Volunteers

Several readers have asked me over the years why I repeatedly went to Vietnam during the war, why I volunteered to go into combat with the soldiers and Marines I was supporting, and why I didn’t escape from Saigon before it fell. After all, I wasn’t required to do any of those things. I did them by choice.

I think the same question could be put to any serviceman who endured combat. Why didn’t you run away instead of facing enemy fire?

The answer lies in the slogan that drove me and shapes the actions of characters in Last of the Annamese: “Do what you have to do—whatever it takes.”

For me, there are three aspects to that answer.

First, had I shied away from danger, I would have lost my self-respect. The easy, safe way out would have left me devoid of any pride in being the man I am. I sense that same feeling in men I’ve been in combat with: not to do the job would have shamed them.

Second, patriotism drove me. I do genuinely love my country and all it stands for. If my country demands sacrifices, then that’s what it takes.

Third and maybe the most important is the bond I shared with the men and women who worked and fought by my side. I couldn’t let them face danger without the help I could give. During the fall of Saigon, I could no more abandon my guys than I could help the enemy. I knew the risks, but I, like men in combat everywhere, would lay down my life to save my buddy. He would do the same for me.

I conclude that honor, love of my country, and love of one’s fellow combatants and workers are forces strong enough to make the facing danger the decent thing to do. Taking risks for the good of others makes like worth living.

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