The GI Bill helped pay my way through college. In 1971, I was in my third year; attending my third college. My third college was Fresno State. I was in a creative writing class when a debate about the war in Vietnam started after a young girl read her short story about ‘evil’ American pilots dropping bombs on North Vietnamese children.
I was the only Vietnam veteran in the class. I struggled to explain to the obviously brainwashed kids that American pilots dropping bombs over North Vietnam were thousands of feet above the targets and did not see the carnage. They were gone by the time the bombs exploded, and they were following orders. In the military, you followed orders or faced a court martial.
“How could someone sleep at night knowing they had dropped bombs killing innocent children and women,” one girl said. Others joined in, and the discussion turned into an argument. It was them against me. It was frustrating. The consensus was that any American in Vietnam was a baby killer. To them, the American pilots had to know what they were doing and were evil.
Eventually, the professor put a stop to the argument.
My first night in Vietnam, I relayed an order that killed a dozen Vietcong. I never saw the bodies. I never saw them die. I was in the radio tent a hundred yards from the action when a call came from one of the tank commanders saying there was noise in a ravine that led to the top of the hill. During the day, wires had been strung in that ravine with tin cans tied to them and there were rocks in the cans.
The tankers heard the rattle of rocks and called asking for permission to fire napalm into that gully. The officer on watch said yes, and I relayed the order. The tankers lit their flame and fired. The next morning, twelve blackened, burned bodies were found in the ravine. They all had weapons. They were coming to kill United States Marines.
Our colonel had devised a plan, and it succeeded. He had given no orders to build bunkers or spread concertina wire along the perimeter to protect us on our first night in country. The platoon of flame tanks had been left aboard the Navy ship until dark when they were brought ashore and guided to the hill where the platoon of tanks was positioned to protect against an attack.
In Europe during WWII, American bombers firebombed cities nightly during the closing months of the war against Hitler’s Germany. In one night, in one city, forty thousand civilians including women and children had napalm dropped on them. In Japan, firebombs dropped on Tokyo burned a hundred thousand in one day. There were no attempts to avoid hitting civilians to bring Hitler’s Germany and Japan to their knees. It was understood that war was ‘hell,’ and we fought to win. What has changed?
Discover A Night at the “Well of Purity”
Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.
His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.
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