How Vietnam still permeates my Life
James K. Bruton
         In this paper, I intend to elaborate on four outcomes I attribute to my Vietnam War service 1967-1969. Combat veterans often spend the rest of their lives dealing with the experience of the war in which they participated, whether their countries prevailed or not. This can be true even for those who suffered neither debilitating physical injuries nor extraordinary psychological trauma. The preceding sentence describes my situation with regard to Vietnam. Despite many close calls, the Purple Heart fortunately bypassed me, and I returned to Vietnam unscathed. So what challenges have I had overcome compared with many other American veterans and Vietnamese émigrés? The answer is almost none, but my Vietnam experience permeates my life in ways discernible even in the present. In fact, it was not until I started this paper that I realized the extent to which Vietnam has become a defining experience in my life.

         I arrived in Vietnam over a year after being commissioned in ROTC as an Army infantry officer. I had undergone the invaluable experience of advisory training, which included three months of Vietnamese language school. I had no reluctance about a combat tour. Aware that I had lived a relatively insulated life during my student years in the university and before in preparatory school (the same school John McCain once attended), I welcome military service, the physical challenges that entailed, and the opportunity "to see the world."

         The Vietnam War, furthermore, was consistent with my ideological framework as a self-styled conservative and a "defense hawk:" I deduced that a series of diplomatic and tactical setbacks the US suffered since World War II had left it strategically vulnerable to Soviet-directed Communist expansion. US foreign policy in my view lacked backbone at critical times (such as during the Bay of Pigs invasion). My personal outlook, underdeveloped as it was, melded with the espoused US policy of trying to contain Communist expansion in Southeast Asia, a policy exemplified by the outcome of the Korean War and by the formation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. I never separated US endeavors in Vietnam from a Cold War context.

         As the war wore on many civilians and some in the military started to see it as futile, and overly costly and destructive, and as falsely premised-meaning there was nothing in South Vietnam worth saving from the Communists. Coming from a different state of mind, I was looking for a meaningful cause in which to throw myself. After my first year as an assistant infantry battalion advisor (and briefly as an assistant regimental advisor), I extended for a second advisory assignment, one with the prestigious Vietnamese Airborne Division. This was one of three occasions in my life when I felt committed personally and engaged at the highest level emotionally, physically and intellectually in what I thought was an endeavor of national and perhaps worldwide significance. Duty with these seasoned troops gave me an intense and at times intoxicated feeling. I felt I was exactly where I wanted to do. My participation in my adopted cause, one coruscating with meaning, continued into my subsequent voluntary extension for assignment with the 173rd Airborne Brigade where I eventually served as a battalion civil-military affairs officer.

        Please read the rest of the story in WAR AND REMEMBERANCE.
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