|Vietnam Veterans of America|
Mr. President, congratulations on being elected president! Former President John Rowan is a fine man and was a capable leader but the time had come for new leadership which is more representative of where the membership feels the direction of this organization needs to be taken.
After reading your message in the May/June issue, I felt resurgence and a sense of optimism about this organization that has been missing for some time. We existed but were lacking in a sense of purpose and enthusiasm. I can’t help but believe that is going to change under your leadership.
You ask to hear from us, so allow me to tell you about Chapter 458 of St. Peters, Mo. We were chartered in 1986 and have been a strong and active chapter since our inception and remain so today. We have over 120 members and our monthly meeting has an average attendance of 35 to 45 members and frequently guests. Our primary goal is working with the community to be sure future generations never forget who we were and what we did, and we served our country like our fathers.
To say our chapter is active would be an understatement, and we take great pride in what we achieve. We have a very devoted group of veterans and excellent leadership which has allowed us to become what we feel is the epitome of what a Vietnam Veterans of America chapter should be.
Thank you for taking on this challenging task of being our president and leading us into a successful future.
I was very much impressed by former editor Michael Keating’s reply to a veteran who was offended by a description of a Vietnamese as a “hooch girl.” Usage of vernacular is only done to maintain accuracy, and with your publication, that is of the utmost importance. Racism and the attendant slurs have never been part of recalling this unique time in our past by your excellent staff, who have resisted pressure of history revisionists. I too regret that it was seen as offensive but I understand clearly your intent.
In addition to Keating’s reply, Marc Leepson’s analysis of a positive outcome of military service was obvious in his story of the archivist, David Ferriero. As well, his excellent review of Craig McNamara’s book about his father was objective and unpatronizing.
The VVA Veteran has the finest contemporary prose in the Vietnam War genre, and because I now live alone in the same house I parented in, empty offspring bedrooms now house many of your reviewed books and, of course, your Books in Review columns.
Wow! Did William Hinton serve in the same Vietnam as I did?
I was there in 1969-70 and lived on the Tay Ninh Base Camp in barracks which we and the Vietnamese called “hooches.” And guess who was in charge of cleaning up each hooch —sweeping them out, making up the beds, polishing our shoes, and guarding them all day long against thieves?
Yep, you guessed it, it was the “hooch girl.” And they referred to themselves as “hooch girls.” I think we paid them $35/month to keep the hooches in order.
We called older Vietnamese “Mama-San” or “Papa San.” Is that bad?
Albert Di Iorio
QUICK TO CRITICIZE
Hinton was upset with the article with the hooch girl photo. He also used a phrase I have found to be a burr in my craw, “your organization.”
I am going out on a low limb and assume that he is not active in a chapter, nor gets involved in veterans affairs. Having been involved in veterans and non-veterans groups, when I hear a member say, “your organization,” I hear someone saying, “I don’t like how things are run but I don’t want to be involved.” They are quick to criticize but not willing to participate.
His response is not unlike one I encountered at a car show. When at various events, I carry a few VVA applications. I saw a guy with a Vietnam War Era hat and struck up a conversation. When I talked about Chapter 1075 and our members, he was quick to respond that he did not want to be around vets who are still living in the past and reliving the war, referring to “your people.”
I responded with, “We all experience our own realities, and we can use what we have learned to help others.” Hinton, instead of trashing his magazine and his organization, could use the article to help comrades and make another transition into a new reality by discussing today’s culture.
My “hooch girl” was a dear, mid-30s woman called Minh who had three children and a severely disabled ARVN husband. They were Catholics from the North who lived in squalid conditions in the village of Bien Hoa.
I was a very naďve conscript stationed at Bien Hoa. I was a courier and mail clerk for much of my time there, and Minh was my friend and intelligence officer. I am not sure I would have survived the tour without her daily advice on safe travel routes, even to the extent of not traveling to certain areas on certain days. She frequently summarized her warnings with a simple, “V.C.”
We both cried when I left. I will never forget my friend.
FUELING THE FIGHT
Reading the article “Beans, Bullets and Bandages,” in the May/June issue brought back many memories. I would like to add petroleum products to that list.
I served on the USS Tombigbee (AOG11), a Navy Gasoline Tanker. We were assigned to COMSERVON 5 in Pearl Harbor. Five of our class ships rotated to Vietnam during the 1960s. We would deploy six-eight months at a time and operate between Da Nang and the CuaViet area.
Our job was to load 600,000 gallons of petroleum product, mostly AV-Gas and JP-4, from a merchant tanker in Da Nang and deliver it to a fuel farm at Dong Ha. At the mouth of the CuaViet River there was a buoy with underwater hoses attached to it in which we would transfer product.
Mr. Carroll was correct when he said, “the people who bring you beans, bullets and bandages” were often not thanked.
That also applies to the guys who delivered gasoline and JP-4. We were always anchored while pumping and kept a lookout for underwater swimmers. Sitting on 600,000 gallons of AV-Gas is scary enough, but we also had to contend with electrical sparks and unauthorized smokers.
I have never read a story concerning U.S. Navy Gasoline Tankers’ contributions, especially in I Corps.
The piece on planning to invade North Vietnam (July/August) sparked a long-suppressed memory.
About April 1966, after being promoted to sergeant and given responsibility for supervising the creative types in the PIO section of the First Cavalry, I paid a visit to the Division G-3 (operations) tent. I was known there by the three master sergeants who spent most of their days and nights in that tent. On this occasion, there was no one around.
A huge map of North Vietnam, covered by clear plastic, caught my eye, and I wandered over to look at it. From the symbols on it, neatly written with a grease pencil, I saw that two infantry brigades were to leapfrog the DMZ and then go all the way up to Hanoi. A third infantry brigade trailed them.
Then a big hand spun me around (I am quite short), and I found one of the master sergeants glaring down at me. He reached over me and pulled a string that dropped a black cloth over the map.
“You never saw this map!” he said. “Understand?”
“I understand,” I replied.
“Not a word about this to anyone. Not even to Major Siler [my boss].”
“I understand,” I repeated.
“So what can I do for you?” he said in a very different voice.
Sometime later, when I realized that our division had enough helicopters to lift one infantry brigade at a time, I realized that what I “never saw” in that G-3 tent was a never-realized plan to use the airmobile division to take Hanoi, at a time when most of the PAVN’s combat regiments were deployed in South Vietnam.
Marvin J. Wolf
I was sorry to read about John Wax’s incomprehensible treatment by the VA (Letters, July/August). And I can understand his usage of the term “clowns” when referring to the claims process.
I had a recent, less serious, problem with the claims process. In May, I notified the VA that I wanted to put in a new claim for benefits. The VA responded with a package that included forms for me to fill out and return.
I did as instructed, but my claim was rejected immediately. The VA said my claim was filed on outdated forms and that I needed to refile using updated forms. I had simply sent back what they had given me, but when I looked online, I saw that the 2018 forms they had mailed me had been superseded by a newer 2021 form.
I appreciate the VA healthcare system and have benefitted from it, but the claims process seems to be broken.
Like Mr. Wax, I feel that the roadblocks and delays to the process, as designed, are intentional, and the VA is just hoping we will die off or get discouraged by the bureaucracy.
I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism by my VA doctor many years ago and have been taking medication for it since then.
After Hypothyroidism was approved as a presumptive disease, I filed a claim and waited a year and a half to hear back. Finally, I received a letter from the VA saying that this illness is zero percent disabling. I couldn’t believe it. They claim that I do not display any of the negative outcomes of the disease. What a ridiculous thing to say.
I guess they want me to stop taking the medication that I have to take for life, mark down all of the things that happen to me afterward, and then re-file my claim, assuming that I’m still alive. I really don’t know what to do at this point.
I was drafted in 1967 and spent 1968 in Vietnam as an infantry medic with the First Cav. In other words, I was forced into the service, sent into a war zone, exposed to Agent Orange, and given a disease which I will have for life. If that doesn’t qualify for some sort of disability, I don’t know what does.
Do I have any other recourse at this point? I don’t know, but I do want to let others know what is happening.
SPECIAL THANK YOU
I would like to give a special thank you to Sgt. Ben Peterson. He and his organization, Engage your Destiny, created a big welcome home for Vietnam veterans on Memorial Day weekend.
Ben served two tours in Iraq. Coming home after his second tour, as he walked through the airport terminal, he was greeted by over a hundred Vietnam veterans holding American flags and letting him know that never again will we leave anyone behind. Inspired, he started his organization.
I was able to attend Heroes Honor Festival in Daytona Beach, where fifteen thousand of my closet friends felt we finally received the welcome home we never got. It was my understanding there were over 35,000 in attendance.
Ben will be a guest speaker at our Chapter 1140 meeting, in Franklin, Tennessee. I am proud to say we are close friends. As I walked around the event, I was surprised and proud to see many VVA members there.
To all, I say, Welcome Home.
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