The Irony of Surviving Combat Defending “Democracy”

When fighting for a democracy turns out to be a charade to protect plutocratic interests.

It was about 8 years after I returned from Vietnam and had moved from Dallas to Denton to finish college at what was then North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) that I read an article in the local newspaper that a former platoon sergeant of mine had died from a freaky drowning accident.  As I recall it, he was mooring his boat after fishing that day at a local lake shoreline.  He lost his footing somehow and as he fell his head hit something solid and it knocked him unconscious.  It was surmised that in that state he rolled over face down into about 3 inches of water, causing him to drown.

I can only recall his first name 35 years later, Dan, but I remember him being friendly to me in comparison to other non-commissioned officers I served with in the 1st LIght AntiAircraft Missal Battalion (LAAMB) north of DaNang.  He was a young man, perhaps in his early to mid-twenties, when we served together in 1967-68.  I read that he was married and had a child, or maybe even children, who couldn’t have been older than 5 years old.

What struck me about this was how he had survived duty in a combat zone for a little over a year only to return home and die as he was closing out a day doing something he must have truly enjoyed.  The 1st LAAMB was not an infantry unit but we were stationed about 30 miles south of the DMZ where some of the heaviest fighting was going on during the Tet offensive.  Our outpost took heavy mortar fire a couple of days following the initial offensive by the North Vietnamese Regulars and we suffered a couple of minor casualties from this.

A unit of the Army’s 101st Airborne was assigned to our lonely outpost on a hill about 10 miles north of DaNang to serve as a staging point and to contend with Viet Cong units that were embedded in the hill adjacent to ours.  A few body bags passed through their unit that I was witness to before they were transferred on to a Graves Registration unit.

Like the Iraq War of 2003, was the Viet Nam war necessary?

What was different about the Vietnam War from earlier conventional wars was there were really no front lines.  The Vietnamese barber who cut your hair one day could be a Viet Cong soldier who might attack your unit later that evening.  This precarious situation was the nature of fighting guerrilla warfare and proved to be an effective way for a small, poorly armed fighting force to level the playing field with a more well-trained and heavily armed force.

This is the tactic that was carried to another level in the second Gulf War and proved to be much more deadlier and a greater risk for our men and women serving there.  Though there were booby traps that killed many a foot soldier in a jungle path in Vietnam, we didn’t deal with the savagery of IED explosives in crowded urban conditions that inflicted greater damage to more people in one blow.

What is similar between Vietnam and Iraq is that neither war was truly necessary.  They were promoted under the guise of noble causes but were in reality actions to secure the self-interests of wealthy corporations.


So I was brought to bear on the irony of another combat veteran who evaded death while serving his country only to contend with a life-threatening situation here at home.

Scott Olsen, 24, … a Marine veteran who completed two Iraq tours … suffered a fractured skull Tuesday as he marched with other protesters toward City Hall, said Dottie Guy, of the Iraq Veterans Against the War. The demonstrators had been making an attempt to re-establish a presence in the area of a disbanded protesters’ camp when they were met by police officers in riot gear.

Several small skirmishes broke out and officers cleared the area by firing tear gas.  SOURCE

Iraqi vet Scott Olsen wounded by Oakland police in "Occupy" protest

Unlike Dan who died in a freakish drowning accident, Olsen’s life was endangered as he engaged in the tradition of something truly American – “the right to assemble and petition” those in government who have aided a handful of wealthy interests in our country which has allowed the greatest disparity of our national wealth in the history of this nation.  This condition has left many jobless, homeless and perhaps hopeless to regain a vibrant middle class in this country.  

The story said “skirmishes broke out” between the protesters and the police but it’s not clear if Olsen was a part of those skirmishes or merely a victim of them.  The police cannot be entirely faulted for their reaction under such conditions either, some who perhaps themselves are veterans of the Iraqi war.

But it’s a sad commentary on anyone who comes back from fighting celebrated causes of defending our freedom as proclaimed by politicians who some now ridicule, in support of a wealthy 1%, those who participate in acts of freedom, being outraged by such privileged treatment of elected officials we all helped get elected.

One of the fallouts from the financial meltdown resulting from Wall Street abuses that affects vets is homelessness.  According to the Stand Down’s Information page about homeless Vets, they are becoming at risk for homelessness for the same reasons as non-veterans, including due to the rising foreclosure* and unemployment rates, as well as due to veteran specific issues.” 

Approximately 1/3 of homeless adults (one out of every three) in this country are veterans, yet veterans represent only 11% of the civilian population. On any given night 107,000 – 300,000 veterans are homeless. Based on various estimates, 500,000 – 840,000 veterans are homeless at some time during the year.  It has been estimated that Iraq & Afghanistan veterans represent 1.8% of the homeless veteran population.   SOURCE

The notion that real liberty and freedom are worth fighting for are lost on those who put their lives on the line only to return to a plutocracy rather than the democracy they were raised to believe we live under.


Injured Vet spent days at work, nights at protest

Marine veteran’s skull fractured by police projectile at ‘Occupy Oakland’ protest 

I Support the OccupyWallStreet movement


10 responses to “The Irony of Surviving Combat Defending “Democracy”

  1. I’m stunned that something like this is happening in this country. We criticize other countries for their lack of freedoms and here we have the police attacking people who are exercising a freedom we supposedly cherish. And all the police chief can say is, “It’s unfortunate this happened.” UNFORTUNATE? How about criminal? Cities, pay attention, there will be people in your areas protesting – not terrorizing – PROTESTING. That’s the American way.

    This post was beautifully written, LB. And very moving. Life is so cruel at times. Enjoy yours, please.

  2. OK… Jean recmnd your blog on her blog…. it didn’t take me long to know that I will be coming back.

    P:S The new Decemberist album is one of the b est I have heard in years.

    thanks for the writes.

  3. I think the entire event in OWS Oakland could have been handled so much better than the way police handled it.

    I like the way you compare the 2 wars and their similarities. If we as a society continue to ignore our history and stop learning from the mistakes made, our country will be destined for failure.

    • The similarities go beyond the wars. The causes and reactions of the Great Depression of 1928 are very similar to what caused the Great Recesession of 2008.

      “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – Santayana

  4. I hope the protests don’t mirror the protests against the Vietnam War. We don’t need anymore Kent States happening.
    LB, I appreciate your consistently thought-provoking blog posts.

  5. see the Mayor of Oakland is backing down and they will have an investigation……after I thought about it what need for investigation? There is vid of the whole incident and even a good vid at who threw the flash bang at the people helping him…..investigation is over they were guilty…..

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