Thursday, October 28, 2004

Speaking Out: A Vietnam Vet's Story

It is my priviledge to honor a Vietnam Veteran, Ernie Stevens, the director of the WWII Museum located in Ruston, LA. What you are about to read are his words and his story.

It is a privilege to address you today as the Director of Louisiana’s newest State Museum. The Louisiana Military Museum serves as a reminder that the freedom we so richly enjoy has not been handed to us as a gift. It has been earned – paid for through the sacrifices of patriots who believe that tyranny and evil shall not rule on this earth. Whenever I am at the Military Museum, working on new displays, or archiving information on local veterans, I am reminded of these sacrifices.

Most of you know me. I was born in Ruston and grew up here. Those of you that do know me are aware that I am a Veteran of the Vietnam War. Like most veterans, I have kept silent about my experiences in that war. One thing common among veterans is that most of us are uncomfortable talking about war. However, on occasion we do – today I’d like to make an exception – I feel that what I would like to say is relevant to what is going on today. Let me share a personal experience with you.

On a very hot day in July of 1966, the men of Kilo-Company, 3rd Btln, 4th Marines discovered a North Vietnamese field hospital and supply depot deep in the jungles just south of the DMZ. The main force of NVA was out in the jungle, trying to engage other companies from our battalion. They had left only a handful of soldiers to guard the base. Just as we hadn’t counted on finding this base camp, they hadn’t counted on us coming in from behind and had left the back door open – so to speak.

We lost two marines in the fight, but we killed the NVA defenders and took over the hospital base. It was quite an adventure, digging through all the equipment and material they left behind. Guns, munitions, helmets, uniforms, medical supplies, radio equipment, personal gear – all there for us to explore. What caught our attention most was the discovery of medical supplies clearly marked ‘A Gift to the Army of North Vietnam from the Students of Berkley California”.

It caught our attention, but it didn’t make us mad. At the time, we had more important things to worry about than a bunch of bleeding hearts from Berkley. We had a war to fight. We were well aware that we had taken over a major supply base.

Somewhere out there in the jungle, was the 324-B Division of the North Vietnamese Army. They would want it back. We were also aware that we were below Co. Strength, about 90 strong. We secured our positions and readied for the counter attack we knew was coming. For the next five days and nights, the NVA tried to take their base back from us. They made a determined effort, but they failed. We killed the sappers they sent in to destroy our gun positions. When they attacked in force, we beat them back. In bitter night fighting, we repulsed every attempt they made. For many of us, the fighting got down to the most primitive type of combat – hand to hand. Pistols, bayonets, and entrenching tools often became the weapons of necessity. Eighteen year-old boys grew up fast in Vietnam.

In a foxhole at night, in the Jungle, we learned that the only things you could count on were your own skills, the skills of the Marine next to you and your faith in God. We did our job well. The NVA were unable to retake their hospital/supply base. In the end, we destroyed the base and all the supplies. We took prisoners and left behind hundreds of dead NVA. We were young, but we were Marines! We upheld the finest traditions of the corps, and I have no doubt that the Marines from Belleau Wood, Guadacanal, Iwo Jima, Chosin Resovoir would have said "well done”.

We went on from there to fight in many other deadly battles. Whenever we met the NVA in combat, we defeated him. The fight was hard, we lost many good Marines; we saw and did things that are unnatural for most men, but we did our job and asked for nothing in return.

Now that I am older, and those battles are long past, I often think about that day when we found the “Gifts” from the Berkley students. There was something wrong with this picture-We were Americans, and as we fought, our enemy was being aided by other Americans! I wonder just how strong the resolve of the North Vietnamese would have had been had they not believed that many Americans were on their side.

As we fought and died in the unforgiving jungles of Vietnam, in America, students were protesting in the streets against the war. Some openly waving Viet Cong flags while burning American flags. Popular folk singers flooded the airwaves with anti-war songs. The National News Networks gave extensive coverage to these events and delighted in broadcasting that Walter Cronkite, with all his military genius, proclaimed that the war in Vietnam was un-winnable. Draft dodgers followed the yellow streak on their backs and fled to Canada.

American actress and anti-war activist Jane Fonda traveled to North Vietnam to publicly denounce the war and label American prisoners of war “murderers”. While she frolicked with North Vietnamese generals, some of these prisoners were being tortured to death. During the darkest days of the Vietnam War, these people and many others aided the enemy on a daily basis – and nothing was done about it.

In World War II, a popular poster proclaimed ‘loose lips sink ships”. Americans took that war seriously and acts of treason weren’t tolerated.

Today, we are engaged in another war. Again, young men are growing up fast, this time in the deserts and cities of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan. They see and do things that will stay with them the rest of their lives.

Those of us who have seen war know that these brave, young Americans are doing a difficult, deadly job. They are doing it well and professionally. They have earned the unflinching respect of this Marine. I don’t know, that if during their searches, they are finding ‘gifts’ from Americans here at home. But, I do know that every day they fight, their enemy is emboldened to resist by listening to the ‘gifts’ of treasonous rhetoric from Americans who should know better.

Every time I hear one of these liberal idiots raving –
That – "We shouldn’t be in Iraq because thee were no WMD."
That – "America is responsible for this war."
That – "American forces are occupiers not liberators."
That – "Because we haven’t captured OBL, somehow we have lost our focus in the War on Terror."
That – "We NEED countries like France, Russia, Germany in order to defend ourselves." The list goes on and on…

For every excuse I hear, I get angry. But more than angry, I can’t help but be puzzled. For the most part, and there are exceptions, I think that the people who say these things are good descent people. I don’t doubt that they love this country. I think that if the enemy was knocking at their door and threatening their family, they would fight back. But history has proven to us that waiting for the enemy to knock at the door is waiting too late.

When Sam Houston was able to raise a force large enough to attack Santa Anna, for the defenders of the Alamo, it was too late. When the Jews decided to fight back in the Warsaw Ghetto, it was too late. When terrorists flew two commercial airplanes into the WTC, and another into the Pentagon, for over 3,000 Americans, it was too late!

When it is too late, its just that: Too late.

I have a 13 year-old daughter at home. She is my pride and joy. I love her very much and I would defend her with my life – no hesitation. If I knew that you had publicly stated that you intended to harm her, if you had been warned to stop threatening and you did not stop, and I was convinced that you possessed both the ability and the means to harm her, there is no way I would wait for you to knock at the door.

I would take the fight to you. I would hit you hard, where you live, with every weapon at my disposal and I wouldn’t stop until you no longer had the ability to harm her. I would do this with no regard for you or anyone who assisted you. I might worry about it later, but only after you no longer presented a threat. Even then, I doubt that I would worry about it very much. I would much rather explain why I harmed you, than for you to explain why you harmed her. By the same token, I love this country! I have fought and bled for her, with no hesitation or regrets.

As an individual citizen however, I cannot, on my own, strike against those that plan to do her harm. I am thankful that we have a Commander in Chief that looks after our country like I look after my daughter. I am thankful that our President has what it takes to go after the enemy – hit him hard, where he lives, and destroy his ability to harm us.

I imagine that the victims of 9/11, if they had the chance, would wish that our former Commander in Chief, when he had the chance, would have had hit the enemy hard – and destroyed his ability to harm us.

Recently, one man boasted loudly and repeatedly. “I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as President”.

I say – He defended our country in combat for 4 months, and in the process, wounded himself, awarded himself medals (which he later dishonored) and it would appear, spent more time engaging in photo ops than engaging the enemy. Upon his return from Vietnam, he joined forces with the likes of American traitor Jane Fonda and engaged in a blistering attack on the men still fighting the war.

On his own, while in Paris, he met with the leaders of North Vietnam. A gesture that was so well received in Hanoi that today a photo of this meeting hangs on the wall in the Hanoi War Museum.

Our president on the other hand, has defended this country without hesitation since 9/11. He has taken the fight to the enemy and is destroying his ability to harm us. He has been unwavering in his resolve, and in the process, shown steadfast respect for the men and women in uniform.

My only objection is that he is too soft on the enemy. He is a politician. He has a warriors heart, but he is still a politician. In my opinion, if he would turn the military operations over to the generals – let them do their job, the war would be won and over in no time.

The enemy respects nothing, but they fear one thing – strength.

I would show them the full strength of the United States, and in doing so would extend them no more mercy than they extended Daniel Byrne, Nick Berg, or the sailors aboard the USS Cole, or the 3,000+ innocent Americans on 9/11. We would discuss things when the smoke cleared, not until.

My daughter sleeps well at night. She knows I will protect her with all I have. I sleep well at night, secure in the knowledge that our President has what it takes to protect us as a nation.

We are at war! Not a conventional war where armies can be defeated and governments surrender. We are in a war against “Terrorist”. These are people who pledge allegiance to no flag, and care nothing about human life. Makes no difference to them if they kill civilians, women and children, just as long as they kill us. If they die in the process, they are satisfied.

Our enemy is intent on one thing, and that is to destroy our way of life. They hate us for what we are – free thinking people. They have declared war on us and they do not intend to stop, until they win, or they are destroyed. I vote for the latter.

The Louisiana Military Museum is filled with artifacts that represent men and women who, when history demanded it, in their time, also voted for the latter. Evil is not new in this world. It has existed in many forms: Imperialism, Fascism, Nazism, and communism. By whatever name it has been known, evil has been met and defeated by good men throughout history. Today, the evil is called Terrorism. Once again, history has called upon America to lead the fight.

America is fortunate to have now, and must retain, the leadership with the will to see this mission completed. Through it all, those of us who can no longer serve on the front-lines, will continue to serve on the home front. We will never yield in our support of our fighting forces.

The Louisiana Military Museum will continue to collect, catalog, preserve and display the artifacts that represent the contributions made by the men and women who have fought, and are still fighting the good fight.

God bless our President, God bless our fighting forces, and most of all God bless America.
Thank you Mr. Stevens for your great service and sacrifice. May God bless you and your family. Many of us stand with you in honoring all of our fighting forces and all veterans.