Were Vietnam veterans the greatest generation?

While many believe that Vietnam vets are likely to be homeless, drug addicts and criminals, the opposite is the truth. Photo: Gen. Zinni testifying before Senate, 1999 AP

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., February 15, 2013 — A fellow Vietnam veteran sent me a link to a video of a speech by retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, who also served in Vietnam as a second lieutenant on his first tour there. And he doesn’t apologize for being a Vietnam veteran. While some of his sound bites are open to closer analysis, he talks like an enlisted man and not an officer.

Zinni speaks on how there are people who never served in Vietnam, but lie that they did. This to him is a vindication of the real veterans. His reasoning is that if people lie, it is because they wish they could make this claim, and therefore it is something desirable. On the other hand, his comment that no one lies about having been in Woodstock is not factual. Many people do claim they were in Woodstock, that the farm was probably stacked three stories high with hippies.

Zinni, who was the former Commander ion Chief of the U.S. Central Command, also explains how the Vietnam combat soldier had 240 days of combat, as compared with about 40 for World War II soldiers in the South Pacific. His comment that this helps in making us the “greatest generation” still may not be shared by many of us, even those of us who had boots on the ground in Vietnam.

He also extrapolates that because of the Vietnam generation, the U.S. military revised its ways, creating a force that caused the Soviets to give up. While this fact may be included in the reasons for the collapse of the Soviets, it is by no means critical. As we have learned  from disclosures after the demise of the Soviet empire, it never had the strength that Cold War mongers made us believe.

A retired Gen. Zinni gives a wave AP

This is especially true when one considers the overwhelming superiority in technology and nuclear capabilities that the U.S. and NATO possessed during the Cold War. Were we, the generation of Vietnam veterans, that decisive in toppling the Soviet empire? Many think not.

Notwithstanding the common attitude of dismissal of the peaceniks that is prevalent with veterans, especially the professional military, and the claims of neo-conservatives, the speech still remains full of facts that should be known by those that came after us or who didn’t serve in the military in Vietnam.

Vietnam veterans are better educated, economically more successful and more likely to help other citizens that are not as fortunate. Zinni implies that this is due to the forced maturity that a person gains who has been in combat. The people that served in my unit, third brigade 4th/25th Infantry Division, included Oliver Stone, the owner of an NBA team, top corporate managers, and prominent movie actors. Other prominent people have also elaborated on this apparent discrepancy since most in America believe that Vietnam veterans are more likely to be homeless, criminals and drug addicts.

Many Vietnam veterans were literally transferred from a listening post in a rice patty in a combat zone to normal jobs state side in less than a week. Soldiers, who had less than three months left in the military, were given an early out, and after a short paperwork pause, they were flown to their hometown where they were faced with families and obligations that were foreign to them. One veteran confided to me that upon arrival in New Jersey, he ended up working for organized crime as it was a very smooth transition from what he had been doing in Vietnam. A jail term finally put him the in the right geographical location mentally.

When Vietnam veterans meet, like in unit reunions, one of the favorite themes is to protest the treatment they received upon arrival back in the U.S. Many talk about being spat upon, being called baby killers and being discriminated in employment. They speculate that the common misconception that all Vietnam veterans were druggies, only fomented this attitude.

This, however, is in contrast with other veterans’ experiences, including my own. We were never insulted, we were thanked for our service and many of us received preference in jobs, especially after we finished college under the GI Bill.

Maybe the experience of Vietnam veterans is more predicated on what they have in their minds. Maybe if one expects the worst, that is what one gets.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles - ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket - in 21st Century Pacifist <http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/21st-century-pacifist/> at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.


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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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