Medals of the Vietnam Conflict given to President Ford out of protest.
Ford and the Dodgers – Vietnam
The trope is a familiar one. Returning veterans of the war in Vietnam joining in with the protesters all over the country, trying to bring the war to an end. As a sign of protest, they would take their medals and citations and toss them in the reflecting pool at the Mall in Washington. Sometimes over the fence at the White House as a sign of anger and frustration.
The war was something that people didn’t understand. Unlike WW2 there was no clear-cut definition or goal. It was a war that was being fought mainly to prove that we were willing to fight. The men and women that served often felt like tools and pawns of the power in Washington. Their need to protest to be heard and understood was well-founded. But there is another side to the story.
Many men and women served and did their duty. While they may have had strong feelings about the right or wrong of the war, they fought it. They did their duty when called. Then something amazing happened to them that caused many to speak out though they had remained silent so far.
On September 16, 1974, President Gerald Ford announced that those who had dodged the draft (Draft Dodgers) and avoided service would be allowed to earn clemency by providing an “alternate” service to their country. In exchange for two years of public service, their sins would be forgiven.
A new wave of protests was started, this time not against the war but against the idea that those who illegally avoided fighting would be forgiven. Many veterans sent their medals and citations directly to President Ford himself in protest. The photo above is a collection of just some of the medals that Ford received in protest. In an effort to heal the wounds of the nation, he only created a deeper divide.
The Army Commendation Medal is a mid-level award given out for “sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service.” It entered service in 1945 as the Army Commendation Ribbon. By 1960 it had achieved full medal status.
The medal can be awarded to any member of the US Armed Forces (except general officers) that distinguishes oneself while doing service with the US Army anytime after December 6, 1941. Members of a friendly foreign military are eligible as of June 1, 1962.
The commendation is awarded on the approval of a Colonel or higher. The medal is a bronze hexagon approximately 1 3/8 inches wide. The medallion shows a bald eagle with the wings spread, three arrows grasped in its talons. On its chest is a shield with thirteen stripes. The reverse of the medallion contains the words For Military Merit. There is a space between the military and merit for the recipient’s name along with a laurel sprig. The ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide in myrtle green with five white stripes spaced evenly apart.
Coming into service in 1964 and still in use today by the National Guard the M102 105MM Howitzer is an incredible piece of artillery.
She can fire off 3 to 10 rounds per minute and can throw a 33lb projectile from 7 to almost 10 miles down range. The firing platform can be lowered and allows the piece a 360′ range of motion. She has seen service with the US Army in every conflict from the Vietnam War forward. The M102 is still in use by many of our allies around the world.
That all sounds cool, but what makes this piece something special? Well, it was light enough that it could be towed by a regular two-ton truck. It could be manhandled into position. If it is needed someplace a truck could not go it was light enough to be delivered by helicopter. Oh, it could also be parachuted in. Basically, there was nowhere this gun could not be effective.
Not cool enough? OK, how about this. The US Air Force used a modified version of the M102 in their AC-130 Gunships. That’s right, not only can it be carried and dropped from the air, but it can be fired from the air!
The one in the picture has not fired for a while but you can get the sense of how small and compact these guns were. Even seven miles away it sure would be tough to be on the business end of one of these.
America has always had a complicated relationship with its military. When there is a need for a strong army, to defend and protect our way of life we celebrate and honor them.
Once the wars are over we tend to shove them out of sight and out of mind. It’s a pattern that has followed the soldiers of our country from the middle of the Revolution to this very day. Yet still, they serve. Without question. Without thought. They sacrifice their lives and families so that we can all go about our lives without fear.
Men like the one in the photo above.
His name is lost to history. The man who took the picture is gone and so is his memory of his fellow soldier. This was taken somewhere in Vietnam during that conflict.
The picture shows a man who is battle-worn and tired, exhausted from having not slept for who knows how long. Cans on the ground around him indicate a hastily eaten meal of c-rations, his head resting on the pack that carried everything that he currently owns.
The rest is well-earned, the enemy in this case never far away and constantly on his mind. Dreams of home the only defense against the horrors of war he faces on a daily basis.
Odds are if you ask him why they fight they won’t say for God and country. They won’t spout some great political treatise on Capitalism versus Communism. They will tell you they fight for the people at home. For the others who are just as tired and exhausted as they are.
We still field a mostly volunteer military. True, some don’t have a choice, but all make the decision to serve. Rember them tonight when you are safe and warm.
White Phosphorus is one of the more versatile and devastating type of munitions that has even been used in war. It burns hot and bright. Military uses range from the creation of smoke screens and tracer rounds to anti-personnel weapons. Due to the heat it gives off it can burn and ignite cloth, ammunition, fuel. Basically anything that is combustible. Once it starts burning it will continue to burn until it has used up all the air or all the available fuel.
The use of the compound can be traced back to WWI. The picture above was taken in a field hospital during the Vietnam War and shows the effect it can have on the human body. it is deployed through either aircraft bombings or artillery shells. Back in the day those delivery methods were not as accurate as they are now. Sometimes accidents happened, as is the case for the poor soul above.
Once the shell or bomb explodes the burning phosphorous “splashes” causing white-hot pieces of shrapnel to cover the immediate area. The shrapnel then ignites whatever it touches. In this case it ignited the uniform and burned to the skin in a matter of seconds. The most effective way to deal with these kinds of wounds is to remove the burning material from the skin. That usually means removing the skin that it was attached to. Doing so quickly could prevent more serious and life threatening damage. Failing to do so would lead to an agonizing death.
Known by the slang term “Willie Pete” or sometimes just WP, it has been as controversial as it has been effective. Currently the use of the compound in war is heavily regulated by international treaty. And we all know how that usually works out…
A small city in the middle of nowhere made up of the same style buildings. Semi-circular, corrugated metal, long and low. That is a Quonset Hut you see making up these small cities that have served as makeshift homes and office for the military since the early days of WWII.
In 1941 the US Navy was looking for a lightweight, general purpose prefabricated building that could be shipped anywhere in the world. The George A. Fuller construction company won the bid and the first of many of these huts rolled off the assembly line.
During WWII over 150,000 of these buildings were produced and after the war, they were sold for about $1,000 to the civilian market with many turned into small starter homes for families. Colleges turned them into cheap student housing, many churches and small business invested in the steel half-shells. Some military bases, especially overseas, still make use of these and other similar designs. You can even buy the kits on eBay if you wanted to have a new one for whatever purposes.
Odds are you have seen them in one place or another. If you were or are military I can almost guarantee it. They will always be a symbol of the industriousness and flexibility of the armed forces. The ones in the picture above were deployed during the Vietnam War and served as a hospital and administration.
Oh and the name, Quonset Hut? It comes from where they were originally manufactured, Quonset, Rhode Island. Which is famous for exactly nothing else!
Above is a decommissioned version of the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter. One of the workhorses of the Vietnam War. From 1967 when it first entered service until 1973 over 1,000 of these saw service. Over that time they accumulated over 1 million hours of operational time.
Their main mission was close fire support of the infantry. They also served as escorts for the troop helicopters and as highly mobile rocket artillery platforms. Basically, they did whatever was needed. During the war, almost 300 were lost due to combat and other incidents.
The Cobra comes in a number of variants that served many different roles and as such. They have seen a lot of action. Starting in Vietnam, then the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. The 1991 Gulf War saw the AH-1 and its variants in action. In they were on the scene in Somalia and again later in 1994 during the armed intervention in Haiti.
In 1999 the US Army officially pulled the AH-1 from active service. They found a home though with NATO and other allies. Over the years they have served a vital role for the US Forest Service, not as gunships, but as firefighting equipment. The AH-1W SuperCobra and AH-1Z Viper still are used by the US Marine Corps.
The AH-1G HueyCobra, the most common one in Vietnam had a maximum speed of 171mph and an effective range of 357 miles. For armament, it depended on the job but could include: 2 7.62 mm miniguns, 2 M129 grenade launchers, rocket pods, and additional minigun pods. Basically, for a small chopper, it packed a heck of a punch.
The Tet Offensive was a true turning point in the Vietnam War. From a military perspective, the offensive was of limited effectiveness. The US and allied military were able to limit any gains made by the enemy. Politically the effect was devastating. Widespread guerrilla attacks in areas well behind the lines, within pacified areas. Those tied in with a strong and well-organized push by the regular North Vietnamese Army. It seemed to finally cause a light to go on in the heads of the politicians in charge. We would no longer escalate. The main goal from this point on would be to get the United States out of the war.
On the civil front, President Johnson started trying to negotiate peace without preconditions and eventually led to his decision to not run for re-election. When Nixon took over he started the policy of “Vietnamization” an effort to try to train the South Vietnamese to fight the war for themselves. The American people were tired of war, not just the radicalized sections of the population, but everyone.
Militarily we stopped escalating and started focusing on getting more troops home. Vietnamization was to be the method to allow the South to take a more active role in the fighting while allowing America to draw down troops. The goal was to have the US provide ground and air support while having the South take the bulk of the fighting. After a bit, the program was deemed a success and the US left their active role in Vietnam. Not too long after, the South was removed from the map by the Communist North and the Vietnam War was officially over.
Wire with barbs that cause people or animals discomfort when trying to get through it. An easy concept with a number of variations that has a number of uses. Originally designed as a cheap and effective way to contain cattle on the plains, it was not long before it was re-purposed for the military.
Most of the wars fought in the late 19th century and up to WWI. saw barbed wire in use in various forms. It was cheap. It was quickly deployed. While not so much a fortification it was very effective against infantry and cavalry. So it worked.
During WWI it was used extensively. It could either survive or at least be quickly repaired in the wake of the massive artillery bombardments of the day. Unfortunately, the birth of armored warfare sort of ended the heyday of barbed wire on the battlefield. Tanks were much more effective at getting through it than man or beast.
Above is a version of barbed wire called concertina wire. It has a similar design but is stored and deployed in large coils. These rolls can be set up in a number of different configurations. Weel beyond what regular bared wire could be used for. The wire in the picture was deployed on the perimeter of an American firebase in Vietnam and I hope that it was the photo the person was going for because it looks painful, but it is sort of a cool shot.
OK, I can not say for sure if what we are seeing is an actual USO show. I can tell you it is during the Vietnam War. There was in fact singing and dancing with a lot of people sitting there in a combat zone watching it. BUT we will call it a USO show so we can talk about that for a bit, eh?
The USO, United Service Organization is a non-profit that has been in existence since 1941. Their mission consists of providing services and live entertainment to troops and their families all over the world. In a way, during wartime, it becomes a home away from home for the US soldiers.
Disbanded after WWII it was reconstituted for the Korean War and has been going strong ever since. Regardless of political affiliations millions of people donate and hundreds of performers donate their time for this cause.
Currently, there are over 160 locations in 14 countries around the world and 27 states with over 8 million visitors in 2011.
For the troops in the field visits by some of the top names in Hollywood have always been welcomed. Among the top-tier was Bob Hope, who will always be the face of the program. In more recent times celebrities such as Jay Leno, Bruce Willis, Steve Martin Robin Williams, Gary Sinise, Toby Keith, and many, many more.
It is all about helping the men and women of the armed forces to understand that they are never forgotten and that their sacrifice and the burdens they bear and appreciated. Sometimes live music, warm food, and good company can help to take the sting out of a bad and serious deployment.
People, Places and Things from US Military History