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november/december 2008

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Thank you for the opportunity to paint for all my brother vets. The September/October cover was my first illustration for publication. I hope you enjoy the painting.

John Phelps
Dubois, Wyoming

I have never written a fan letter and never intended to, but this is out of respect for the officers I knew. Philip Caputo wouldn’t remember me. I am a Marine who was in Battalion 1/3 and landed in 1965 in Danang. I was not in Caputo’s platoon. He was in C company; I was in B company in 3rd platoon under Lt. Williamson as a squad leader grunt.

In 1978 I read his book, by happenstance, because I read an article about the Pulitzer Prize in The Times. I read it because it was about our battalion. My opinion of the book has never changed: It was a brutally honest, nut-cracking memoir, exactly as I remembered Vietnam. I also felt he was too hard on himself, never giving himself any kind of slack about his command presence, and unforgiving in his analysis of his actions.

I met him once. My platoon commander ordered me to his tent one afternoon when the battalion base was beneath Hill 327. I wondered what I had done wrong. In those days, officer country was not a place to visit, especially by a lousy corporal. I was the stereotypical ’Nam grunt, 22 years old, front teeth missing, 140 pounds soaking wet, focused, and concerned with the NOW—forgetting the past and unconcerned about my future.

I never hung out with anyone but my squad, so my prospects of surviving the afternoon were kinda bleak in my mind. In those days we avoided being within seeing distance of officers. In the rear, the Mickey-Mouse rules prevailed, and I always considered myself a field Marine.

Couple days before, I had been riding security shotgun for the captain when he went to Division for whatever officers do. I waited next to the Jeep with the company driver, me dressed in utilities and covered with red, powdered dust from the roads, hours out of the bush. From out of nowhere, this red-haired, white, blue-faced major headed straight for me. He was huge, bull-size—a slobbering mean Marine. He demanded, with authority, spit flying, my name, rank, and service number, who was my captain, platoon leader, and unit.

He commenced to mention my origin of birth and generally let me know I had somehow screwed up his command. He screamed that my magazine was locked and loaded inside his compound and it was against the law. He commanded me to clear my weapon. He then said he would be right back and stomped off in his spit-shined boots.

The captain came back, and I related the incident. He told me to get back in the Jeep. The major was now coming across the compound with an MP bigger and meaner than he was. The captain ordered the driver to haul ass. I made a point of locking and loading my M-14 with a non-professional sneer. I told myself on the way back over those powdered roads that the major had gotten an ass chewing from the general that morning for not doing whatever the hell his job was at the time, and my being at the bottom to catch the crap made his life better, I guessed.

I knew, with dread, I was about to have God and the Corps drop on my skinny ass with both feet. As I entered the officer tent, Lt. Williamson introduced me to Lt. Caputo. No handshaking, this is officer country. I thought Caputo was going to be my defense attorney at my court martial. I was numb with angst.

Williamson was saying I had been writing since I joined the Corps, with many, many, many rejections over the years of stories I had no experience to write. He said Caputo could possibly help me. Williamson left because he could sense my unease.

Caputo’s words were hitting me in my ears: He had a lot of anecdotes and could help me flesh mine out. Did I have any anecdotes I wanted to share with him? I said no; I was compiling my notes and needed more experiences or some damn thing I thought he wanted to hear. To my relief, after about a half hour he released me. I was elated—so elated that I needed a drink. I had survived the major. I was not to be keel hauled.

Caputo never knew any of this. He probably figured I was just another dumb-ass grunt with no future or ambitions beyond survival. He gave me my life-defining moment—my reprieve. I never was afraid of anything again.

Mike Jeffords
Janesville, Wisconsin

I read the article about Jason Mouret and Bill Kissinger in The VVA Veteran. It was a good story and one that makes me proud. We have an incarcerated veterans program in Illinois and a large population of deployed National Guardsmen and Reserves. I may just have to start up a program to have the incarcerated veterans communicate with deployed troops in much the same way that Kissinger did with Mouret.

Kevin J. Cavanaugh
Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs

I just returned from a personal journey back to Vietnam after 40 years. The trip far exceeded my expectations. Little did I know that I would travel 7,000 miles to Hanoi and VVA would be brought to the forefront not once but twice.

At the Hanoi Hilton, there are several photo displays. One shows VVA’s Veterans Initiative Task Force meeting with Vietnamese veterans. I was pleasantly surprised to see Bill Duker, Bob Maras, Jack Devine, and Bob Johnson in the display.

The group I was with, Military Historical Tours, happened to be staying at the same hotel in Hue as the JPAC team. We received a briefing on the ongoing operations. During the briefing, the Deputy Director said VVA far exceeded any other veterans’ organization in providing assistance and our commitment was far above all others.

It makes me feel good that the organization I proudly belong to is so highly thought of in the international community.

Tom Hall
Valrico, Florida

Bill Crandell’s article in the July/August issue, “Iraq: Vietnam Without Water,” was written to explain what he describes as a “split” among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans similar to that among Vietnam War veterans. This sympathetic article is an introduction to what might be in store for another generation of veterans. For those interested, I recommend the web site There you can find the testimony given at the conference and you can judge for yourself. As you read the statements, I think it is important to consider carefully the who, what, why, and when—as well as the credibility of the witnesses.

About those “sunshine patriots” who were gone the next morning after the conclusion of the conference. Perhaps they had returned to their homes, to go to work, to receive their wages, to pay the taxes that provide for Mr. Crandell’s retirement pay from the VA’s Office of Inspector General, as well as the legitimate benefits that all veterans have earned and so justly deserve.

Welch Warren
Oakland, California

All of us at Chapter 798 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, appreciate the assistance from the national staff at VVA and Chapter 641’s Mike Najarian and Dave Gudes for accompanying Ross “Pop” Grego, an associate member of our chapter, to The Wall. We also are grateful for the article in the September/October issue, “Ross Grego: A Son Remembered.”
Special thanks also to Judy Bilello. A women veteran who served in the Army during the Vietnam era, she spearheaded a chapter fundraiser so that Pop could travel to The Wall. Between March and May, she raised over $1,200 to help fund Pop’s trip to Washington to see his son’s name.

John D. Mallon
Council Bluffs, Iowa

The two Winter Soldier investigations, 1971 and 2008, have a lot in common. And it’s not about liars and malcontents as letter writer Lee Parsons would have us believe. Neither investigation besmirched the honor of those who “served honorably and proudly,” or otherwise, in Vietnam or Iraq. These two extremely important investigations were conducted by grunts who were there in order to expose the fact that our government lied to the American citizenry about the motives and conduct of both wars. In addition to my membership in VVA, I’m a proud member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Veterans For Peace, and an avid supporter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Michael Burke
Atlanta, Georgia

I have to respond to the letter in the September/October issue by Jim Anderson, in which he states: “If Vietnam Veterans of America continues its drift to the ideological left, it will lose half of its membership and a lot of its moral authority.“

Mr. Anderson, truth has no ideological standing. It stands alone without the help of any ideology. Moral authority is man-made, changes with time, and is a propaganda tool used by those in authority to control those not in authority and has no bearing on any ideology.

I find Vietnam Veterans of America and our magazine, The VVA Veteran, a refreshing change from the partisan BS I read and hear from most of our national media news outlets.

Kent Hill
By Email



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