Undoubtedly one of the most conflicting events in the early lives those over 65 was the Vietnam War. We were either for it or against it or we were ambivalent to the whole thing. The majority of the college student population was against the war and the most tragic thing about that was the fact that those who fought in Vietnam were treated like villains when they came home even thought they had no choice about going, in that they were drafted. Among most of their peers there was no sense of compassion for them. There was death and carnage all around them, if they escaped with their lives they were extremely lucky (even guilty as to why they were spared and their buddies were not) yet they came home the bad guys. And they’ve lived with this ever since, and while much of the world has forgotten, they have not. They will not. Adjustment to normal life was difficult — even impossible for some who took their lives or ended up mentally ill.
Here at the Catch I want to make sure we don’t forget. That’s why we are welcoming back BlogTalkRadio today with a live interview at 3pm Pacific Daylight time with a special guest, Tim Lickness. Tim was an infantry platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division, putting him at the very center of some the most intense fighting of the campaign.
Tune into our conversation by clicking here. If you would like to call in during our live event from 3:00 – 3:30 PDT you may do so by using the following number (319) 527-6764. If you miss us live, you can listen anytime after by using the same link.
And if you ever encounter a Vietnam vet, welcome them home. They’ll get it.
Below is a piece Tim wrote in 1998 about his experience in Vietnam. It will give you some insight into Tim and his experiences. Warning: Because it is an honest rendering, it probably should be R-rated.
I arrived in Vietnam in February 1968. America’s counteroffensive to the infamous Tet offensive was fully engaged. I was assigned to the mostly volunteer 101st Airborne Division’s Screaming Eagles as an infantry platoon leader. Reading about this time, you find little about the war other than the communist offensive. Yet although poorly chronicled, the fighting in 1968 was substantial. I turned 21 a month after arriving and found myself leading a platoon of mostly younger men through the jungle 12,000 miles from my home. This is how it looked to us.
We thought constantly about “the world,” calculated daily our “Deros” (date eligible to return overseas) and dreamed of the girls back home. There were two seasons—rainy and dry. During the rainy seasons we were always wet; during the dry season we were always thirsty. The insects were incredible. Bombarding flies, swarming mosquitoes, leeches everywhere, and two-foot-long centipedes. The jungle was beautiful, but at times you couldn’t see 10 feet in any direction. We encountered what we called “wait-a- minute” vines, which would grab you and could suspend you in the air.
We became accomplished cooks, combining C-rations and LRRP-rations (long-range reconnaissance patrol) with sauces sent from home. We sealed envelopes, whose glue had become useless from dampness, with peach jam. We warmed our meals with fuel made by combining peanut butter with insect repellent. Our faces were an unpleasant combination of whisker stubble, insect repellent, sweat and grime. We buoyed our morale by describing our favorite meal or our favorite car back home, and always talking about our favorite girl. We lived for letters and “care packages” from the U.S.
Fire fights were intense, horrific and terrifying— explosions so close you would lose your wind or water. The sights and smells would make you retch. Within hours a dead body would be crawling with maggots, and a day later it would be black, bloated and unrecognizable. Your body rebelled under the weight of a 40-pound rucksack, eight canteens of water, ammunition, a weapon, helmet and other equipment necessary to survive. Comfort, privacy and security were nonexistent. A sound night’s sleep was only a memory, a dry pair of socks a luxury. We matured quickly even as our youth allowed us to carry on.
Images became seared into the mind for life as the names of fallen comrades were to be engraved forever on a wall in our nation’s capital. The sight of a tank commander machine-gunned to death as he surveyed the area, partially exposing his body out of the protection of his turret. The image of a tall Louisianan dying in your arms, his stomach blown away. The look of horror on the face of an enemy soldier as he is confronted at a bend in the trail, realizing he did not have his weapon ready. Seeing a terrified soldier propped up on his remaining arm, having lost the other and both legs. Time and relationships would help, but still the inexplicable fall into the wracking sea of numbing images occurs with warning. You understood the speechlessness; the emotional paralysis was incomprehensible.
We chased the North Vietnamese army from the outskirts of Hue, through the jungles of northern South Vietnam, through the A Shau Valley and into Laos. We stopped at the border waiting for the order to continue fighting. The order never came. We knew we were winning our battles against those with names like Daun, Thanh, Giap and Bui Tin. We did not know we were losing the war to those with names like Jane, Tom, Bill and Ramsey. Our leaders in the field fought side by side with us.
We talked tough. Conversations were laced with terms like “widow maker,” “strike force” and “reconnaissance in force.” “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…” the little ditty would begin. But God knew the truth, because it was to him we talked and praying with each breath. We had not heard of male bonding but survived because of espirit de corps. We trusted each other with our lives. We needed to be alert, so we did not take drugs, saving our intemperance for beer in the rear area. It has been said that there are no atheists in foxholes. We discovered there were no racists there either.
We were surprised by our bravery and equally surprised by how scared we were. We were profoundly changed. Some of us were changed by torn bodies, crushed psyches and broken spirits. Some of us were changed by what we learned. We learned about courage, determination, camaraderie, selflessness and an appreciation for living.
Returning home brought another, disappointing lesson. We were, it seemed, not welcome. In college a fellow student told me she did not date Vietnam War veterans. I did not expect a hero’s welcome, as I was not a hero. I did expect an appreciation for the willingness to endure the ordeal of combat. Rightly or wrongly I believe we were in a mortal fight against the world-wide threat of communism. The “domino” theory made sense to me, and if I hadn’t been willing to fight, millions of people might fall under the domain of what Ronald Reagan would later call the “evil empire.” I left Vietnam 28 years ago and still doubt that most Americans understand what we went through. I pray that my children will never have to take up arms to protect the liberties they and I cherish. But if they do, I hope they will be welcomed home with respect.
1998 Tim Lickness
I had a Cousin who is a Vietnam Vet. His name was Van Jewell. He was there in the early seventies. He passed away back in 2014 or something close to that. I say God Bless you all and thanks for your service.
Thank you, John and Tim, for your BlogTalkRadio conversation.
Very well done.
I hope others will set aside time to listen to this meaningful exchange.
Thank you, Tim, for sharing your perspective and describing the indescribable; for helping us see what many of us avoided seeing or denied believing or ignorantly ridiculed.
Thank you, Tim, for your story and your service. Keep pressing on, brother.
Thank you, John, because, as Tim said, “You showed up.”
A lesson for us all.