YARBROUGH COLUMN: Atlanta veterans attempt to set the record straight on Vietnam War

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, July 9, 2024

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Let’s face it. The Vietnam War was not our finest hour. The Greatest Generation that took on Germany and Japan in World War II and prevailed came home and spawned a Not-So-Great Generation who put self above country.

How the U.S. got sucked into the conflict between North Vietnam and South Vietnam going back to the mid-’50s, I will leave to your own research and study, but sucked in we were. It started with some 9,000 troops sent to South Vietnam during the Kennedy administration. By 1967, that number swelled to over 400,000, prompting many of the Greatest Generation’s Not-So-Great Generation to hightail it to Canada, aka, “draft dodgers.” By the end of our involvement in 1975, some 58,220 Americans had lost their lives.

Hard to believe it has been a half century since all this took place and yet in some cases, the war is still being fought by those who were involved. One such group is the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association. My friend, Atlanta banker Rod Knowles, is a member of the group and shared with me the organization’s efforts to correct the public misperceptions about Vietnam and to combat the narrative of a war that was unwinnable.

A catalyst was American filmmaker Ken Burns’ 10-part series on Vietnam. Knowles and many others who lived the experience – Burns did not – felt the series was skewed against the war and those who fought in it. So, the AVVBA put together their own version of events and produced a film entitled, “Truths and Myths About the Vietnam War,” a 47-minute documentary produced with Emmy award-winning film producer David Naglieri and introduced by actor Sam Elliott. The production debuted on AVVBA YouTube channel this past February. I urge you to watch it. (To view or download the film, go to the website AVVBA.org.)

The Atlanta Vietnam Veteran’s Business Association says that myths about the war, many of which have been proven wrong by developments since the war’s end, continue to be perpetuated by misinformed elements of academia and the news media. Much of the information surrounding the history of the Vietnam War is incorrect or incomplete and much of the additional information that has become available in recent years has not been widely disseminated.

Therefore, Knowles says, the purpose of the film is to honor those who served in the Vietnam War “by providing factual information to address the decades of misinformation that has presented a skewed historical perspective of the war.” For example, today’s antiwar crowd deny returning soldiers from Vietnam were poorly treated, including no examples of them being spat upon. That is an outright lie. A neighbor of mine tells me of returning from Vietnam and being spit upon on the streets of (where else?) San Francisco.

You will be repulsed at the actions of John Kerry, former senator from Massachusetts and later secretary of state, who testified in 1971 about American soldiers raping, torturing and beheading Vietnamese and then, in 2001, passing those comments off as merely “quotes from an angry young man.” What a disgusting human being.

One of the most puzzling incidents shown in “Truths and Myths About the Vietnam War” was a report by CBS newsman Walter Cronkite who on Feb. 13, 1968, called the Tet offensive a “major success” both for the U.S. and the government of South Vietnam and that the Viet Cong had been soundly defeated. Thirteen days later, on Feb. 27, he said the exact opposite, that the war was a stalemate and “unwinnable,” causing Pres. Lyndon Johnson to say, “If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” and choosing not to run for reelection. What changed Cronkite’s mind in 13 days? Only he would know and he is no longer available for explanation.

“Truths and Myths About the Vietnam War” required about seven months to complete production and another five months for Sam Elliott to make the introduction because of delays by the Screen Actors Guild strike that prevented actors from doing anything until the settlement in November 2023.

Kudos to the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association for taking the initiative to present another side of the story about Vietnam, a project endorsed by such luminaries as James Livingston and Patrick H. Brady, both Medal of Honor recipients in the Vietnam War.

Rod Knowles says one of the aims of the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association is to promote the positive image of Vietnam veterans, their dependents and the widows and orphans of deceased Vietnam veterans. I say mission accomplished.