|Download PDF of this full issue: v53n2.pdf (27.4 MB)|
By Joseph Giannini
John Kerry volunteered for and went to Vietnam in 1968. George W. Bush went into the National Guard in 1968. It was the deadliest year in the Vietnam War. Over one hundred thousand American casualties. Fourteen thousand five hundred and ninety four killed in action. Eighty seven thousand three hundred eighty eight wounded in action. 1968 began with the Tet Offensive. I know—I was there serving with the First Battalion Third Marines, aka "The Home of the Brave." Then the siege at Khe Sanh. I know we were nearby. Then the Battle of Dai Do. I know, we were in it.
Tet started with a barrage of rockets slamming into our positions at the Quang Tri Combat base. I ran for cover. Jumped into a bunker. They were firing rockets with delayed detonating fuses. We had no defense to this type of incoming. I crunched down, making as small a target as possible. Terrified as death walked amongst us. Praying over and over, "Oh God, please please." I laugh uncontrollably. Close to insanity. Exposure to death at any moment changes you forever. You find out what you're made of.
In early April we convoyed up Highway One. The only north south road in Quang Tri Province. We were heading to Route Nine. It ran east to the ocean and west to the marines under siege at Khe Sanh. Vietnamese girls standing alongside. Patting their backsides. Hatred in their eyes and voices. Yelling over and over, "Hey Marines, you fucking number ten." Meaning we were the worst. We hadn't won their hearts and minds. Our crusade to bring them freedom and democracy doomed long before the first marine waded ashore.
The NVA (North Vietnamese Army) had closed Route Nine by Khe Sanh. Then 40 thousand NVA surrounded five thousand Marines in a death trap. We moved up Route Nine. Took up positions a few miles from the combat base. Then waited. The siege looked like another Dien Bien Phu. A famous battle in the Indo China War. Where the Vietminh, now the NVA, surrounded and defeated 15,000 French soldiers. Ending that War and beginning ours. I thought all those Marines were dead. Didn't have a chance. Thank God it wasn't us. They held on and finally we were able to relieve them. Khe Sanh was promptly abandoned.
In early May 1968, at Dai Do, we walked through the positions of the Second Battalion Fourth Marines, aka "The Magnificent Bastards." They had been in a vicious battle with a large NVA force. The Bastards suffered terrible losses. Held a thin green line. As we moved forward to continue the fight we came upon a large ditch filled with dead Marines. Each facing outboard. Everyone in a fighting position. Killed by multiple small arms wounds. The NVA had pulled back without stripping or mutilating them. Our Chaplain climbed down into the ditch. With his index finger and pinky of his right hand he closed the eyes of each Marine. We went into the ditch. To put each Marine in his own poncho. We found and wrapped fifty-five. Each about to start the long journey home. I called this Poncho Rotation. We moved out again. Came upon a lone dead Marine. He had been captured. Was blindfolded. Arms tied so tight behind that his elbows were touching. Shot in the back of his head. Out here the Geneva Convention didn't protect captured grunts. They weren't valuable intelligence assets.
E.L. Doctorow wrote that Bush doesn't know death. When Bush had the chance to stand and fight with his fellow Americans he used his father's connections to avoid combat in Vietnam. He believed in the War but didn't have the courage to go and fight. This says something about his character. He has none. A false patriot. In 1969 Kerry wasn't sure about the cause, the War, but volunteered to go In Country. He stood with his fellow Americans and bravely led them in combat. He took on the responsibility of keeping his men alive. Even if it meant his own life. He knows death. This says something about his character.
Joseph Giannini, a criminal defense attorney, served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 with the First Battalion, Third Marines. A victim of Agent Orange, he is currently writing a book of short, non-fiction stories about fate, surfing, and war.