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Leaving Vietnam in 1966
By Allen Meece
Fifty years ago my crew mates and I had never set foot in-country but we drew combat pay for being stationed offshore of Vietnam. We provided gunfire support to the soldiers who were attempting to occupy the "Republic" of Vietnam. We did a Desoto Patrol inside the Tonkin Gulf and conducted electronic intelligence by spying on their radio and radar transmissions. We provoked their shore facilities by steaming inside their territorial waters and they sent torpedo boats against us which we sank and instigated a military conflict but avoided calling it a war.
Our warship was built in 1959 and had new five-inch, fifty-four caliber long guns that were fairly accurate to ten nautical miles. We'd drop the anchor five miles offshore and a forward observer in the jungle gave us the geographic coordinates of whatever he wanted to have killed or destroyed. We'd fire off a ten-thousand-dollar five-inch shell every five minutes. Someone joked, "Why don't we just pay them ten thousand dollars apiece not to fight? It's probably more than they make in their whole lives."
We were ten miles away from our targets and couldn't see nor hear our shots explode under the jungle canopy. It bothered me that they only had rifles and couldn't defend themselves. They were targets in our shooting gallery. We were not noble good guys. We were assassins. "We weren't on the wrong side, we WERE the wrong side."
We ate three hot meals a day and slept on clean bunks in air-conditioning. We learned to sleep though the heavy recoil clanging throughout the ship with every shot from the main battery. We were told that nothing is evil when we're preventing the communists from invading America. The Lie was called The Domino Theory. It was the classic fake logic that says that the ends justify the means. I wondered how and why this immorality started.
We had it pretty good in the years of the 1950s. We had capitalized on World War II and our products were in world-wide demand. Jobs were available, rock and roll was new, cars and gas were cheap and all we had to do was get a job and learn how to dance the new styles and get a girlfriend. But after he had won The Big One, Ike Eisenhower warned us of the new danger to democracy, the military-industrial complex hates to lose its gravy train of monstrous war profits. We were warned but we couldn't outsmart their power plays.
In 1954 the Vietnamese vanquished the French capitalist occupiers and US warmongers breathed a sigh of relief, they would continue the war the French had abandoned. They labeled Vietnam's war for independence as a communist conquest of the world. They manufactured a fake excuse for a war.
The warmongers' crystal balls showed the catastrophe of the future was the Communist Monolith smashing the American Dream! They screamed with an alarmism that demanded an hysterical response in the present to their make-believe future. They sent over some military advisers and they started their war for power and profit when, as always, there was only a need for more peace.
I enlisted in the Navy in 1962 because there was a military draft in effect and I did not want to fight in a jungle and I was offered technical training and world travel if I volunteered to serve four years. I liked my country and thought I would be helping to defend it. Now I know that defense means to defend the shores and borders of the continental United States and does not mean defending the mega-corporations' foreign exploits. That is called imperialism, it is NOT the same as defending the country.
By the time my enlistment finally expired in 1966, I had learned that might does not make right and that a glorified government can be wrong and that the wonderful US Navy can be all wrong and that large numbers of good people can be wrong for a long time. The Vietnam War was still perversely called a military conflict and it was escalating with a logarithmic curve of my peers' deaths. My sonar technician rating was highly valued and I was offered a ten-thousand-dollar bonus for re-enlisting. Enough for a good car, enough to pay for one five-inch naval projectile to kill one peasant in his rain forest home. The hippies had been right all along and I got out.
Allen Meece was a Sonar Technician on the USS Edwards DD950, 1964-1966. He has written a fictional novella about the Tonkin Gulf Incident called "The Abel Mutiny," available at Amazon.com (reviewed by Joe Miller in the Spring 2014 issue of The Veteran).