Last week, high school students who are interested in knowing more about veterans interviewed me. They were curious about my experiences in the military and during the Vietnam war. I told them about my thirteen years in and out of Vietnam and my time on the battlefield.
What impressed them most was the 1967 battle of Dak To and what happened during the fall of Saigon. They watched me, eyes wide, in dead silence, as I described the virtual destruction of one U.S. battalion because the commander of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, during the battle of Dak To, didn’t believe my warning, from signals intelligence, that the North Vietnamese were hiding in the hills, waiting to attack us.
The students listened breathless as I related the events during the fall of Saigon—the failure of the U.S. ambassador to believe my forewarning that the North Vietnamese were preparing to attack Saigon, my successful attempts to get all 43 of my men and their families out of the city before the offensive was launched, and my escape under fire when the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.
They asked what lessons I had learned from my experience. I told them about how military training had transformed me from a boy to a man and had taught me about the reserves of courage and resilience I had. I stressed that we as a nation must learn how to withdraw from a war without abandoning those of other nations who fought by our side, as we did in Vietnam and again in Iraq and Afghanistan. I ended by stressing what I had learned on the battlefield, that the most important and rewarding things we can do in life are what we do for others, not for ourselves.
The students were grateful to me for my time and the hard truths I related to them. But I was more thankful that they were willing to listen and learn. God bless them.