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Thread: Ken Burns PBS Vietnam Story

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    Ken Burns PBS Vietnam Story

    How many of you watched the entire 18 hours or portions of this. If you have what are your thoughts. I do know that it has received many good reviews. Still debating about watching it.

    John S.

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    President Member t walgamuth's Avatar
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    I have watched most if not all of it. Some parts twice. Some of my friends who are Vets have also and we liked it. I am not sure Like is the right word. Perhaps appreciated is better. It was a tough period we went through back then with the war and the civil rights movement. The country was very divided. Feels a lot like now. Now feels a lot like 1968 but without the political assassinations.
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    Silver Hawk Member JoeHall's Avatar
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    John S,
    Since you mention VN so much here, please help us understand more about your experiences there: Specifically what military branch, unit, MOS, rank, location and time frame were you in country?

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    Silver Hawk Member 53k's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Packard53 View Post
    How many of you watched the entire 18 hours or portions of this. If you have what are your thoughts. I do know that it has received many good reviews. Still debating about watching it.

    John S.
    I watched it all streaming from PBS using Roku. That way I could stop it, reverse it, whatever. I had been reluctant to watch the series, but many people were talking about it so I caved in and watched all ten episodes. We are going to be in Saigon, Danang and Hanoi in February so I decided maybe it would be good to be aware of current times. Wife and I watched the last episode last night. A lot of each episode infuriated her (can't really get in to that without getting political). While much of 10 was disturbing (how the Americans walked away from commitment to Vietnamese), the last part was actually kind of uplifting.

    I was in country for all of 1968. I was all set to go to Hue at the end of January, but the Tet offensive kept me in Danang for several weeks. The man I was to relieve was killed in the first day of the attack on Hue. I am still amazed and bewildered by all the things that were going on just a few miles from me and I never knew about them. I did get to Tan My (eight miles down the Perfume River from Hue) while they were still clearing out the NVA which was still entrenched in the city. In addition to watching the bombers flying over us on their way to Hue, we had heavy cruisers just offshore from us shelling Hue. The first thing we heard was the projectile going over. Then we heard the blast from the gun. A few seconds later we heard the explosion in Hue.

    I kept a one-year diary from the day I left for VN until I was getting on the plane at Danang to come home. I didn't let my wife see it until just a few days ago. While I was a non-combatant, I still had too many close calls (or lucky breaks) and I was worried about her knowing about them. Her reaction was actually quite good. It filled in blanks for her. I decided to re-read it myself for the first time in almost 50 years. Sure had forgotten a lot of things about the year.

    People should watch the entire series. It will only be available streaming from PBS for a few more days. Viewers will find a lot of things to be proud of and many things not to be proud of. Be aware of horribly gruesome, disturbing scenes.
    Last edited by 53k; 10-12-2017 at 06:55 PM.

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    President Member t walgamuth's Avatar
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    I spoke with a Vet not too long after the war, about 1975. He was a strongly built man, played linebacker prior to his service. Being strong he was given an M60 machine gun (I think that's the right name) as it was pretty heavy to carry.

    He described one battle in which they were being charged by the enemy...he fired the machine gun continuously for a good long while, saying he was crying and had snot running down his face all the while it was so intense.

    He did not at all glorify his experience.

    I imagine he suffered PTSD, but I'm not sure they had named it yet in '74.

    Guys that served there have my undying respect, sympathy and gratitude.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 53k View Post
    I watched it all streaming from PBS using Roku. That way I could stop it, reverse it, whatever. I had been reluctant to watch the series, but many people were talking about it so I caved in and watched all ten episodes. We are going to be in Saigon, Danang and Hanoi in February so I decided maybe it would be good to be aware of current times. Wife and I watched the last episode last night. A lot of each episode infuriated her (can't really get in to that without getting political). While much of 10 was disturbing (how the Americans walked away from commitment to Vietnamese), the last part was actually kind of uplifting.

    I was in country for all of 1968. I was all set to go to Hue at the end of January, but the Tet offensive kept me in Danang for several weeks. The man I was to relieve was killed in the first day of the attack on Hue. I am still amazed and bewildered by all the things that were going on just a few miles from me and I never knew about them. I did get to Tan My (eight miles down the Perfume River from Hue) while they were still clearing out the NVA which was still entrenched in the city. In addition to watching the bombers flying over us on their way to Hue, we had heavy cruisers just offshore from us shelling Hue. The first thing we heard was the projectile going over. Then we heard the blast from the gun. A few seconds later we heard the explosion in Hue.

    I kept a one-year diary from the day I left for VN until I was getting on the plane at Danang to come home. I didn't let my wife see it until just a few days ago. While I was a non-combatant, I still had too many close calls (or lucky breaks) and I was worried about her knowing about them. Her reaction was actually quite good. It filled in blanks for her. I decided to re-read it myself for the first time in almost 50 years. Sure had forgotten a lot of things about the year.

    People should watch the entire series. It will only be available streaming from PBS for a few more days. They will find a lot of things to be proud of and many things not to be proud of. Be aware of horribly gruesome, disturbing scenes.
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    I recorded it on my PVR then watched it one episode at a time. Firstly let me state I am Canadian and now I realize just how little information we actually received about this horrible conflict. I guess we were in our own little world (literally) as the late 60's and early 70's were great innocent times up here. I feel for everyone of you veterans who served and lost friends. This was one event in which I believe Canada did not serve alongside America as in most previous conflicts. The closest I came was sympathizing with a dodger and hiring him in 1969. I remember he stated he was in the airborne and was fully prepared to endure it for the two years I believe, until he received his notice to ship to Vietnam. He was a good guy. I wonder how many of you came here out of avoidance and never left.
    My hat off to all of you Veterans as it all seems to have been so senseless.
    Bill

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    President Member 48skyliner's Avatar
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    I have been asking the same question since the late 1960s, and so far have never heard an answer: What possible threat could there be to the security of the United States from ANYTHING that happened in Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia in the 1960s or 70s?

    Few people paid much attention to Eisenhower's warning to us all when he was leaving the presidency, but in the ensuing years the wisdom of his words has become very clear.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 48skyliner View Post
    I have been asking the same question since the late 1960s, and so far have never heard an answer: What possible threat could there be to the security of the United States from ANYTHING that happened in Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia in the 1960s or 70s?
    It was a politician's war. They used the then fear of Communism along with the "domino theory" to justify our involvement, and then the military, primarily William Westmoreland, kept saying: "Just another hundred thousand troops, just another six months."

    It turned out to be, of course, a tarbaby.

    Now there is a black wall with the names of 58,000 KIA.

    If you haven't seen it, spend the time to do so. And pay special attention to John Musgrave, USMC, an honest-to-God hero. He explains it better than anyone I've ever heard.

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    President Member j.byrd's Avatar
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    My wife and I watched it all. I was not able to be even drafted, much less join, so no 1st hand experience of actually being there. I was completely astonished at how things came about, were extended, and the sad events for the guys that were there. I lost friends there, gained some new ones that had been there, but none spoke too much about it. I do know that I changed my opinion about our involvement while it was going on, and wondered about all the "whys". Sad times, pitiful for families and the folks in combat on both sides. I did really find the discussions from "the enemy" to be quite different than I imagined. Mr. Burns and Ms. Novick certainly did a lot of work to bring this all out. Wish we as a nation could learn something from this....

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    Way back in 7th grade our English assignment was to write a paper titled "Why Vietnam ?". If you didn't do the requirement you failed the entire class. I think we were being groomed for something but never did figure it out.

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    In 1969 I was in the 7th grade and remember protesters marching at the selective services office near my Jr. High. It was a strong reminder that I too was subject to being shot at in the not too distant future. As it was the U.S. fully pulled out of Vietnam and the draft had ended in 1975 when I graduated from high school. It was a great sense of relief and causes me to be considerate of those who weren't so fortunate.

    My half brother was an enlistee who desired to be a paratrooper like his late father. But pneumonia in boot camp changed that. He became Military Police initially as a dog handler and was sent to Guam, then Vietnam. When he return from his tour of duty my recently divorced mom was not please to hear that he re-upped for a second tour, this time on river boat patrol. Thankfully he returned safely and the experience put him on a course for law enforcement as a federal agent. He wrote a book on the experience titled: Combat Police: U.S. Army Military Police in Vietnam. My understanding is that it was the first time Military Police were participants in active combat as opposed to more secondary activities.

    Whether Vietnam was a proper line in the sand to Communism or a political war is for a debate beyond the scope of a Stovehuggers forum. Any lose of live is a sad event. I do find it interesting that in most every year a similar number of Americans died from alcohol related traffic fatalities than died in all the time the U.S. was in Vietnam. Just something to ponder.
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    [QUOTE=JoeHall;1077633]John S,
    Since you mention VN so much here, please help us understand more about your experiences there: Specifically what military branch, unit, MOS, rank, location and time frame were you in country?[/QUOTE

    Joe Hall: I enlisted in the naval Reserves in January 1968 while still in high school. Went to boot camp in the summer of 1968 called to active duty in May of 1969. Went through training in before going to Vietnam in August of 1969. MOS was a Boatswain's Mate. Spent 9 months in a place called Chu Lia south from Danage Vietnam along the coast. While stationed at Chu Lai I unloaded supplies from ships and boats coming down from Danage . The group I worked with unloaded. ranging from bombs to food and including Agent Orange which I was exposed but not as bad as many other Vets were. While stationed in Chu Lai we worked 12 hours a day seven days a week for me that lasted for nine months until I went to Danage for my last three months before coming home in August 1970. I was very lucky compare to many who served in the Marines and Army people that were in combat. Some of the persons I knew that went over with me had hellish times serving on boats in the Meg Cong Delta region and in the North of Vietnam near the DM

    The thing that I still think of all the time was three fellows I worked with for several months were killed in helicopter crash while flying to Danage to go on R&R.

    John S.
    Last edited by Packard53; 10-13-2017 at 06:51 AM.

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    Hochiminh sent a telegram to Truman in 1946 requesting U.S. intervention with the French who were occupying Indochina, in hopes of regaining their sovereignty as a democratic republic.
    Unfortunately we had just shared victory in WWII with our French allies, and so chose to ignore the French imperialism that would have greatly offended our own sensibilities had it been on our own soil. And so Ho understandably turned to Red China for assistance. The rest, as they say, is our shame.
    Our young men and women who served did so out of duty or patriotism to a rationale with no rationality, and any mistreatment they received upon their return was misplaced and naïve; those who did not see that at the time can certainly see it in retrospect.
    If we had only taken freedom and liberty more seriously than we took politics.

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    President Member 48skyliner's Avatar
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    "The country was very divided. Feels a lot like now. Now feels a lot like 1968 but without the political assassinations."

    Perhaps you should spend some time on Google and read about Monica Petersen, Klaus Oberwein, Seth Rich, Shawn Lucas and Beranton Whisenant.

    When I graduated with my engineering degree in December 1960, I had a busy weekend - I graduated, was commissioned as an Air Force lieutenant (ROTC) and got married. I immediately went to Tucson and worked in the group overseeing the Titan missile construction. In the fall of 1963 my wife and I decided to travel to Guam to visit my father. Normally space-available travel by military air would have been easy, so we went to Travis AFB near Sacramento. The terminal was wall to wall with Army soldiers waiting to fly out, and no one would tell us why. After a couple of days, the sergeant behind the desk told us to fly commercial to Honolulu and we might get space from there to Guam, which we did. When we got to Guam we found out what was going on - Ngo Dihn Diem, the CIA-backed president of South Vietnam had been assassinated. A couple of weeks later, while we were still on Guam, JFK was assassinated and LBJ was our president. The events of November, 1963 had a more profound effect on the history of this country than anything since WWII.


    If you like old movies, I recommend "The Quiet American" and "Air America" for a good summary of the situation, more entertaining and less depressing than the Ken burns series.
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    President Member Avantidon's Avatar
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    There are many different opinions here on Burns' Vietnam. I am one who has not nor will watch it. I was in country from 07/27/66 until 07/67 with the 2nd Bde 4th ID, the first unit to be permanently stationed in II Corps. I was in the "field from 08/66 until late 01/67. I experienced the political aspect of the war as well as the down and dirty side to include multiple fire fights and attacks. I lost close friends and even had to go rescue one. It took me over 45byears to admit I had a problem as a direct result of my actions. Yes, I have suffered with PTSD for a very longtime but because of my wife, I finally got help. Based on all of that I will not watch anything having to do with Vietnam because of what it triggers. Please don't ask me about experiences as I don't talk about them for the same reason. More power to those of you who have watched I'm glad you could but I can't.
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    Avantidon: All I can say is WELCOME HOME

    John S.

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    Silver Hawk Member JoeHall's Avatar
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    Avantidon,
    I join others in saying, WELCOME HOME, and THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.

    Honest to goodness VN Combat Vets are now scarce, but wannabes seem to be growing in number and, "Viet Nam Vet" has became ambiguous. I read elsewhere, in 1995, four of five folks claiming to be VN vets were lying, and by 2000 the percentage was even greater. I believe that is partly due to many thousands who sat offshore on standby for months/years, but never went, "in country", yet later claim veteran status. They were mostly Marines, and Navy ship-men, but also included a logistics tail that extended all the way back to Guam and Japan. There, folks somehow qualified for VN related awards while serving in, "general support" or at, "major supply centers" often thousands of miles away. Many of them later successfully filed claims for agent orange related problems.
    I sat offshore in a Marine combat unit, "in the contiguous waters of Viet Nam", off and on, from 71-74, but never went in. Today, I see folks who sat there too, making wild claims that simply are not true. Then too, there are millions of, "Viet Nam Era" vets, who were simply in the US military, somewhere in the world between 1965-75. For quick reference, "vets" who sport a single VN Service Medal (yellow, red & green) bumper sticker, ball cap, etc., are the ones who sat off shore. The ones who sport two medals, including that one and a green & white one, were actually in country.

    However, even for those in country, only about 15-20 percent saw anything like up close and personal, "contact" with the enemy. The remaining 80-85 percent had infrequent, indirect contact, at worst. AO may responsible for most casualties in the long run; the growing number, now 58,000, continues to grow as folks continue to die from AO. Re: combat, only about 41,000 were actual KIA, another 9,000 died in accidents, and many others died of societal illnesses: suicides, homicides, illegal drug overdoses, STDs, etc.. With over half a million GIs in country at once, societal illness took their toll, as they do anywhere else. Some of the 80-85 percent even made lots of money over there, doing things they should still be in prison for. Their war stories, if truthful, are mainly are about whorehouses, black-marketing government property and, "good drugs" available there. All the above fall under the now popular umbrella slogan, "all gave some, and some gave all". Alas, most of the above would not have made for a good PBS story.

    Avantidon, you probably already know all the above, but I wrote it for the many who do not.
    Again, WELCOME HOME !
    Last edited by JoeHall; 10-14-2017 at 09:54 AM.

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    Silver Hawk Member jclary's Avatar
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    I don’t spend time watching recounting of the Vietnam war. I lived it. I have heard and read it described as “A million dollar experience I wouldn’t give a nickel to repeat!” That pretty well sums up my feelings. When my tour was over, from the very moment of “lift off”...as the airplane steeply climbed, and began to bank, giving me a view of the bomb cratered land below, I literally thought...”what was that?!”...and immediately began to think of what was ahead for me, instead of dwelling on what I was leaving behind.



    I am what I describe as a “windshield” person, that is someone looking forward, not like a “rear-view mirror,” person, obsessed with the past, or a gauge person, always concerned with measuring, analyzing, (worrying). While there is value in all these characteristics, I believe we all have one that dominate our personalities. I’m not sure if I have ever met one individual that has achieved perfect “balance” between the three.


    I hesitated to post here. If you will allow me a glance in the "rear-view" mirror...here goes...I was there during “Tet,” and recall being amazed at my personal physical reaction to how I respond to a huge adrenaline dump into my system when sudden excitement, danger, and fear for life, simultaneously awaken my “survival” instinct. At first, nearly paralyzed in the confusion, while my mind tries to grasp what’s happening, and next comes the shaking. Even after all the excitement, danger, and confusion was over, my reaction to the adrenaline, was the shakes. It takes time for me to process the adrenaline, but I managed to still function and push through it.



    My take on Nam was that it was a “Proxy” war. That is, where opposing powers, Communism, and their Allies, were arrayed against the U.S. and their Allies. The tragic part was that while the “Big Boys” (USSR & CHINA) used the North Vietnamese to do their fighting (Proxy), we (U.S. & Allies), only used the South Vietnamese as our (Excuse) but included our own youth as the Proxy. In our foolish ARROGANCE, our sense of moral superiority, demanded that we conduct a “sanitary (fair)” war, and the rules of engagement, were guaranteed to sacrifice our troops, prolong the conflict, and embolden the enemy, who, were fighting in their homeland, and not biding time, trying to survive ‘till they could rotate out and go home.



    I put the blasted experience behind me, managed to fight through (at that time) the VA’s cumbersome process designed to discourage vets from obtaining benefits, get into college, (with zero family support), and keep moving forward. I did not join any Activist organizations, or participate in any pity parties. I was too busy living.

    What little Vietnam war reporting I have viewed, (Movie portrayal, TV, documentaries, etc.) seems to always be overshadowed with some kind of “recrimination agenda.” To this day, I cringe when I hear comments regarding a “fair,” war. If you have an enemy wanting to kill you, then you had better be willing to return the act with equal or superior ferocity! Those people who would condemn you for being judgmental, are the same folks clamoring for “fairness”...the ultimate word that demands someone’s Judgment. To me, “FAIR” is the most obscene word in any language. If life was fair, I’d be six foot four inches tall, never have agent orange related diabetes, handsome, with no big brother pitchfork scars, a wife in perfect health, and own a “32 Studebaker President Roadster that never required maintenance!



    My favorite movie is “MIDWAY.” (nothing fair, but decisive, even though it too, is clouded with Hollywood agenda drama). I have Vietnamese friends & neighbors, but have no desire to watch any agenda clouded, recounting by some uncalloused, manicured narrator who’s greatest life challenge is summoning the strength to open a jar of peanut butter.(speaking of Judgemental...)
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    Silver Hawk Member JoeHall's Avatar
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    Well said, John C.
    I have a cousin who was there for two tours as a MC Grunt, 65-66, and 67-68, and stayed in the MC for 30 years. He has said the first tour was a cakewalk, compared to the 2nd. As an E5 Sgt, he was often the platoon commander because higher-ups were dead or medivaced. He left there with, "standard issue" ribbons, about 2 1/2 rows, and refused two purple hearts; to one he said, "give it to my point man, who got it between the running lights" (shot between the eyes). To the other one, he said, "give it to my AR (automatic rifle) man, who ain't got no legs" (stepped on a mine). Now 75 years old, he never talks about it anymore, but back in the 1970s, when we were in together, he talked about it often, especially when drunk. Many, if not most other Marine Vets did the same, back then. I think it was kind of a therapeutic support group, formed by happenstance and alcohol.

    His wife told me at the last family reunion, during thunderstorms he sits quietly in the basement with the lights off, and does not want anyone near him, including his wife.
    Last edited by JoeHall; 10-14-2017 at 10:47 AM.

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    About 20 years ago I drove a group of old Vietnamese women to General Westmoreland's house for a garden party. His wife, Kitsy, was sponsoring the group for a Spoleto USA event and I was on the transport team for the talent. I remember that their teeth were black, maybe from diet? Anyway, when we arrived, Westmoreland whispered in my ear "Be back in a half hour to pick them up." I guess he wasn't crazy about his guests!

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    President Member t walgamuth's Avatar
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    I've never heard anybody talk about a "fair" war.

    Our politicians put our fighting men into a bad situation.

    They no doubt felt constrained always by the specter of China or Russia getting into the war.

    The worst thing was when they knew it was unwinnable and left our people there to continue fighting and dying until they found a politically palatable way to get out....and in the end simply cut and ran anyway.
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    Speedster Member greyben's Avatar
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    First of all I never served in Nam. In late '64 with the draft board nipping at my heals I enlisted in the Army where they promised to turn me into a microwave radio repairman. In early '66 a small army camp in eastern Thailand became my home for a year. We provided communications for the various airfields in Thailand and Nam and probably other places. One radio shack was at the end of the Ubon airbase where F4 Phantoms were stationed It was exciting to watch them take off with afterburners roaring and the planes pointed near vertical. I never gave much thought to what they were doing at the other end of their flight. Our leaders were wise and would always do the right thing.

    It was easy duty. We had a good mess hall, the club never ran out of beer and there were always more exotic pleasures in the nearby city. Best of all no one was shooting at us.

    In 1967 I was back stateside waiting to return to civilian life. That summer I received word my Cousin's husband was killed in a copter crash. He had enlisted in WO copter training soon after high school graduation and marriage. He lasted about 6 weeks in Nam. He was a good likeable kid and barely 20. Their second child was on its way.

    Another cousin was drafted into the marines. He never talked about what he went through, but he was messed up for many years and perhaps only came to deal with it to some extent in his 60s. Another more distant cousin also served in Nam and also was adversely effected for years. Again I have no idea what happened. I would never ask either one.

    The story of the Vietnam war could not be told in 18 hours. It seems a fairly balanced approach was presented for the various factions involved. Anyone who has served in a combat situation probably wouldn't gain from watching it. They've been there. As far as the historical perspective just listen to the news. We're being fed the same lines today that we were fed from the administrations during the Vietnam war.

    One more thing comes to mind I hadn't thought of in years. In 1967 I applied for a gas credit card. I was refused based on being in the military, but was more or less informed that they would be happy to reconsider once I was a civilian and had a real job. Apparently "Support our troops" was more applicable when cameras and mikes were present. At all other times only profit mattered.
    In the end Ignorance will have conquered all adversaries

    Don't hasten the end

  23. #23
    Silver Hawk Member JoeHall's Avatar
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    Greyben,
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories. I had another cousin, besides the Grunt, who was drafted into the MC after college. He was initially told he'd go into the Army. But when the draftees were lined up in a hallway, an NCO came along and had about every 5th man step to the side, and then told them to follow him, and led them into another room. There, he informed them they would be going into the MC. That cousin was a whiny guy, and later said his heart fell to is knees. It worked out though, they wound up sending him to the MC Finance Center in Kansas City, to work as a payroll clerk. He did his entire time there, till his 2 years were up.

    My Grunt cousin always privately told me that cousin, "wouldn't make a pimple on a real Marine's a--". LOL

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