Sunset on the Saigon River
#1 Major Gordon Livingston, AA ’56, USMA ’60, although a regimental surgeon in VN, saw quite a bit of combat before he chose to run afoul of the Army. Unusual for a medical officer, he was even decorated for valor. The major was Regimental Surgeon to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment based north of Saigon.
Colonel George Patton III was the tough, take few prisoners CO. Dr Livingston came to witness a number of things with the 11th which violated his sense of conscience, and he elected to speak out in a rare, if not unique instance, of a senior officer openly taking a position against the war in-country.
His mocking Blackhorse Prayer, which he chose to hand out to a bevy of generals at a change of command ceremony, ended his military career.
I Knew My Military Career was Over
A fellow lingy they knew in the Chinese program was also a biker on a big old Harl When I handed out the Blackhorse Prayer, I knew that my military career was over. I thought there was a fair chance they would court-martial me for ‘conduct unbecoming’. I had three small children at the time and definitely did not want to follow Howard Levy to jail. On the other hand, I felt that I could not walk away from what I had seen.
I was scared in a way that I had not been under fire. I also over-estimated the impact that my protest would have on the war. Since there was no body count and I didn’t go to jail, there was little notice of it outside the antiwar constituency.
In Vietnam I had what might be described as a flexible job. With little responsibility for direct patient care and a lot of helicopter transportation available, I tried to see as much of the war as possible.
I chose to live with the rest of the regimental staff at the ‘forward CP’ located near Bien Hoa, a city northeast of Saigon. I was also flight surgeon for the Air Cavalry Troop and flew regular missions with them in Cobras and the light observation helicopter (nicknamed Loach).
There was also a unit called the Aero-rifle Platoon (ARP) that was inserted into contacts, and I went on missions with them. I spent a week as well with a Marine squad in I Corps near the DMZ to investigate their ‘Combined Action Platoon’ program.
It all added up to a fair amount of combat experience, and one of the problems confronting the command structure of the 11th ACR when filling out my career-ending fitness report was how to account for it and still make me sound like a disgrace to the Army.
#2 Jeff’s friend in Vietnam, John Buquoi, published a volume of poems about his years there, a splendid collection about which I wrote in my brief review:
New Writing on Vietnam
The war in Vietnam has long been past, but from time to time new writing appears illuminating that dark period of our history in fresh light. So it is with John Buquoi’s Snapshots from the Edge of a War.
The poems can be read one by one, or as
in a single long narrative about a large chunk of America’s war in Vietnam.
Either way, the poet’s mastery of the myriad images of the experience as well
as his vivid, well-paced phrasing, will entrance and transport the reader back
to a forgotten time.
#3 Wars are tragic events in human affairs, but they often inspire fine writing. Gail Caldwell, a Pulitzer Prize writer, reflected on the ‘visual language’ of war. For Vietnam, the Huey with its begoggled door gunner became an iconic image.
The Peach Trees at Shiloh
Each war invents its own visual language: the peach trees at Shiloh, the trenches at Verdun, the beachheads of Normandy. The glorious mess of Vietnam, so exotic and fecund and wrong, gave us jazzed-up lexicon of mystery and carnage:
A firefight alongside the ragged refrains of ‘Riders on the Storm’. The Hueys and the lime-bleached enemy corpses, and the mordant Agent Orange slogan ‘Only you can prevent forests’.
Worse Than at Any Time in this Century
The morale, discipline, and battle-worthiness of the US Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time in this century and possibly in the history of the US.
By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and NCO’s, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous.
#5 Mark Shapiro was serving in VN before he deserted.
I remember Tet ’68. I was at Bien Hoa, a provincial capital. My transportation unit was under attack. All of us took up defensive positions. We saw a gas storage tank blow up.
I’ve forgotten details, but I was traumatized. Recently I’ve been having waking flashbacks.