VIETNAM WAR: MR. PRESIDENT, IT’S 1956-1975

By KEVIN E. DAYHOFF

 (Westminster, Md.)—One news media account after another dutifully reported Monday that President Barack Obama announced at Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery–and at the Vietnam Wall, that Monday begins the start of the 50-year anniversary of the Vietnam War.

From left, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles greet South Vietnamese President Ngo Dimh Diem at Andrews Air Force Base, 1957.

Whatever that means! I mean, I was not able to find a single news report that clearly established how or why it was determined by President Obama that 1962 was the beginning of the United States involvement in the conflict in Southeast-Asia.

Of course, if President George W. Bush, or Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, had made such a major pronouncement, the major media would have been all over it.

I, for one, wondered aloud, just how it is that the president has determined this Memorial Day to recognize Vietnam veterans; and the 50th year anniversary of the war.

The president’s May 25th proclamation reads:

“Beginning on Memorial Day 2012, the Federal Government will partner with local governments, private organizations, and communities across America to participate in the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War – a 13-year program to honor and give thanks to a generation of proud Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging missions we have ever faced.” 

Could it be that just as the president’s recent total flip-flop on recognizing gay marriage, this is just another election year manipulation?

Former 1957 ARVN Advisor's book on Vietnam War.

 Nah, say it isn’t so.

 Okay, so just as the president has used the gay and lesbian community as a cheap political pawn in a re-election campaign, now the president also wants to use the same shallow, specious, expeditious, situational ethics on Vietnam veterans.

 Take a memo! Except for the true believers, many in the gay and lesbian community saw through the recent cheap politics of the president. And Vietnam veterans are no less manipulated, or gullible.

 Of course, President Obama’s position changes have been heralded by the major media as heroic evolving decisions of Zen-like consciousness. All the while, Governor Romney’s changes in position are characterized as cheesy-cheap politics.

 And, oh, as an aside, never mind that former Democrat presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry is much richer than Governor Romney; so I wonder why we never heard anything from the press about Senator Kerry’s wealth in his 2004 campaign. Yet. I wonder, the press is consumed with Governor Romney’s wealth?

 As for the Vietnam War, American military operations stopped with the Jan. 27, 1973, signing of the Paris Peace Accord. However, for most historians, the end-date of the Vietnam War is relatively easily agreed to be April 30, 1975, when the Viet Cong – National Liberation Front hoisted its flag over the presidential palace in Saigon.

MACV Commander Gen. William C. Westmoreland at Bien Hoa 1965. (NARA archive.)

 This came after the helicopter evacuation of U.S military, civilian and diplomatic personnel had taken place in Operation Frequent Wind for several days.

 This operation, arguably the largest helicopter operation in history, has been memorialized over time by the iconic photograph of desperate personnel lined-up on a rickety ladder to the top of a building in Saigon in which a helicopter was precariously perched.

 On the other hand, the “start date” of the Vietnam War is the stuff of the fog of history.

 In an American Forces Press Service (AFPS) release by Jim Garamone on Monday, he acknowledged that an exact date marking the beginning of the war is unclear.

 Well, um, that is, except for the fact that the same Pentagon that produces the AFPS had previously definitively established Nov. 1, 1955, as the “official” beginning date of the conflict.

Nevertheless, Mr. Garamone said Monday: “While the end date is a certainty, it is a mirror of the war and the divisions it caused that Americans still disagree on when U.S. involvement in the country began.
“American advisors were dying with their South Vietnamese soldiers in the mid-1950s. But historians – and the Defense Department – are commemorating the 50th anniversary of U.S. involvement in Vietnam now.” 

Hundreds of South Vietnamese climb American Embassy wall, April 29, 1975 in hopes of escaping North Vietnamese forces. (AP/archive)

Of course, this conveniently overlooks that on Nov. 6, 1998, in a Department of Defense release titled, “NAME OF TECHNICAL SERGEANT RICHARD B. FITZGIBBON TO BE ADDED TO THE VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL,” the Pentagon determined, “Nov. 1, 1955, is now formally recognized as the earliest qualifying date for addition to the database and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.”

 The determination by the Pentagon notes that “the Department of Defense has informed family members of U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard Bernard Fitzgibbon, Jr., that his name will be added to the Department of Defense (DOD) Southeast Asia Casualty Database.

 “Fitzgibbon died in the line of duty in Vietnam on June 8, 1956, while serving as a member of the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam. His name will also be added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, known to all as “The Wall.”

 Actually, I had understood that it was Feb. 12, 1955, that MAAG-Indochina began training South Vietnamese forces (ARVN).

Air America UH1 Helicopter loads passengers atop U.S. Embassy April 30, 1975. (NARA Archive)

According to my “Concise History of the USMC” textbook from my days on active duty in the USMC Reserve in 1972, “United States military assistance dates back to 1954… (I)n 1961, a Marine helicopter squadron moved into Thailand to provide logistical support for the Laotian government… In the spring of 1962, Marine helicopters began operating in the Mekong Delta…” The first Army helicopter units arrived on December 11, 1961.

Nevertheless, the release also noted that “in the past (Fitzgibbon) had not been included because the DoD Instruction established Jan. 1, 1961, as the start date….”

Okay, to put all of this into context, according to various media reports, including The Slatest, “U.S. military veterans overwhelmingly support Mitt Romney to take over as president from Barack Obama, according to a new Gallup poll released on Memorial Day….”

 This election campaign dynamic “is a certainty, it is a mirror of the (the president’s re-election campaign) and the divisions it caused that Americans still disagree.

I’m just sayin’.—©2012 Kevin E. Dayhoff

This article appeared in www.thetentacle.com May 30, 2012 and is used with permission of the author and The Octopus, LLC.

You may contact the author at kevindayhoff@gmail.com 

 He was born and raised in the Westminster area, where he served six years as mayor and other elected official . He is an avid artist and writer; he continues his interest in local government, the Republican Party, environmental, business and agricultural issues, for which he has served on various boards and commissions since 1980. He is married and lives in Westminster.