We are in the midst of “celebrating” or “commemorating” so many anniversaries in military history it's hard to keep up.
We are in the midst of "celebrating" or "commemorating" so many anniversaries in military history it's hard to keep up. We have an on-going bicentennial (War of 1812), sesquicentennial (Civil War), and next year begin a worldwide centennial (WW I). Whew.
To add to the excitement, if there is any, today is the ruby anniversary of another event the United States was involved in. Before you have to go check an anniversary chart, ruby is for 40 years.
It was 40 years today that citizens of the former South Vietnam awoke without having any U.S. military forces in their country, as the last U.S. troops had withdrawn the day before, on March 29, 1973.
It would take almost two more years before the former North and South were reunited again, as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
A lot has happened in those 40 years. Vietnam has opened its doors to foreign tourists, especially Americans, and tour companies specialize in taking veterans back to the battlefields and cities they were in so long ago.
Ten or so years ago the French student at CGSC talked to members of the Kansas City Military Collectors Club about a two-week trip he and a fellow graduate of the French Military Academy spent touring Vietnam after they graduated.
They flew to Hanoi, rented mopeds, and drove to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, during their adventure. He said they communicated with older Vietnamese in French, younger ones in English, and sign language as a backup. They visited Dienbienphu, site of the French army surrender in 1954. The two young French army officers encountered absolutely no problems on their sojourn.
Vietnam began to court an American presence, and several years ago a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command was established in Hanoi. Its mission is "Until They Are Home", and its soldiers and civilians lead searches of missing U.S. servicemen.
A previous commander was Lt. Col. James Saenz, a special forces officer for whom I served as chairman of his master's degree committee when he was a CGSC student. He sent his business card, which is in English on one side, Vietnamese on the other. We exchanged emails a few times, the only email I've ever gotten from or sent to Hanoi.
The last CGSC student from South Vietnam graduated in 1974. My how times have changed. In the current class is Maj. Cuong Nguyen, the first student from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. His fort sponsor is a lieutenant colonel who was born in Vietnam and left with his family as "boat people." His Leavenworth sponsor is Ret. Col. Roger Donlon, first recipient of the Medal of Honor in Vietnam and a former director of CGSC's international student department. Donlon has made several trips back to Vietnam since Americans became welcomed again.
Another sign of changing times is a proposal by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who has re-introduced a bill to designate March 29 as "Vietnam Veterans Day". He's tried twice before, with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., as co-sponsor, which I must say surprised me to hear.
Last year President Obama issued a proclamation formally observing the day in response to a joint request from Burr and Boxer. Reading about it in last week's Army Times newspaper was the first I'd heard of this bill, or the previous attempts. I'll have to be alert to any future information about it.
To all my fellow Vietnam War vets out there, I extend a one day late "happy ruby anniversary" of U.S. Withdrawal Day, or whatever it is called. I'll have to wear my favorite hat that day that says "Vietnam Veteran….We Were Winning When I Left." That was 1968, and we were.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.