A Tale of Frustration

by Velused Wittledick

Copyright© 2012 by Velused Wittledick

True Story: From Vietnam to Afghanistan... political failure writ large.

Tags: Military  

Lemme tell you a story. This one's unfortunately a true story.

I joined the Army in 1962. It might not have been the best of all possible decisions but, at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. I took basic at Fort Dix, NJ. Then I went on to take advanced individual training (AIT) at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. Since I enlisted (rather than waiting to be drafted) I had a choice of schooling and I wound up in communications.

I was about 250 miles from home and, after Basic, I managed to hitchhike home just about every other weekend. Sure, I wasn't supposed to hitch in uniform but most weekends I got home just as fast or faster than if I'd taken the bus or the train ... and it was a lot cheaper.

It took just about a year to get through basic and AIT, then I was off to Thailand. I was lucky there and my one year tour wound up split between Bankok, Udorn, and Korat. It was a good tour, the people were friendly, and, to this day I consider any Thai to be a friend that I haven't met yet. I'm certain that there are some that would prove me wrong, but I've yet to meet one anywhere that hasn't been honest and decent in their dealings with me.

When I left Thailand I was on orders for Germany. Once again I was lucky. I got stationed on an isolated radio station in the old British Sector. There were few enough Americans in the area that we had no problems with the Germans. They saved their ire for the British forces.

In 1965 I decided that I liked the job that I had and re-enlisted. That let me start a new three year tour in Germany.

When I returned to the US in 1968 I was assigned to Ft. Monmouth again. This time I was an instructor. I rapidly found out that I wasn't particularly welcome anywhere off base when I was in uniform. While there was nothing overt at the time I could tell that people were uncomfortable around me. It wasn't quite as bad in civilian clothes but, even then, the haircut, the military stance, and the difference in attitude caused many people to avoid me and others like me.

I stayed in NJ for about a year, then was transferred to Ft. Hood, TX. Ft. Hood was undergoing a massive buildup of troops at this time to support the fight in Vietnam. My number came up a bit later and I wound up going to Vietnam in the middle of 1969. I was assigned to the 5th Signal Command and spent the majority of my time at Long Binh. I am neither bragging nor complaining when I say that the few times that I was anywhere near hostile fire were solely because the enemy couldn't shoot straight. My team had the responsibility for one station on the backbone communications system in Vietnam, we didn't have the time or the training to do combat operations beyond the Long Binh fence.

A year later I returned to the US. This time I found out just how much things had changed very quickly. Between the time that I got off the bus from Travis AFB in San Francisco and the time I boarded my flight to New Jersey I had been cursed, spat upon, and had food thrown on my uniform. To be honest, I was glad that California had strong gun laws. I truly found out that a person in uniform was not accepted by the civilian population, not only in California, but in Texas, New York, and even in New Hampshire.

Making the story a bit shorter, the politicians made the political choice to get the US out of Vietnam. Most of us, by now, recognize that there was no military reason to pull out; it was purely a political decision by the same politicians that refused to allow the military command structure to do what it was paid to do, i.e., win the war.

So, over the next years I get older and retire from the Army, the extreme dislike (I've been told that 'hatred' is too strong a word to use) for the uniformed forces dies down and the US politicos tend to refrain from anything that could cause political alarm among the liberal groups. Granted that we fought in Grenada and Panama ... but those were done and over with before the anti-war groups could really organize.

Now comes Bush the first and the first Gulf War. Desert Storm was a 'Good War.' Almost everyone supported the President ... except for a few hard-core hippies that thought they were still protesting Vietnam. Man, they smoked some GOOD weed! It was a short war, some putting the start at July 17th 1990 and the end at March 8th, 1991. Either end of that time line could be changed around but it's pretty close. Of course, with our chance to use 20-20 hindsight, it was a most wasteful effort that set up the certainty of the Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom, March 20th, 2003 to December 18th, 2011.

There were two good parts to Desert Storm from my point of view. On the personal side it ensured my continued employment in my civilian job. On the public side, since it was a popular war, it led to most civilians once again starting to respect those who wear the uniform.

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