Tuesday, February 21, 2006
VETERANS FIGHTING VETERANS: Is It Time to Remember Ourselves? by Calixto Cabrera
In yet another unfortunate salvo fired by veterans against veterans, the Vietnam Veteran Legacy Foundation "VVLF" (along with Red, White and Blue Productions and Vietnam veteran Carlton Sherwood) have sued John Kerry and his 2004 Pennsylvania campaign manager Tony Podesta over the film Stolen Honor. The Left had already fired the first salvo a few weeks prior. Kenneth Campbell and Jon Bjornson, long-time antiwar activists and members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), alleged that Sherwood, VVLF and Newsmax defamed them in the documentary.
I'm not sure what to make of this mess, that is to say veterans fighting veterans. When I was in Vietnam (either tour), we moved Heaven and Earth to save any soldier whose unit was pinned down or in danger of being overrun. For me, the choice was success or to die trying. There was no compromise. This is not macho bravado, but a deep-felt conviction that we don't abandon our own. That's what I was taught in the Marine Corps and that is what I took to heart. When CUPP 3 (Combined Unit Pacification Program) was pinned down by enemy mortars, when a PF platoon (Popular Forces or militia) were pinned down by small arms fire, we were there. This is historical fact, not bravado; deeds not hollow words.
My eyes moisten when I read about lawsuits like these, and remember what all of us would have given to save each other. But now that we are back in "The World," we call each other liars, traitors, communist, fascist, pigs, lackeys, political puppets, cronies and more. We demean ourselves when we participate in this name-calling and endless cycle of hate. Let me be clear: We don't have to agree with each other. We all fought for the right to freely express our feelings and beliefs. But when we interact, we should remember that the man or woman who opposes us now, is the same man or woman who watched our backs in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.
I believe that the Swift Boat Vets have the same needs as mine:
* Acknowledgement that I participated in events I have a hard time imagining even today;
* Respect for my service to my country, whether or not you agree with my politics;
* Not to be disparaged because I fought that war for love of Country and family and saw it as my patriotic duty.
* To communicate in a manner that allows me to feel true to myself when the conversation is said and done, even if I don't convince anyone of anything.
With the Stolen Honor lawsuits, I see a chance to educate people not just about the Vietnam War or even the Iraqi War, but about War itself. The consciousness of this nation has already changed when it comes to the government sending our troops to foreign lands. We now take a longer, harder look at the reasons that a president may have for committing our troops to war.
The central issue in these lawsuits is whether Kerry lied or exaggerated the facts about what happened in Vietnam. Did American "troops" commit wide scale war crimes or not?
I cannot speak for all troops, but I can speak for myself as a former member of Lima Company Third Battalion 5th Marine regiment 1st Marine Division (1966 and 1967) and Alpha Co. 1st Battalion 7th Marines Regiment 1st Marine Division(1969-1970). I neither take pride nor will I cower from this answer:
From firsthand experience, my answer is yes. I'll say it again, yes.
* Burning Villages: We burned villages. Lima 3/5 loved to burn villages, a very common practice in Vietnam. In fact, I did not know that this was considered a war crime until last year. These actions were common knowledge all the way through the Battalion Commander, and I'm sure, higher up than that.
* Killing Enemy Wounded: I personally killed enemy wounded that I came upon in both tours because I thought that they may have a grenade on them.
* Desecrating Bodies: I saw Marines desecrate bodies by emptying whole clips of M14 or M16 bullets in to their bodies, never checking to see if they were still alive or not.
* Killing Animals: We killed the animals in villages that we identified as VC villages.
* Neglect and Physical Assaults of Prisoners: We physically assaulted prisoners in our possession. A VC suspect on a firebase was left so long in the sun without water that he drank his own urine.
* Physical Assaults on Children: A young Vietnamese boy about eight years old had a piece of his leg missing the size of my fist.No one stopped to render aid. (After all, it was our fire that injured him.) If this isn't a war crime, then it should be. We booby trapped a bunch of canisters of assorted ammunitions and lit the fuse that was long enough to give us about thirty seconds to get out of the area.As we walked away at a rapid pace about ten children all under eleven years old converged on the canisters, we kept walking and said nothing. Fortunately, one of them saw the fuse burning and they ran away. I don't know how many made it because we didn't look back after the explosion.
During my second tour of Vietnam, I was involved in more or less the same thing. This included the murder of a young Vietnamese woman (about 18 years old) one of my
team leaders, who was pulling her by her hair. She was carrying a baby in her arms and yelling hysterically. He got tired of pulling her and dealing with her resistance, so he released her hair and shot her dead on the spot. She was a good mother to the end. When she dropped, she made sure that the baby landed on her chest and was not hurt. What stands out the most from this murder was that when she fell dead, her black pajama top opened, exposing her breast. The baby (about 1 year old) then tried to suckle her breast.
Even after all I had seen and done, this shocked me to the core.
Later, when our unit returned to the world, the same team leader confessed to me that he and two other Marines raped a 70-year old Mama-san while I was away on R&R. Again I was shocked. Why didn't I turn this guy in?I still ask myself this question to this day, but at the time these were my reasons: First of all, he was one of my best friends in the unit. Secondly, Marines have a "green code," similar to the police "blue code," that you don't turn in your own no matter what. Thirdly, I didn't even record these incidents in my diary. The William Calley, Mai Lai mass murder thing was still a hot political issue. When all this happened, I was the senior man on the spot. We were still in a "hot zone" and I had
many other priorities.
The Swift Vets (and the Right in general) would say that these things just didn't happen. They would say that I exaggerate because I hate America. That I want to tear down America, or that I am out to defame the military and/or the government. Nothing can be further from the truth.
And the fight – veteran against veteran – begins.
I have been telling these same stories since I returned from Vietnam. At first, it was
to come to grips with what I had done: I simply could not believe that I shot wounded soldiers multiple times. When the truth finally set in, I was outraged at my conduct and deeply sick in my heart. I was furious with God for allowing me to commit these outrages against humanity.I had to find an enemy other than myself to blame for what I did. For a time, I chose the government, the police and the military. The flag and patriotism became hollow words and symbols to a heart bleeding profusely from psychological wounds. I was too much of a coward to commit suicide. The Marine Corps response to my two tours was in Vietnam? Three Purple Hearts, One Bronze Star, One Silver Star.
That was then and this is now.I have traveled a long road. I have matured. I have even forgiven myself for what I did. I no longer blame God, country or government; I have brought the responsibility and the forgiveness home to me. I write this story now – not out of vindictiveness, malice or hate – but to tell the American people that what Senator Kerry testified to were same things that I witnessed and participated in.
I do not know why the Swift Vets continue to say that these events are untrue, did not occur and were not widespread. Truth knows no political boundaries, and a cover up or denial will not set us free. Lying about the truth will not serve our nation, the military, my unit, or history. Yes, there are those who did not cross the line. I admire and salute any combat veteran that kept his or her integrity in such an extreme situation.
But I also must add my voice to the record: There are many of us who did commit war
crimes with the full knowledge, approval and even under the direction of our superiors. I ask that you respect this truth without impugning my patriotism, military record or integrity, just as I continue to honor yours.
To all American service personnel and veterans: Thank you for your service.