to fight it.

But that didn’t happen. The anti-war side did their job well painting us as villains. Even today some expect us to regret our service, and nothing could be more wrong.

Just like WWII, Korea, Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan vets, we are proud of our service and we don’t take a back seat to anybody when it comes to loving our country. Many, like me, would do it all over again even knowing the outcome.

I am reminded of Vietnam by back pain every day, but I wouldn’t trade for anything the experience of flying into combat with the finest bunch of cowboys I ever knew, learning much about life and about myself.

I did miss the memory of Woodstock, but I have something more dear. When I meet with other Vietnam vets, I am among family who served their country with honor and skill and courage, even while our own government tied one hand behind our back with crazy rules and micromanagement. We never lost a significant battle until the U.S. Congress gave away the war and betrayed our South Vietnam ally.

You might think we like to gather to talk about the war, but that isn’t the attraction. I think when we’re among our vet family is the only time we’re surrounded by people who truly understand us, people who earned our respect and know that we earned theirs, and maybe we see in each other what we like most about ourselves. I wouldn’t trade that for a hundred Woodstocks.

[Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City. He writes about the Vietnam War frequently because, in his own words, “Common knowledge about the war and those who fought it is so wrong.” His email is tgarlock@mindspring.com.]

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beddoe's picture
Submitted by beddoe on Mon, 08/31/2009 - 2:12am.

I now know why men who have been to war yearn to reunite. Not to tell stories or look at old pictures. Not to laugh or weep. Comrades gather because they long to be with the men who once acted their best, men who suffered and sacrificed, who were stripped raw, right down to their humanity.

I did not pick these men. They were delivered by fate and the U.S. Marine Corps. But I know them in a way I know no other men. I have never given anyone such trust. They were willing to guard something more precious than my life. They would have carried my reputation, the memory of me. It was part of the bargain we all made, the reason we were so willing to die for one another.

I cannot say where we are headed. Ours are not perfect friendships; those are the province of legend and myth. A few of my comrades drift far from me now, sending back only occasional word. I know that one day even these could fall to silence. Some of the men will stay close, a couple, perhaps, always at hand.

As long as I have memory, I will think of them all, every day. I am sure that when I leave this world, my last thought will be of my family and my comrades.....such good men.

from "These Good Men" by Michael Norman

Wally 'Bytes' Beddoe, USMC 81-85
USMC/Combat Helicopter Association

Submitted by Chaps on Thu, 08/27/2009 - 9:48pm.

Since you lecture at Newnan High, you should Google Tim Cole Jr., a Newnan grad who was a dustoff pilot.

Gil Gibson
Burke, VA
I Corps 67-68

cogitoergofay's picture
Submitted by cogitoergofay on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 8:10am.

Query: how can an erroneous belief (even if strongly held) constitute knowledge?

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 10:11am.

Philosophical lore has it that Plato was the first to observe that knowledge is justified, true belief--"JTB."

If it ain't true then it ain't knowledge. Eye-wink

cogitoergofay's picture
Submitted by cogitoergofay on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 11:18am.

I knew Muddle would come out for that one. Glad to see you post. Sorry, Terry, no offense intended. You just attracted the attention of an amatuer philosopher (me) and one professional (Muddle).

dawn69's picture
Submitted by dawn69 on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 11:12am.

Muddle, you are our resident philosopher. So, I ask you as I would a mentor, would Plato not have also argued the theory of the Forms. In his myth of the cave metaphor, each of us has our own reality...our own sensory data that molds our perception of truth. The operative word, I guess, would be perception.

But how does one compare their cave to another's cave. Those who live in the cave of CNN as opposed to the Fox News cave dwellers. How do we distinguish which is truth? Lest we arm ourselves with lanterns, like Diogenes, searching to no avail for an honest man. One can not rely on facts or numbers for knowledge. There are statistics that can support almost any argument. Shouldn't we then rely on personal experience? Wouldn't someone who lived in the jungle of Vietnam bring to the table a unique knowledge or truth that the news media back in the world would have never had access to?

Whether that knowledge is, to some, immoral or otherwise is purely subjective. So, those that held a 'strong belief' that Vietnam was immoral is in no way indicative as to whether the soldiers knowledge is any less true.

How does one who lived on LSD for years compare his sensory experiences to those who fought the foul sweat of malaria (like my father)? How does his version of opium den truth compare to that of someone who lived the brutality of the experience? These questions are not for you but for the other poster who posed the query.

I always love your posts, value your insight, and look forward to your reply.

Respectfully, Dawn

"The invariable mark of wisdom is the ability to see the miraculous in the common." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

dawn69's picture
Submitted by dawn69 on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 12:30am.

I have been emotionally moved reading your article. I am the daughter of Lonnie J. Duzan, Vietnam veteran, 554th Engineer Bn.. The 554th, during the years of my Dad's service (1968-1970) was stationed at Cu Chi and Bien Hoa. The 554th was an engineering batallion that built bridges, roads, and came under the nightly attacks of the tunnel rats that dwelt beneath them.

Fast forward three decades: October of 2001 my parents and I took my daughter to Disney World. It was our way of supporting the economy in the aftermath of September 11th and as a result of the tightened security there was a constant helicopter presence over the park. Sitting outside of the Small World ride, my dad and I found ourselves alone watching the helicopters over head. I reluctantly, because he never liked to talk of Vietnam, asked if the sound of all the helicopters brought back bad memories. He smiled, sighed, and with an expression of pure gratitude told me that it was the most welcome sound he heard while in Vietnam. "They were our angels." he told me.

Now, this hard man who rarely spoke of the war to me, opened up that day. We had what was probably the most open and honest conversation we had ever had. He went on to tell me how his unit often would find themselves 'covered up'. Before they could even see them, the distant sound of air support was a relief, a reminder that they were not forgotten.

It seems that my dad may have been speaking of you and your buddies. "The families of those men on the ground never knew their loved ones lived that day only because John was determined to stay with the job to defend them." Thank you! Thank you for giving an infant girl the opportunity - no, the privilege - of being raised by her father. Thank you and your fellow angels for helping to bring my dad home to us.

I guess it really is a small world after all.

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 10:12am.

And did you know when you started writing it that you would find a way back to the "small world" theme? Eye-wink I like it.

dawn69's picture
Submitted by dawn69 on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 10:25am.

The answer to your question is no. But often when I let my heart guide my writing, things somehow find a way to come full circle. I guess that's what comes from speaking truthfully and with the hearts expression. Maybe that's why writers have always given the advice of "write about what you know, and you will engage your reader".

I like the "small world" theme too. So does my daughter who must have gone on that ride 20 times that day....the park was pretty empty a month after Sept. 11th.

Submitted by tgarlock on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 9:14am.

For many coming home from Vietnam was very unsettling, because "everybody knew" things about the war that just were not true, but they saw it on TV news and what passed for public knowledge about the war was and still is strongly believed. Because any association with the war was a negative for so many years, many vets just kept it to themselves. Nobody was interested in hearing their story anyway, everyone already seemed to know all the answers.

For some who saw a lot of combat up close, forgetting as much as they could might seem a good idea, and shielding those they love from the ugly side of life might have been further motivation not to tell their story. For others, the war might be the defining experience of their life, with memories worth sharing, but who would be interested, and how would they find the words to make you understand if you weren't there?

Keeping the story to themselves seemed best for a lot of guys, especially since it helped avoid trouble and arguments.

Please tell your Dad it was guys like him on the ground who motivated guys like me to get in the cockpit and fly even after a bad day.

Terry Garlock

Submitted by editmom on Tue, 08/25/2009 - 10:30pm.

and for your willingness to educate those of us who only hear about it secondhand. My uncle did two tours in Vietnam but would never talk about it. We only heard what was taught in schools (which at the time wasn't much) and what pop culture has shown in movies and books. We need these facts and accurate memories to teach our own children the virtues of citizenship, loyalty and trust that soldiers like yourself embody. Thank you.

Submitted by lion on Tue, 08/25/2009 - 6:09pm.

No one questions the sacrifice and courage of those who served in Vietnam.

But with the perspective of history, the anti-war protesters were right The Vietnam War was an unnecessary war resulting in the tragic deaths of 50,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese.

Most Americans now look back at that terrible war and ask what was that all about.

The military draft meant that all young men had to decide how to deal with it. Some went willingly. Some found refuge in student deferments. Some joined the Guard or Reserve hoping for the best.

All those young men were our brothers or friends. Those of us who opposed the war did not consider those who served as enemies. We did not spit on them when they returned (this is a myth). All of us of a certain age had to deal with the war and military service and I certainly did not judge harshly my relatives and friends who went to Vietnam and risked their lives.

Submitted by Chaps on Thu, 08/27/2009 - 9:56pm.


You should ask the millions of dead in Vietnam and Cambodia, killed by communists or drowned at sea trying to escape, if the anti-war protesters were right and the war was unnecessary.
It is so tolerant of you not to judge harshly the better men than you who went and risked their lives.

dawn69's picture
Submitted by dawn69 on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 12:02am.

"Furthermore, governments, political parties, or groups which seek to perpetuate human misery in order to profit therefrom politically or otherwise will encounter the opposition of the United States." - From Harry Truman's Marshall Plan Speech 1947

Stamping out communism seems to have been the prevailing premise that guided twentieth century foreign policy. After witnessing the devastation and horror in Europe under Hitler, it became evident that free people can not by decree stand idly by and allow such "human misery". Hitler was not the first of his kind, nor would he be the last. Case in point: Pol Pots of Cambodia, Mao of China, and Ho Chi Mihn of Vietnam made Hitler look civilized in comparison.

I watched a program on the History channel a while back that showed footage of the last of the American troops pulling out of Saigon. Tears streamed down my face and I sobbed watching the men and women on rooftops trying to pass their children up into American helicopters. I wanted so badly for us to have been able to save every one of those children.

My dad would argue that those same mothers sent their other children out in the night in black pajamas to kill American soldiers. That often they would fight all night only to find at the break of day that there were dead Vietnamese children laying across barbed wire.

How can anyone call a war - or "police action" - that attempts to save lives from such suffering immoral? I'll agree that often our government does the right thing for the wrong reason - and sometimes they do the wrong thing for the right reason - but how is lending aid immoral? With the recent witness of new democracies sprouting up in lands that have been in turmoil since long before Babylon, how is that immoral?

"She who obtains has little. She who scatters has much." - Lao Tzo

Submitted by tgarlock on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 6:33am.

Vietnam may seem like ancient history, but getting it right is still important to understand how TV news can sell a point of view that twists the facts all out of shape. Just ask any Iraq war combat vet.

Let me tell you where I think you have a valid point or two. I recently completed a book about Vietnam vets (not yet published), and in a long chapter I call The Good, the Bad and the Ugly I describe my version of the truth about the Vietnam War; in that chapter I concede there is room for informed and honest people to disagree about whether we should have been in Vietnam in the first place. The trick is finding informed and honest people. I'm one of those who believe the mission of stopping the spread of communism was an honorable undertaking, but the war was screwed up to a fair thee well and seemed to have no end.

You said spitting on vets was a myth, and that's wrong but you also have half a point there. I've talked to a lot of vets and here's what I know and believe. I know spitting took place, but I also believe spitting was the subject of some exageration. Understanding the exageration is key. I think some guys stretched the truth about being spit on because when they came home the country seemed to have lost its mind and they FELT like they had been spit on. But some were spit on. Debunkers claim real soldiers would never tolerate being spit on. But the misbehavior of hippies at California airports became so well known that a standard part of preparing troops for their return trip from Vietnam was (1) warning that any altercation with protesters would bring severe disciplinary action, and (2) advice to very quickly change out of the uniform into civies for their own good, and for their personal safety.

Spitting became sort of an icon and arguing point, but the real point is the public mood turned against the war and human nature transferred much of the ire to the troops. Here's a few examples.

Retired Admiral Sagerholm of Timonium, Maryland, was a nuclear sub commander when he confronted a crowd of hippies in Hawaii in 1969, burning an American flag and chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, Hell yes, he will win!"

Steve Pitkin of Ft. Lauderdale was a rifleman with a wounded foot when he returned, and was spit on in the San Francisco airport.

Jay Standish of Mission Viejo, California, was loudly boohed by a Greenwich Village theater audience when he took his date to a show proudly wearing his new Marine dress Blues.

Helicopter pilot Sig Bloom of Jonesboro ferried reporters to a spot in Cambodia where our troops found a bunch of Cambodians in chains, emaciated from starvation and with gangrene. While the reporters seemed eager for any American atrocity story, they had no interest in this story about our enemy enslaving Cambodians to hump their ammo on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Bob Babcock of Marietta returned in 1967, before the hippie “gauntlet” formed at California airports, so he passed through unscathed. But he vividly remembers meeting people he knew who asked where he had been the last year, and when he told them Vietnam, the subject was changed after an awkward silence.

Drew Johnson of Rancho Santa Fe, California, a retired Fed-X captain, had a job in the war ferrying aircraft to Vietnam. He would fly the jet over, refueling in mid-air or on short stops, and return either by military or civilian flight. He not only witnessed the “gauntlet” of hippies insulting and spitting at returning troops in the California airports, he ran the gauntlet himself over two dozen times and saw it get worse and worse as the war dragged on.

Gary Linderer of Branson, Missouri remembers protestors yelling nasty things through a chain link fence at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, when he returned, and said there were strong warnings not to get into it with protestors.

David Crawley of Rochester, Minnesota was a Marine machine gunner, wounded and medevaced home, spent two months in traction and months more in the Great Lakes Naval Hospital. When he finally got leave to visit home over the weekend, he wore his uniform thinking it would help him hitchhike, but passers-by threw pop bottles at him.

Dan Britt, an attorney in Powder Springs, was involved with supporting the orphanage at Vinh Long, and worked to facilitate adoption of kids by American soldiers and their families in the US. On his trip home, Dan arranged to complete the paperwork and take two of the kids with him to deliver them to their new families. Here’s what he said about the California airport: “The USO staff and the Army wives warned me to change into civilian clothes to avoid a hostile reception by protesters. I changed clothes and gathered the two kids for our flight to their waiting adoptive families. When I went back through the San Francisco airport, my close-cut hair, duffel bag and pilot’s helmet bag gave me away. Three young women berated me, called me a baby killer, and accused me and my comrades of killing the children's parents and siblings in Vietnam.”

My friend Norm McDonald of Orem, Utah, was a machine gunner who returned home on leave, and when he saw the hippie gauntlet in the LA airport he felt like he was among friends because he was a hippie himself, but one of the pretty girls spit in his face as he walked by.

Dave Pearsall of Sandwich, Massachusetts was a dustoff (medevac) helicopter pilot, and says this about the San Francisco airport: “We were met by a pretty ugly crowd of protesting hippies – ugly as in unkempt, unwashed, and nasty attitudes. They yelled insults and spit at us but we knew if we tangled with them we would buy trouble for ourselves. Besides, we were so anxious to get our asses home we took it and ran the gauntlet.”

Ted Reid of Peachtree City flew home with two of the four advisors he had trained with, the other two having preceded them in body bags. Ted says this about the San Francisco airport: “We had been warned anti-war demonstrators might try to provoke us, and reminded of our duty as officers to conduct ourselves with restraint at all times. We were also advised to get out of our uniforms quickly to avoid trouble. We did just that, changing into civies in the San Francisco airport men’s room, but not before some young lady demonstrators called us murderers when we politely declined their offer of a flower.”

Roger Soisset of Lilburn, a history professor at Southern Polytech in Marietta, says: “On arrival at Travis AFB in August 1970 from Vietnam, I was warned to change out of uniform into civilian clothes ‘for your own protection.’ That turned out to be good advice since protestors were gathered in the San Francisco airport to harass us, hippies with anti-Nixon and anti-war signs. We got jeers and an anonymous voice yelled "Baby-killers!"

John Galt of Marietta shared a bus seat with a pretty girl on the way from Travis AFB to the San Francisco airport, and when she asked where he was from, he said “Well, I’m from Alabama but I just flew in from Vietnam.” The girl immediately moved to a seat further back, and John says he was so young and naive he thought she didn’t like the idea of his being from Alabama!

Laura Armstrong of Roswell vividly remembers the telegram of her father’s death in Vietnam when she was 11 years old. She also remembers being punished in school for arguing with the teacher when he taught the class that US troops in Vietnam regularly did shameful things.

Michael Leonardos of Endicott, New York applied for a job at GE when he returned. When he shook hands with the man who offered him a job, the guy saw the tan line on his wrist where he had worn a watch, asked him where he got such a tan in February. Michael told him Vietnam, whereupon the man threw his resume in the trash can and told him to forget the job.

Bob McFadden of Salem, New Hampshire was a Marine platoon leader. Near Christmas as he was passing out mail he gave a new guy a package addressed “To any Marine.” The contents turned out to be a small package of dog food with a note saying, “Eat well tonight, animal!”

Mike Minor of Jacksonville, Florida did not have a lousy return from Vietnam. When he arrived at Boise, Idaho, his destination, a little old lady yelled at everyone to stay in their seats until he got off first, “. . . because this young man just came home from Vietnam!”

John O’Neill, the anti-Kerry Swift Boat officer the news media taught you to hate, had a great welcome home because his dad hired a band to play “When Jonny comes marching home again.”

I could go on, but there are a million stories how the American people behaved badly. If America ever understands the truth about Vietnam and its effect on our country, maybe we’ll have a better chance to never let it happen again.

Terry Garlock

Submitted by Davids mom on Thu, 08/27/2009 - 10:33pm.

I hope your book is published soon. It is an important 'truth' that needs to be part of our historical knowledge. I don't think Americans will ever do that again to the men and women who serve in the military - but we need to have factual accounts of that misguided behavior after Vietnam. . . .so that history does not repeat itself. Thanks for sharing your work here.

dawn69's picture
Submitted by dawn69 on Thu, 08/27/2009 - 12:23am.

Here's another one for you:

Shirley L. Duzan, Hapeville, wife of Lonnie J. Duzan, and my mother. While stationed at the army base on Oahu after my dad's return from Vietnam, my mother went to a private off base doctor for symptoms that would later be diagnosed as a bladder infection. When the doctor learned that her insurance was military he asked her if her husband had been in Vietnam. When she answered yes, he glared at her, turned to the nurse, and rudely ordered: "Test this woman for gonorrhea.". My mother was 18 years old. The only thing my dad brought home to her was a soaked mattress that she had to drag outside to air out every day.

"Freedom is the only thing you can't have unless you give it to others." - William Allen White

Mike King's picture
Submitted by Mike King on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 7:05am.

Thanks for taking the time to put this into perspective.

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. William Shakespere.

Cyclist's picture
Submitted by Cyclist on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 6:50am.

I blame the French.
Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

Submitted by totellthetruth on Tue, 08/25/2009 - 9:15pm.

THANK YOU for serving our country. Your sacrifice and the sacrifices that servicemen today make often go unnoticed and unappreciated.

I always find the bed-wetting liberals can't just shut-up and say thanks....

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