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Người lính VNCH, người bạn đồng minh dũng cảm

I knew an American captain with a graduate degree from a prestigious university in cinematography (presumably a specialty that improves visual perceptiveness). He once returned from temporary duty in Thailand singing the praises of the Thai.

“They send their kids to school,” he said, contrasting them with the South Vietnamese. He was surprised, but not repentant, when I pointed out that there was a Vietnamese school right next door to our compound! Hundreds of little kids in bright blue-and-white school uniforms could be seen there daily — by anyone whose eyes were open. But this filmmaker apparently could not see them.

It is ironic that the Vietnamese — who by reputation honor learning more than Americans do and who raised South Vietnam’s literacy rate from about 20 percent to 80 percent even as war raged around them (and despite the enemy’s habit of murdering teachers) — were accused by the filmmaker of having no schools.

Because he was fighting in a foreign country and was separated from his family, this American had built up a hatred for Vietnam, and he wanted to believe the Vietnamese people were contemptible. Therefore, it was important to him to believe that they had no schools; and his emotions literally interdicted his optic nerves.

Imagine the feelings of the undereducated masses of American troops faced with a strange culture in a high-stress environment! Perhaps one cannot blame the troops for their ignorance. Heaven knows the U.S. command made only the most perfunctory effort to educate them about Vietnam and the nature of the war.

However, that is no excuse for veterans to pretend that they understand what they saw in Vietnam. America’s Vietnam veterans must be honored for their courage, sacrifice and loyalty to their country. But courage and sacrifice are not the same as knowledge. Fighting in Vietnam didn’t make soldiers into experts on the country or the war, any more than having a baby makes a woman an expert on embryology.

What most U.S. soldiers did there taught them little or nothing about South Vietnam’s culture, society, politics, etc. Few Americans spoke more than a half-dozen words of Vietnamese; even fewer read Vietnamese books and newspapers; and not many more read books about Vietnam in English.

Except for advisers, few Americans worked with any Vietnamese other than (perhaps) the clerks, laundresses and waitresses employed by U.S. forces.

Most important for our purpose, few U.S. troops ever observed South Vietnamese forces in combat. Even the ones who did rarely considered the attitude differences that must have existed between soldiers like the Americans, who only had to get through one year and knew their families were safe at home, and troops like the South Vietnamese, who had to worry about their families’ safety every day and who knew that only death or grievous wounds would release them from the army. The Vietnamese naturally used a different measuring stick to determine what was important in fighting the war.

Journalists were no better. Consider a biased TV report I heard in which a reporter denounced South Vietnam’s air force because — despite Vietnamization — it “let the Americans” fly the tough missions against North Vietnam.

In fact, it was the United States that would not let the South Vietnamese fly into North Vietnam (except for a few missions in the early days of the bombing). The American leaders wanted to control the bombing so that the United States could use it as a negotiating tool.

Not wanting the South Vietnamese to have any control over bombing policy, the U.S. forces deliberately gave them equipment unsuited for missions up North. South Vietnam did not get the fighter-bombers, weapons, refueling aircraft or electronic-warfare equipment necessary for such missions. It was an American decision.

The TV reporter in question either was ignorant of that fact or chose to ignore it in order to do a hatchet job on the American allies. Considering his blatantly biased words and tone of voice, I concluded that any ignorance he suffered from was deliberate.

Another example of media bias came during the Khe Sanh siege. If you asked a thousand Americans which units fought at Khe Sanh, most of those who had heard of the battle would probably know that U.S. Marines did. But it would be surprising if more than one out of the thousand knew that a South Vietnamese Ranger battalion had shared the rigors of the siege with American Marines. Other South Vietnamese units took part in supporting operations outside the besieged area. The U.S. media just did not consider the American allies worthy of coverage unless they were doing something shameful, so these hard-fighting soldiers became quite literally the invisible heroes of Khe Sanh.

All this — soldier and media bias — came together clearly during news reports of the 1972 incursion into Laos.

Consider a TV documentary a decade ago. It included film of some American GIs being interviewed during the Laotian fighting. These guys, themselves safely inside South Vietnam, were “explaining” the South Vietnamese army’s struggle in contemptuous, racist remarks. The reporter then suggested that these American GIs understood the situation better than the American generals.

The incursion, of course, is the source of the infamous photo of a South Vietnamese soldier escaping from Laos by clinging to a helicopter skid. This image was and is held up to Americans again and again as “proof” of South Vietnamese unworthiness.

In fact, it is a classic example of photography’s power to lie. What happened was this: The South Vietnamese were struck by overwhelming Communist forces. The U.S. military failed to provide the support that had been promised because enemy anti-aircraft fire was too strong. There were reports of U.S. helicopter crews kicking boxes of howitzer ammunition out the doors from 5,000 feet up, hoping the stuff would land inside South Vietnamese perimeters. The helicopters simply couldn’t get any closer.

Given that context, consider the way Colonel Robert Molinelli, an American officer who witnessed the action, described it in the Armed Forces Journal of April 19, 1971: “A South Vietnamese battalion of 420 men was surrounded by an enemy regiment of 2,500-3,300 men for three days. The U.S. could not get supplies to the unit. It fought till it ran low on ammunition, then battled its way out of the encirclement using captured enemy weapons and ammunition. It carried all of its wounded and some of its dead with it. Reconnaissance photos showed 637 visible enemy dead around its position.

The unit was down to 253 effectives when it reached another South Vietnamese perimeter. Some 17 of those men did panic and rode helicopter skids to escape. The rest did not.

Now, some might consider dangling from a high-flying, fast-moving helicopter for many miles, subject to anti-aircraft fire, to be a pretty gutsy move. But, aside from that, how can such an isolated incident — during a hard-fought withdrawal-while-in-contact (universally acknowledged to be just about the toughest maneuver in the military inventory) — be inflated into condemnation of an entire army, nation and population?

The answer is racism. The guys hanging from the helicopter skids were funny-looking foreigners. If they had been Americans, or even British, the reaction undoubtedly would have been one of compassion for the ordeal they had been through.

Evidence for this is found in how Americans responded to the British retreats early in World War II.

There were some disgraceful displays among British forces at Dunkirk and elsewhere. At Dunkirk a sergeant in one evacuation boat had to aim a submachine gun at his panicky charges to keep order on board. On another boat soldiers had to pummel an officer with their weapons to keep him from climbing over the gunwale and swamping the boat. In Crete, a New Zealand brigade had to ring its assigned embarkation beach with a cordon of bayonets to keep fear-stricken English troops from swarming over the boats.

Yet the image of Britain’s lonely stand against Hitler in 1940 is one of heroism. That’s perfectly justified by the facts, and isolated incidents like the ones described above should not detract from the overall picture of courage and devotion.

It is certainly true that South Vietnamese forces gave an undistinguished performance in the final days, with the exception of the incredibly heroic defense of Xuan Loc.

Yet there are reasons for that. And there are reasons to believe that, with more loyal support from the Americans, the South Vietnamese could have turned in more Xuan Loc-style performances and perhaps even have saved their country.

The real issue again is not just how the South Vietnamese performed, however; it is how their performance compared with the way Americans might have performed under similar circumstances.

And the truth is that American troops — if they were abandoned by the U.S. the way South Vietnamese were — probably would perform no better than the South Vietnamese did.

Remember: the United States had cut aid to South Vietnam drastically in 1974, months before the final enemy offensive. As a result, only a little fuel and ammunition were being sent to South Vietnam. South Vietnamese air and ground vehicles were immobilized by lack of spare parts. Troops went into battle without batteries for their radios, and their medics lacked basic supplies. South Vietnamese rifles and artillery pieces were rationed to three rounds of ammunition per day in the last months of the war.

The situation was so bad that even the North Vietnamese commander who conquered South Vietnam, General Van Tien Dung, admitted his enemy’s mobility and firepower had been cut in half. Aside from the direct physical effect, we must take into account the impact this impoverishment had on South Vietnamese soldiers’ morale.

Into this miserable state of affairs the North Vietnamese slashed, with a well-equipped, well-supplied tank-and-motorized-infantry blitzkrieg.

Yes, the South Vietnamese folded. Yes, they abandoned some equipment (much of which would not work anyway for lack of spare parts) and some ammunition (which they had hoarded until it was too late to shoot it or move it, because they knew they would never get any more). So whose fault was that? Theirs… or America’s?

Yes, South Vietnam’s withdrawal from the vulnerable northern provinces was belated and clumsy, leading to panic and collapse. But how could the South Vietnamese government have abandoned its people any earlier, before the enemy literally forced it to?

For a while the South Vietnamese hoped the American B-52s would return and help stem the Communist tide. When it became clear they would not, understandable demoralization set in.

The fighting spirit of the forces was sapped, and many South Vietnamese soldiers deserted — not because they were cowards or were not willing to fight for their country, but because they were unwilling to die for a lost cause when their families desperately needed them.

Would Americans do any better under the conditions that faced the South Vietnamese in 1975? Would U.S. units fight well with broken vehicles and communications, a crippled medical system, inadequate fuel and ammunition, and little or no air support — against a powerful, well-supplied and confident foe? I doubt it.

Would the South Vietnamese have won in 1975 if the U.S. government had kept up its side of the bargain and continued matching the aid poured into North Vietnamese by the Communists?

The answer is unknowable. Certainly they would have had a fighting chance, something the U.S. betrayal denied them. Certainly they could have fought more effectively. Even if defeated, they might have gone down heroically in a fight that could have formed the basis for a nation-building legend and for continued resistance against Communism on the Afghan model.

Even if the South Vietnamese had been totally defeated, wholehearted U.S. support would have enabled Americans to shrug and say they had done their best. However, the U.S. did not do its best, and for Americans to try to disguise that fact by slandering the memory of South Vietnam and its army is wrong.

It is too late now for Americans to make good the terrible crime committed in abandoning the South Vietnamese people to Communism. But it is not too late to acknowledge the error of American insults to their memory. It is not too late to begin paying proper honor to their achievements and their heroic attempt to defend their liberty.

Harry F. Noyes III (BA, University of the South; MA, University of Hawaii) served four years of active duty in the Air Force after his ROTC commissioning in 1967. He was an information officer at Norton AFB, California, and Yokota AB, Japan, and a film researcher/scenarist at Tan Son Nhut AB, South Vietnam. Presently a civilian public affairs specialist at Headquarters US Army Health Services Command, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, he has been editor of the joint Army-Air Force Wiesbaden Post, Wiesbaden Military Community, West Germany, and a reporter covering military affairs at Fort Head, Texas, for the Killeen Daily Herald. He has written articles for a variety of publications.

Nguồn: vietamericanvets.com

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4 Phản hồi cho “Người lính VNCH, người bạn đồng minh dũng cảm”

  1. Dieu Minh says:

    Rất cần thiết để phổ biến bài này bằng Anh ngữ cho bạn bè 5 châu 4 biển biết cũng như qua phần tiếng Việt để toàn dân Việt biết rằng chiến tranh VN đã được nhìn thấy như thế nào dưới mắt một người Mỹ nhân bản.

  2. chi linh Bui says:

    TOI RAT PHUC NGUOI VIET NGOUI CUU CHIEN BING MY NAY, SAU KHI TRO LAI MY DA DI HOC LAI DE LAY DUOC BANG CAO HOC. CAM ON ANH DA TRINH BAY MIT CACH KHACH QUAN VE MOT QUAN LUC VNCH. TO DUOC DINH CU O MY SAU VAI NAM O TU DUOI CHE DO CONG SAN.
    VI KHONG THICH MOT CHE DO MAN DI MOI RO CU CONG SAN NEN DA THOAT KHOI DAT NUOC BANG BAT CU GIA NAO DU PHAI BO MANG TREN RUNG SAU HAY BIEN CA. CUOI CUNG TO DA DAT CHAN TREN NUOC MY. BANG MOI GIA DI HOC LAI DE CO MOT CAI NGHE DE VUON LEN TRONG XA HOI MY. CUOI CUNG TOI DA CO MOT NGHE KHIEM NHUONG DE BAO DAM CUOC SONG CUA XU NGUOI, NHUNG ANH VAN KHONG DU DE VIET LACH. TUY NHIEN TRONG LUC DI LAM O CAC CO QUAN CUA XA HOI MOI, TOI DEU CO CO HOI GIAI THICH CHO NGUOI MY RO. LUC DAU HO CON ARGUING VOI TOI, TOI DAN CHUNG VA GIAI THIC CHO HO THAY RO CAI SAI CUA BON CHINH KHACH MY DA NOI XAU KHI BO ROI DA BO ROI MIEN NAM VIET NAM. TOI CAM ON CAC NHA TRI THUC MY CO CAI NHIN TRUNG THUC NHU TAC GIA
    DA VIET LEN THUC THUC NAY.

  3. Trung Hoàng says:

    Hình ảnh nguời lính VNCH rất đáng yêu.

  4. Aqua says:

    Tháng Tư Đen , xin thành kính tưởng nhớ những Anh linh tử sĩ đã VỊ QUỐC VONG THÂN . Mãi mãi lịch sữ sẽ khắc ghi công trạng của các Anh

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