This article was sent to me by one of our members, Joe deSantos. I think it's especially appropriate now, since the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary, 'The Vietnam War', has once again raised the issue of My Lai and other atrocities committed by American forces. More than 2.5 million men and women served in Vietnam. The vast majority of them were honorable professionals, who went about their jobs quietly and with dedication and do not deserve to be tarred with the brush of the few aberrations that deserve every condemnation we can pour over them.
There are times in our lives when all we can do is shake our heads, admit that someone has dishonored our group--attorneys, police officers, clergymen--and gently remind anyone who will listen that they should refrain from painting us all with the same brush.
Simplistic thinking? Perhaps. But it is human nature to defend ones honor.
"Every group has its bad apples."
That was sent to me by a former Special Forces officer and Vietnam veteran after having endured several days worth of media outlets telling us that a deranged, murdering bigot, who had killed three innocent people in Kansas last week, was once a "Green Beret" in Vietnam.
To be sure, the most important elements of this tragic story are the deaths of three ordinary Americans who did nothing to deserve their fate. Nobody would disagree with that and we should all remember them.
But there is another element of this tragedy that is worth mentioning, too.
While the media has correctly reported that the murderer was in fact a Vietnam Special Forces veteran, many who have donned the beret that marks them as men of honor are cringing at the thought that such a vile individual is being associated with them. Worse, this murderer's Special Forces affiliation has been a central part of the story, even though he served in an administrative position in a Special Forces unit during the war. He was no Rambo, although media outlets want him to be. A Vietnam Special Forces veteran goes on an anti-Semitic killing spree? Why, that seems normal; after all, Rambo was crazy in all eleven films he did.
But let us talk reality.
I have had the great privilege to have known and associated with many Vietnam-era Special Forces veterans. They have been great friends and have always shared their stories and time with me. I have been with them at reunions, meetings and on long trips. I have yet to meet an unpleasant SF man, though I know they exist. I have not yet met the unpleasant one because they are hard to find. The ones I have met neither look like Rambo nor act like savages. They are extraordinary men without letting you know who they are and what they have done. They are "The Quiet Professionals" and they like it that way.
So when a former SF man embarrasses them, or worse, takes innocent lives for the most contemptible of reasons, they are quick to point out the obvious--we are not like that.
Simplistic thinking? Yes.
But the men I know who wore the green beret in Vietnam still want to remind the world that they are by and large men of integrity and principles.
So do not paint them all with the same brush.
Like the victims in Kansas, they deserve better.
As we discuss the events that took place in Vietnam, please don't forget that the sins of the few should not tar the many. Most US military in Vietnam behaved honorably and did not deserve the label of 'baby killer' that so many antiwar protesters smeared them with.