What is a Viet Nam Veteran?

Source: Email
Published: 05/08/2009 Author: Dan Mouer
Posted On: May 8, 2009 at 10:57 AM By: Kathy

What is a Viet Nam Veteran?

A college student posted a request on an Internet newsgroup asking for personal narratives from the likes of us addressing the
question: "What is a Viet Nam Veteran?" This was reply from Viet Nam veteran Dan Mouer.

Viet Nam veterans are men and women. We are dead or alive, whole or maimed, sane or haunted. We grew from our
experiences or we were destroyed by them or we struggled to find some place in between. We lived through hell or we had a
pleasant, if scary, adventure. We were Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Red Cross, and civilians of all sorts. Some of us enlisted
to fight for God and Country, and some were drafted. Some were gung-ho, and some went kicking and screaming.

Like veterans of all wars, we lived a tad bit--or a great bit--closer to death than most people like to think about. If Viet Nam vets
differ from others, perhaps it is primarily in the fact that many of us never saw the enemy or recognized him or her. We heard
gunfire and mortar fire but rarely looked into enemy eyes. Those who did, like folks who encounter close combat anywhere and
anytime, are often haunted for life by those eyes, those sounds, those electric fears that ran between ourselves, our enemies, and
the likelihood of death for one of us. Or we get hard, calloused, tough. All in a day's work. Life's a bitch then you die. But most
of us remember and get twitchy, worried, sad.

We are crazies dressed in cammies, wide-eyed, wary, homeless, and drunk. We are Brooks Brothers suit wearers, doing deals
downtown. We are housewives, grandmothers, and church deacons. We are college professors engaged in the rational pursuit of
the truth about the history or politics or culture of the Viet Nam experience. And we are sleepless. Often sleepless.

We pushed paper; we pushed shovels. We drove jeeps, operated bulldozers, built bridges; we toted machine guns through dense
brush, deep paddy, and thorn scrub. We lived on buffalo milk, fish heads and rice. Or C-rations. Or steaks and Budweiser. We
did our time in high mountains drenched by endless monsoon rains or on the dry plains or on muddy rivers or at the most
beautiful beaches in the world.

We wore berets, bandanas, flop hats, and steel pots. Flak jackets, canvas, rash and rot. We ate cloroquine and got malaria
anyway. We got shots constantly but have diseases nobody can diagnose. We spent our nights on cots or shivering in foxholes
filled with waist-high water or lying still on cold wet ground, our eyes imagining Charlie behind every bamboo blade. Or we
slept in hotel beds in Saigon or barracks in Thailand or in cramped ships' berths at sea.

We feared we would die or we feared we would kill. We simply feared, and often we still do. We hate the war or believe it was
the best thing that ever happened to us. We blame Uncle Sam or Uncle Ho and their minions and secretaries and apologists for
every wart or cough or tic of an eye. We wonder if Agent Orange got us.

Mostly--and this I believe with all my heart--mostly, we wish we had not been so alone. Some of us went with units; but many,
probably most of us, were civilians one day, jerked up out of "the world," shaved, barked at, insulted, humiliated, de-egoized
and taught to kill, to fix radios, to drive trucks. We went, put in our time, and were equally ungraciously plucked out of the
morass and placed back in the real world. But now we smoked dope, shot skag, or drank heavily. Our wives or husbands
seemed distant and strange. Our friends wanted to know if we shot anybody.

And life went on, had been going on, as if we hadn't been there, as if Viet Nam was a topic of political conversation or college
protest or news copy, not a matter of life and death for tens of thousands.

Viet Nam vets are people just like you. We served our country, proudly or reluctantly or ambivalently. What makes us
different--what makes us Viet Nam vets--is something we understand, but we are afraid nobody else will. But we appreciate your

Viet Nam veterans are white, black, beige and shades of gray. Our ancestors came from Africa, from Europe, and China. Or
they crossed the Bering Sea Land Bridge in the last Ice Age and formed the nations of American Indians, built pyramids in
Mexico, or farmed acres of corn on the banks of Chesapeake Bay. We had names like Rodriguez and Stein and Smith and
Kowalski. We were Americans, Australians, Canadians, and Koreans; most Viet Nam veterans are Vietnamese.

We were farmers, students, mechanics, steelworkers, nurses, and priests when the call came that changed us all forever. We
had dreams and plans, and they all had to change...or wait. We were daughters and sons, lovers and poets, beatniks and
philosophers, convicts and lawyers. We were rich and poor. We were educated or not. We grew up in slums, in shacks, in
duplexes, and bungalows and houseboats and hooches and ranchers. We were cowards and heroes. Sometimes we were cowards
one moment and heroes the next.

Many of us have never seen Viet Nam. We waited at home for those we loved. And for some of us, our worst fears were
realized. For others, our loved ones came back but never would be the same. We are Republicans, Democrats, Socialists,
and Confucians and Buddhists and Atheists--though as usually is the case, even the atheists among us sometimes prayed to
get out of there alive.

We are hungry, and we are sated, full of life or clinging to death. We are injured, and we are curers, despairing and hopeful,
loved or lost. We got too old too quickly, but some of us have never grown up. We want, desperately, to go back, to heal
wounds, revisit the sites of our horror. Or we want never to see that place again, to bury it, its memories, its meaning. We want
to forget, and we wish we could remember. Despite our differences, we have so much in common. There are few of us who don't
know how to cry, though we often do it alone when nobody will ask "what's wrong?" We're afraid we might have to answer.

Adam, if you want to know what a Viet Nam veteran is, get in your car next weekend or cage a friend with a car to drive you.
Go to Washington. Go to the Wall. It's going to be Veterans Day weekend. There will be hundreds there...no, thousands. Watch
them. Listen to them. I'll be there. Come touch the Wall with us. Rejoice a bit. Cry a bit. No, cry a lot. I will. I'm a Viet Nam
Veteran; and, after 30 years, I think I am beginning to understand what that means.

Dan Mouer

The stereotypes are wrong. Let's look at the facts, starting with who actually served in Vietnam.
The image of those who fought in Vietnam is one of poorly educated, reluctant draftees -- predominantly poor whites and
minorities. But in reality, only one-third of Vietnam-era veterans entered the military through the draft, far lower than the 66
percent drafted in World War II.
It was the best-educated and most egalitarian military force in America's history -- and with the advent of the all-volunteer
military, is likely to remain so. In WWII, only 45 percent of the troops had a high school diploma. During the Vietnam War, almost 80
percent of those who enlisted had high school diplomas, and the percentage was higher for draftees -- even though, at the time,
only 65 percent of military-age males had a high school diploma.
Throughout the Vietnam era, the median education level of the enlisted man was about 13 years. Proportionately, three times as
many college graduates served in Vietnam than in WWII.
Another common assumption: The war in Vietnam was fought by youngsters wet behind the ears, who died as teenagers barely
old enough to shave. In fact, more 52-year-olds (22) died in Vietnam than 17-year-olds (12). An analysis of data from the
Department of Defense shows the average age of men killed in Vietnam was 22.8 years, or almost 23 years old.
Though the notion persists that those who died in Vietnam were mostly members of a minority group, it's not true. About 5
percent of KIAs were Hispanic and 12.5 percent were black -- making both minorities slightly under-represented in their
proportion of draft-age males in the national population.
A common negative image of the soldier in Vietnam is that he smoked pot and injected heroin to dull the horrors of combat.
However, except for the last couple of years of the war, drug usage among GIs in Vietnam was lower than for U.S. troops
stationed elsewhere.
When drug rates started to rise in 1971 and 1972, almost 90 percent of the men who served in Vietnam had already come and
gone. A study after the war by the VA showed drug usage of veterans and non-veterans to be about the same. And marijuana --
not heroin -- was the drug used in 75 percent of the cases. Of those addicted, 88 percent kicked the habit within three years of
Posterboy of Anti-War Movement:

The anti-war movement paraded Vietnam servicemen who had deserted their units as "proof" that it was an immoral war. But of
the 5,000 men who deserted for various causes during the Vietnam War period, only 5 percent did so while attached to units in
Only 24 deserters attributed their action to the desire to "avoid hazardous duty." Some 97 percent of Vietnam veterans received
honorable discharges, exactly the same rate for the military in the 10 years prior to the war.

After the war ended, reports began to circulate of veterans so depraved from their war experiences that they turned to crime,
with estimates of the number of incarcerated Vietnam veterans as high as one-quarter of the prison population. But most of
these accounts were based on self-reporting by criminals. In every major study of Vietnam veterans where military records were
verified, an insignificant number of prisoners were found to be actual Vietnam veterans.
A corollary to the prison myth is the belief that substantial numbers of Vietnam veterans are unemployed. A study by the Labor
Department in 1994 showed an unemployment rate of 3 percent for Vietnam veterans -- lower than that of Vietnam-era veterans
who served outside the Vietnam theater (5 percent), and for all male veterans (4.9 percent).

The same is true for the nonsense that Vietnam vets have high rates of suicide, often heard as the "fact" that more veterans had
died by their own hand than in combat. But that's a myth, too. A 1988 study by the Centers for Disease Control found Vietnam
veterans had suicide rates well within the 1.7 percent norm of the general population.
Societal Success:

In fact, Vietnam veterans are as successful or more successful than men their own age who did not go to war. Disproportionate
numbers of Vietnam veterans serve in Congress, for instance. Vice President Al Gore is a Vietnam veteran, as is enormously
popular Colin Powell.
They run Fortune 500 corporations (Frederick Smith of Federal Express), write screenplays (Bill Broyles formerly of Newsweek)
and report the evening news (ABC correspondent Jack Smith).
Actor Dennis Franz, who plays a detective on TV's NYPD Blue, is a Vietnam vet, as are large numbers of real law enforcement
agents, prosecutors and attorneys. No facet of American life has been untouched by the positive contributions of Vietnam
While stereotypes may persist in Hollywood and the media, America's finest increasingly run the country.
Vietnam Warriors:

A Statistical Profile In Uniform and In Country Vietnam Vets: 9.7% of their generation.
9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the Vietnam era (Aug. 5, 1964-May 7, 1975)
8,744,000 GIs were on active duty during the war (Aug. 5, 1964-March 28, 1973).
3,403,100 (including 514,300 offshore) personnel served in the Southeast Asia Theater (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, flight crews
based in Thailand, and sailors in adjacent South China Sea waters).
2,594,000 personnel served within the borders of South Vietnam (Jan. 1, 1965- March 28, 1973).
Another 50,000 men served in Vietnam between 1960 and 1964.
Of the 2.6 million, between 1-1.6 million (40-60%) either fought in combat, provided close support or were at least fairly regularly
exposed to enemy attack.
7,484 women (6,250 or 83.5% were nurses) served in Vietnam.
Peak troop strength in Vietnam: 543,482 (April 30, 1969).

Hostile deaths: 47,378
Non-hostile deaths: 10,800
Total: 58,202 (includes men formerly classified as MIA and Mayaguez casualties). Men who have subsequently died of wounds
account for the changing total.

8 nurses died -- 1 was KIA.

Married men killed: 17,539

61% of the men killed were 21 or younger

Highest state death rate: West Virginia- 84.1 (national average 58.9 for every 100,000 males in 1970).

Wounded: 303,704 -- 153,329 hospitalized + 150,375 injured requiring no hospital care.

Severely disabled: 75,000 -- 23,214 100% disabled; 5,283 lost limbs; 1,081 sustained multiple amputations.

Amputation or crippling wounds to the lower extremities were 300% higher than in WWII and 70% higher than in Korea. Multiple
amputations occurred at the rate of 18.4% compared to 5.7% in WWII.

Missing in Action: 2,338.

POWs: 766 (114 died in captivity).

Draftees vs. Volunteers:

25% (648,500) of total forces in country were draftees. (66% of U.S. armed forces members were drafted during WWII.)

Draftees accounted for 30.4% (17,725) of combat deaths in Vietnam.

Reservists killed: 5,977.

National Guard: 6,140 served; 101 died.

Total draftees (1965-73): 1,728,344.

Actually served in Vietnam: 38%

Marine Corps draft: 42,633.

Last man drafted: June 30, 1973.

Race and Ethnic Background

88.4% of the men who actually served in Vietnam were Caucasian; 10.6% (275,000) were black; 1% belonged to other races.

86.3% of the men who died in Vietnam were Caucasian (includes Hispanics);

12.5% (7,241) were black; 1.2% belonged to other races.

170,000 Hispanics served in Vietnam; 3,070 (5.2% of total) died there.

70% of enlisted men killed were of Northwest European descent.

86.8% of the men who were killed as a result of hostile action were Caucasian; 12.1% (5,711) were black; 1.1% belonged to other

14.6% (1,530) of non-combat deaths were among blacks.

34% of blacks who enlisted volunteered for the combat arms.

Overall, blacks suffered 12.5% of the deaths in Vietnam at a time when the percentage of blacks of military age was 13.5% of the
total population.

Religion of Dead:

Protestant -- 64.4%; Catholic -- 28.9%; other/none --6.7%.
Socio-Economic Status

76% of the men sent to Vietnam were from lower middle/working class backgrounds.

Three-fourths had family incomes above the poverty level; 50% were from middle income backgrounds.

Some 23% of Vietnam vets had fathers with professional, managerial or technical occupations.

79% of the men who served in Vietnam had a high school education or better when they entered the military service.
(63% of Korean War vets and only 45% of WWII vets had completed high school upon separation.)

Deaths by region per 100,000 of population: South-31; West-29.9; Midwest-28.4; Northeast-23.5.
Winning & Losing

82% of veterans who saw heavy combat strongly believe the war was lost because of lack of political will.

Nearly 75% of the public agrees it was a failure of political will, not of arms.
Honorable Service

97% of Vietnam-era veterans were honorably discharged.

91% of actual Vietnam War veterans and 90% of those who saw heavy combat are proud to have served their country.

66% of Vietnam vets say they would serve again if called upon.

87% of the public now holds Vietnam veterans in high esteem.
How to tell if you are a Viet Nam Vet.

"Your first aerobics class was a mandatory PT formation."

"Your first government-approved diet plan was COLD C-Rations."

"You know that S.O.S. is not a rescue call."

"Your first pair of name brand running shoes were Corcorans. (Boots)"

"You know that a COOK-OFF ROUND isn't a chef's contest."

"You know that fatigues aren't a yuppie disease of tiredness."

"You know that BUTTER-BAR and SHAKE-N-BAKE have nothing to do with food".

"You know that LRRP isn't a misspelling of Slurpie."

"Your BEER RATION was more useful as a commodity than a consumable".

"Your first gastronomic adventure was NUOC-MAM SAUCE".

"You know that the KITCHEN POLICE do not investigate food crimes".

"Your inspection HAIRCUT never includes a shaved forehead".
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