Recovery operations: We received an excellent briefing on
(U.S. efforts to recover American) remains. The Joint Task Force Full
Accounting Office is just that. I would defy anyone to find an instance in
the history of warfare where any nation has gone to the effort that we have
on behalf of our lost ones. They actually sift the dirt and sort it with
tweezers. Some of the video hit those of us with lost ones hard. Our Gold
Star wife went to pieces. Plei Ku: On our way to Plei Ku, I mentioned a
stick buddy from flight school who had been killed at the airfield there
during a communist attack. I recalled some confusion on just how he was
killed. I was shocked when an aviator in the group said he could tell me
exactly what happened. He had been my buddy's copilot the night he was
killed. We did our best to locate and photograph the airfield, now mostly
city, for his widow. The countryside: The ghosts of the GI are ubiquitous.
Next to his gun, the GI prized his steel pot and canteen. He cursed the
weight of the helmet, but during incoming gunfire, he frantically embraced
it, squeezing as much of his body as possible under its protective mantel.
With his steel pot, canteen, and cup, he also could cook, bathe, and shave.
Today the countryside of Vietnam is alive with the tinkle of GI canteen cups
converted to bells and hung from the necks of cows. The helmets still
protect; they are everywhere perched on the top of haystacks rerouting the
rain. Dog tags and Zippo lighters were for sale all over. Someday someone
will collect and perpetuate the incredible, albeit raw, poetry the GI
inscribed on his Zippo lighter. It was hard not to wonder what happened to
the owners of these relics. Untruths: Westy's former home is an atrocities
museum, and all museums (in Vietnam) were monuments to untruths. Where there
is no accountability to the people, there is no accounting for what they are
told. We found photos of "heroic" North Vietnamese females "capturing"
American pilots next to photos of American females protesting the war. GIs
were shown "praying to God to escape death," which in reality was a field
mass. President Ford was shown "planning a major atrocity," but the man
shown wasn't Gerald Ford. The most disturbing sight for me was a case full
of American flight helmets. It reminded me of the human skulls I saw stacked
in the basement of a museum on the French battlefield in Verdun. Robert
McNamara's book, a self-serving apology for Vietnam, was under glass in a
place of honor. Later we would drive down Nguyen Van Troi Street, named for
the Viet Cong martyr who once tried to kill McNamara. Communist sympathizers
Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden would name their son after Troi in honor of Troi's
effort to kill McNamara. Judging from the comments on our bus, we may at
last have found a point of agreement between many GIs and "Hanoi Jane."
Remembering the GI: We visited battlefields from the DMZ to
Saigon, many of which are marked with monuments to our "defeats" and the
glorious "victories" of communism. Vietnam may be the only place we ever
fought where there are no memorials to the GI. I vowed then to try and
change this. Communism will someday be gone, but even today we could build a
memorial to the GIs incredible medical and humanitarian effort there, one
that cared for enemies and allies equally. Such a memorial would add to the
healing and unifying of our two people. The people: You have to love these
hardworking, cheerful, and amazingly honest people, even those who had once
tried to kill you. At Plei Me we met a friendly, rugged chap who had fought
the French at Dien Bien Phu and walked the Ho Chi Minh Trail many times,
surviving the fiercest combat (against) us only to set off a mine while
farming in peace - and blow off an arm and a leg. Vietnam has some of the
most beautiful and charming young panhandlers in the world. They remind me
of my own personal flower girl whom I dearly loved and would have adopted
but for my wife reminding me of our (own) five children. The cyclo drivers
are still colorful. They would ask where I was from and then declare they
had a daddy about my age in that state. It raised my wife's eyebrows and
never helped with the tip. In one village a young girl threw a rock through
the window of a tour bus. The police stood down the entire village until
they found her and then raised enough money to pay for the window. One wife
on our tour left $400 out in her room, which was gone when she returned. The
maid had left her money at the front desk.
The children, almost without exception, preferred the United
States to all other countries. Their affection clearly had been passed down
from their parents and is a tribute to the compassion and generosity of the
American GI. One young man spoke glowingly about his favorite American
president, Ben Franklin. When I challenged his facts, he immediately pulled
out a $100 bill. Sure enough, there was old Ben. I smiled but wondered where
in the hell he got a $100 bill.
A parting vision: On our last night we were entertained by a
retired North Vietnamese colonel who also was a well-known artist. He had
walked the Ho Chi Minh Trail twice making sketches along the way. Through
his work I saw for first time the famous lifeline of the communist victory.
One picture he showed with pride disturbed me. It was a Trojan horse inside
a Buddhist temple only the temple was really an ammo factory. Going home:
I am pleased I returned. My wife learned about a Vietnam much different from
the media descriptions. And our Gold Star wife found the site of her
husband's death. Through speculation, luck, and the knowledge of our pilots
we settled on a pass south of Chu Lai, and she found peace. We must have
approached in the exact angle of the photo because we all saw the rocks at
about the same time and there was no doubt we were there. I saw many of the
battlefields and mine fields I flew into as a DUSTOFF pilot, including some
I visited on the day of my Medal of Honor action. It was an emotional
experience as I remembered the horrors of communism, the thrill of saving
lives, and the enduring inspiration I found in the courage of the GI.
The Vietnam War is the most unselfish war we ever fought,
but our work is not quite finished. Our efforts there rang the death knell
of communism - they just don't know what to do with the corpse.
For the Future: President George W. Bush recently appointed
Brady to the American Battle Monuments Commission. In this capacity, Brady
intends to work toward establishing a monument to honor the medical and
humanitarian services provided to all citizens of Vietnam by the U.S.
military during the Vietnam War.