General William C. Westmoreland,
U.S. Army (Ret.) is former commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam.
I am proud and honored to pay tribute to the gallant Vietnam Veterans who served their country, especially those who gave their lives maintaining freedom.
Few have experienced the anguish that I have felt for those men and women who did in Vietnam what the leadership of the country asked them to do - and did it well - and who in return were ignored and often abused by their fellow countrymen.
Most Vietnam Veterans have had time to reflect on the worthiness of our now-defaulted commitment to the people of non-Communist South Vietnam. From the outset, we sought to help the government and armed forces of Vietnam defeat externally directed and supported Communist aggression, thus giving an independent South Vietnam a secure environment.
Historically, most wars fought in foreign lands were waged to acquire those lands as part of political or economic empires. Vietnam was an exception to that rule.
Indeed, history may judge America's experience in South Vietnam as one of man's nobler crusades - the simple desire of a strong nation to help an aspiring nation reach a point where it had a chance of achieving and keeping a degree of independence. For ten years America held the line in Vietnam against Communist expansion in Southeast Asia so that other nations could mature politically and resist future Communist pressures.
We did not fight alone in Vietnam. Thirty-four other nations contributed food, medicine, equipment, training, economic aid, and technical advisors. Four (Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Republic of the Philippines) provided a civic action group with its own security force. Foreign troops totaled 68,800, more than had fought for the United Nations in Korea.
What hope is there for those who aspire to freedom if only the Communists are allowed to assist people of emerging nations? We may not be able to be the world's policeman, but neither can we neglect the responsibilities that fate gives us. if there is to be no more support of countries like Vietnam, is there to be no more support of aspiring freedom? No more protection of the weak against the strong?
Ironically, Vietnam Veterans deserve even more appreciation than their veteran counterparts of World War II and Korea. Why? Simply because in earlier wars the country was generally unified behind its men fighting in battle. But not in Vietnam.
Can you imagine putting your life on the line in the combat zone while, from a campus remote from the battlefield, a neighbor supported your armed enemy? Can you imagine living through that ordeal only to come home to stony silence and hostility? The psychological pressures on the Vietnam Veteran who had worn his country's uniform were overwhelming. In the aftermath of Vietnam, we have heard so much about the emotionally disabled that many Americans think most Vietnam Veterans are under psychiatric care. Such is not the case. Despite the emotional scars borne by many veterans, there is little difference between the percentage of healthy Vietnam vets and veterans who returned healthy from other wars. As I have traveled around this huge country of ours, I have met many, many Vietnam Veterans. The overwhelming majority are doing very well indeed. They are a valuable national asset, and they are moving into positions of responsibility and leadership across the spectrum of our society.
Most Vietnam Veterans are proud, as they should be, of their military service and their efforts in Vietnam. They can be assured that it was not they who lost the war.
Thank God, the worn and tired attitudes of a decade ago are almost history. A more sensible attitude toward the Vietnam War and toward those involved has emerged. Time has begun to heal the wounds. And as truth overshadows perceptions, facts are beginning to overwhelm emotions.
Today's healthier attitude by and toward those who fought the war is made evident by: the dedication, in 1982, of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the Memorial's rededication, including the soldier statue, in 1984; and the official and public recognition and burial of the Unknown Soldier.
Indeed, the citizens of our nation have maintained our traditional values - values that have contributed in a major way to the character and success of the United States of America.
"[The enemy] believes in force, and his intensification of violence is limited only by his resources, and not by any moral inhibitions." (U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., April 28, 1967)
On April 28, 1967, General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. operations in Vietnam, addressed Congress on America's expanding military role in the Vietnam conflict. Westmoreland, a decorated veteran of World War II and the Korean War, had replaced General Paul Harkins as chief of Vietnam operations in 1964. By the spring of 1967, the extended length of the war and the mounting number of U.S. casualties had helped to turn many in America against the U.S. military presence in Vietnam. Westmoreland responded to the criticism by asking Congress for over 200,000 troops, and in November 1967 he famously declared that the end of the war was in sight. However, his war of attrition met with little success, and in February 1968, the Communists' massive Tet Offensive crushed all hopes of an imminent end to the conflict. Following the Tet Offensive, which is widely regarded as the turning point in the Vietnam War*, General Westmoreland was recalled to Washington, D.C., where he was reassigned as U.S. Army chief of staff. He retired from the military in 1972 and in 1974 unsuccessfully ran for governor of South Carolina.
* A turning point in the minds of the American people maybe, but not for us who fought the war. The Tet offensive was no more than the suicide of many of the communist troops and could have been “The Beginning of the End” for the north if our hands were not tied! . B W Milne 25th Infantry Division, A Battery 7/11 Field Artillery, 1968-69