It wasn’t until around ten years ago that America finally began to recognize and truly honor the men and women who fought in Vietnam. Even now there are still those whose politics or personal philosophies prevent them from reaching out and thanking these veterans, forty-plus years after they came home…assuming that they came home at all. What did these Americans do that was so heinous to deserve such treatment? You cannot say that it was because they answered the call of their nation, otherwise you would need to include the veterans of every other war up to that time, and probably include the Revolutionary War as well.
The Vietnam War was the first war that, for all intents and purposes, we did not win. It was the first war to be played out each evening, in living rooms across America, on the 6:30 news. Every horror of war imaginable was filmed and framed up for the American public, who was getting tired of the bloodshed. Academics turned college campuses into war protest training grounds, with the kids of the day raising their voices against everything that was associated with the war…including the men and women who, through no fault of their own, were half a world away from home, trying to stay alive in places like Ia Drang, Da Nang, Quang Tri and Hue.
Bob Edinger of Montpelier remembers those days, as he was one of those far from home, fighting in a hardly known corner of the globe called Vietnam. He was a member of the 1st Battalion 40th Field Artillery, an Army artillery unit attached to the 3rd Marines from 1966 through 1969. The heat of battle forged these men into a cohesive band of brothers, the proof of which can be found in the script motto of their unit crest, “All For One.” Although their casualties were light during Bob’s tour of duty, twenty of his brothers in arms paid the ultimate price in early 1968 in what is today known as the Tet Offensive, and in 1969, long after Bob had departed the theater of war.
The passage of 47 years has not dimmed the fire of camaraderie for Bob and his fellow veterans of the 1st Battalion 40th Field Artillery. On June 17, Bob and several of his surviving brothers from the unit will be in attendance at the Field Artillery Museum at Constitution Park in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for the unveiling and dedication of a memorial to those members of the unit who gave their lives in service to America in the Vietnam War. The monument will be placed on Cannon Row at Fort Sill.
Bob and those who survived are still paying the price for their service. America deployed a defoliant chemical during the war called ‘Agent Orange’, without knowing what the long term effects would be upon the soldiers fighting underneath the chemical clouds. After America withdrew from Vietnam, the effects began to be known as the returning soldiers displayed a myriad of unexplainable maladies.
“We’re constantly losing guys each year,” Bob said. “We just lost one from Canada to cancer, caused by Agent Orange. A lot of the guys have coronary artery disease caused by Agent Orange. Some have diabetes caused by Agent Orange. A lot have had prostate cancer caused by Agent Orange.” Post traumatic stress disorders are common for Vietnam vets, but they are still fighting for their lives in the Vietnam War with the diseases brought about by the unintentional poisoning they endured almost five decades ago. This only serves to tighten the bonds of brotherhood shared by these American heroes.
We may call them that and recognize them as such…but Bob will be the first to tell you that he is no hero. That title belongs to others who will not be in attendance at Fort Sill.
“We have to honor the guys that paid the ultimate price,” Bob said. “This country must honor these guys. THEY are the heroes. Me? I was a small cog. They are the heroes.” It makes no difference to Bob as to which war one lays down his or her life in service to America. “If this would have been any other conflict, we still have to honor any fighting man who pays the ultimate price. If this country cannot honor those guys, then this country will go to hell.”
The Vietnam War was unpopular here stateside, but we could voice our displeasure from the comfort of an easy chair, with the greatest risk of injury being a paper cut whilst opening the daily mail. Those who fail to recognize the 24/7/365 horrors of the young men and women who fought and bled in the jungles of Southeast Asia are those whose personal agendas have trumped the reality in which an entire American generation was baptized. Perhaps it is best that they remain aloof and ignorant, but it is also a sad thing, for they will never know the brotherhood borne of the fires of adversity. They will never understand the cohesive, unbreakable bonds shared by the men of the 1st Battalion 40th Field Artillery…bonds whose words say, “All For One,” and whose actions say the same.
Those words are not for everyone. “All For One” are words reserved for Bob Edinger, his brothers, and the fallen heroes of the 1st Battalion 40th Field Artillery. It is our turn to be All For Them.
Timothy Kays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org