To the editor:
While the U.S. rightly celebrates the 50th anniversary of reaching the moon, a time of inspiration according to the media, it is also the anniversary of a letter I wrote to my wife from a machine gun bunker on the perimeter of the 9th Infantry Division base camp on the banks of the Mekong River in then South Vietnam.
As an epigram to the first chapter of my book, “Wayne’s War,” I cite that letter, in which I lament, “Our boys in space are doing quite well — we can conquer space but can’t end stupid conflicts like this one.”
How stupid was it? In the month of July 1969, while our boys were in space, 537 of the over 58,000 total Americans who perished in the unwinnable war, were killed. To put that in perspective, that number for one month in Vietnam represents about 10% of the total killed in Iraq and Afghanistan together so far. Further, under Operation Speedy Express to sweep the Delta of commies, under its commander Gen. Julian Ewell’s policy of shooting anyone who runs during the day and anybody out during the dusk-to-dawn curfew, the 9th killed over 6,000 unarmed, innocent civilians in 1969. That President Trump now celebrates the country we lost to as an exemplar for others in that region is the cherry on the cake.
No, I don’t recall celebrating the moon landing as we prepared to fend off another Viet Cong ground assault while following the Armed Forces Radio-Vietnam coverage of the event. What I do remember was questioning why I should fight and die for a country more interested in finding out what was happening on the other side of the moon than on the other side of Earth.
Wayne M. Burton
North Shore Community College
Durham, New Hampshire