The Soldier as Spittoon

In this week’s column I quote an expert who says that there are no documented cases of Vietnam vets being spat upon when they came home to the United States. I received several replies from vets taking issue with that claim. Few were credible, some were, but the standout for what I think are obvious reasons was the following. Without comment, here it is.

I read you column semi-religiously, as an wonton agnostic should. I usually agree with you on theory, but this time I have to add to your details.

While not the returning wounded Vietnam veteran, I do have a spit story.

I was attending the State University of New York Maritime College in

1965-1969. On my first trip into NY City as a cadet, I was wearing my brand

new dress uniform. It was a Merchant Marine cadet uniform, dress blues, and

I was pretty uncomfortable in a new costume, but very proud of the fact that

I had it on. Being a freshman in college, and it being 1965, I really did

not come to a personal conclusion about Vietnam, but I was not anxious to go

there, nor would I have volunteered. My college position deferred me from

the draft, and I was going to graduate as a Merchant Marine officer which

would have deferred me as well.

I got off the subway at Lexington and 42nd Street and was walking to Times

Square. I was walking tall trying to support the look of the new uniform.

An rumpled old lady walking the other way was mostly looking at the ground.

As she came close she looked up and without any visible thought process at

all she hacked up the largest loogie you can imagine and hawked it right on

my lapel. As you can imagine, my 18 year old psyche was devastated. I

found some old newspaper to wipe it off, but I never again wore that uniform

without a though about her. That might have been good.

After graduating, in 1969, my first two assignments turned out to be in

Vietnam. The first 8 months out of school I was transporting Korean troops

from Pusan to Vietnam and taking 1 year vets home. (the group going home

was always smaller and much quieter) Following that I got a ship that

wasn’t supposed to be going there but ended up going to Vietnam forever. We

shuttled containers from Cam Rhan Bay to Saigon, Qui Nhon and Da Nang, back

and forth. The ship was shot at several times and hit once.

I went there dubious of our need to be involved, and while there fell in

love with the beauty of the country, and its people. I read and studied its

history and politics, and when I left after being there for about a year and

a half, I was no longer dubious. We were not there for the right reasons,

we were clearly not there for the Vietnamese and we were doing much more

harm than good. The body count kept rising, there was a big dent in the

number of baby boomers, but the sheer number of Vietnamese who were killed

was staggering.

My conclusion is that war has no winners. All losers, some worse than

others, the poor of both countries were devastated the most. Wealthy

Americans got deferments, or at worst, some post at Cubi in the Philippines

counting beer kegs at the O’Club. A very few ended up as officers away from

the fray, some like Kerry actually saw combat. Poor Americans were grunts,

and had a terrible rate of repatriation.

I am sure that we need a military, but wish we could take our lessons from

Switzerland. Train everyone, build fortifications at home, be ready to

defend, maybe even help police troubled areas so stability can be restored

but an offensive army is just that, offensive! Offensive to our values and

our Constitution and to the ideals of the founding fathers.

I wish I could thank that old lady!

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