This year, while trying to fathom exactly how long the GWOT had been going on, another fact hit me in the teeth. Just how ‘long in the tooth’ our Vietnam counterparts are getting. It has been nearly 50 years since that Jungle War ended (for us), and we are quite unfortunately losing our Veterans now at an accelerating pace.
I was very fortunate in my career, in two regards. First, my long time mentor happened to be a Vietnam Vet. He helped me immeasurably along the way, right up until his Agent Orange-related death in 2012. Second, the Special Forces Regiment has always kept its Vietnam hands close to the force. No matter how long ago they retired, you could count on them to be around for the critical parts of training. And rightly so. The official date might be in the 50’s with 10th Group, but for my money, we were born in Southeast Asia. A lot of hard lessons that shape the force to this day were learned in that war, as were most of the Legends of the Regiment.
So I am here today to tell you, it would be well worth your time to seek out your own Jungle Rabbi. We owe them a great debt, not only in the lessons they learned for us, but in how Veterans are treated in the modern era. There wasn’t a Lowes discount and free Applebee’s on 11 Nov back in 68. For the most part, troops from Vietnam were treated horribly on their return home. And after they got older, they are the ones that ensured it would never happen again.
Now part of that treatment may be a root cause to the fact that many Vietnam Veterans loathe to talk about their time in the war. Which is an absolute shame, because man do they have some stories. It doesn’t matter if they were running and gunning in Cambodia with MACV/SOG, or pumping gas into an F-4 Phantom. It was a very different conflict, and very eye opening to hear about from our current high tech perch. And if your Jungle Rabbi doesn’t mind, write that fucking story down. The biggest loss we could suffer would be the first hand accounts of how it really was.
It may take some time, but most of the old timers will open up. A lot of that, in my opinion, comes from you being around long enough to be seen as a peer. Maybe a young whipper snapper, but a peer nonetheless. The range manager across the street from me, when I taught SFAUC (Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat), was an old guy none of us knew. But we would invite him over for beers after work, help him with logistical pinches, whatever. I guess enough time passed, and because we were telling stories about shooting people, that he finally felt at home.
One day he starts talking, and it just flowed, like a dam breaking. You could have heard a pin drop from my crew (an arguably pretty hard lot of Green Berets with around 25 tours between the 5 of us). This old guy had 6 tours in ‘Nam with Group, and was actually AT the battle of Lang Vei. For a modern Special Forces guy, that is roughly the equivalent of Jesus showing up to your Christmas Party, plus he brought Moses and Noah. After that, every chance we got, we asked him for more stories.
So this holiday season, if you can, spend some time at your VFW or American Legion. Hell, go the VA Soldiers Home. Whatever you need to do, find a Vietnam Veteran that will bullshit with you. I guarantee, it will be a solid investment of your time.