Procopius

Procopius
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Rockford, Illinois, USA
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February 05
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I'm a regular middle aged guy, living in a regular middle class neighborhood, in a regular middle-sized community in the middle of America. I am an expatriate Texan transplanted to the Midwest, and wondering how I got here, and where I'm headed.

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Salon.com
MARCH 29, 2010 11:52AM

March 29, 1973

Rate: 21 Flag

It is an anniversary that passes almost unnoticed every year.  Given the tumultuous years that preceded it, I suppose that is understandable.  Still, I think it is an anniversary worth remembering.  On March 29, 1973, the last American combat troops left Vietnam.  After more than 58,000 Americans paid the ultimate sacrifice, our military involvement in Southeast Asia was at an end.

For such a remarkable fact as that, the headlines that day were amazingly muted.  The biggest story on the front page of the New York Times that Friday dealt not with the end of a war that had gone on for more than a decade, but with the Nixon Administration's imposition of controls on the price of meat.  

 

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Like most Americans, I rarely think about this anniversary.  The only reason I remember it this year is because my Vietnam veteran brother pointed it out on his Facebook page.  March 29 bears little similarity to the main end-of-war anniversaries of the 20th century.  Most people remember the almost poetic moment that World War I came to an end, when the armistice was signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  After four horrific years, the guns finally fell silent along the trenches of the Western Front.  The day would be forever memorialized first as Armistice Day, then later as Veterans Day.

Surprisingly, few Americans today remember when World War II ended.  That war ended on August 14, 1945, when Japan announced its surrender to American forces.  Instead of remembering August 14, however, we are more likely to remember that other anniversary from that month, August 6, when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  Americans were of course jubilant when World War II ended, but as time passed that jubilation was replaced by trepidation as the potential horrors of this new nuclear age became apparent.

As for Vietnam, I suspect one reason we don't remember the day our troops left that country is because the end of that war was not what Americans had grown accustommed to.  Indeed, to say that the war "ended" on March 29, 1973 is to engage in historical gaming.  The war continued another two years, culminating in the fall of Saigon in the spring of 1975, and the ascendance of the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia at roughly the same time.  The Vietnam War did not end so much as it simply faded away, at least as far as America's involvement in it is concerned.

Some Americans remember this anniversary, though.  I am certain the individuals pictured here remember it well.

 

vietnam homecoming

 

I was a 15 year old high school freshman on March 29, 1973.  I was young, but I remember watching joyful reunions on TV like the one pictured above.  I remember thinking that the Vietnam War had been a reality during my entire conscious life.  I remember thinking how strange it was going to be now that the war was over and it would no longer dominate the nightly news.   I remember thinking how glad I was that I would not have to worry about serving in Vietnam like my older brother did after he drew the number "26" in the 1970 draft lottery. 

Whether we remember it or not, March 29 is an important anniversary.  To those who came home on this date 37 years ago, I rejoice that your names are not included among the 58,000 on Maya Lin's black wall.  

 

vietnam-war-memorial-wall

 

 

 

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I didn't know this date. Thank you for this post, and the beautiful pictures to accompany it. They are such poignant bookends to your writing. (r)
I had this long comment written then I read it over again and said the same thing I said the night I watched the withdrawal on the news..."Fuck it."

Life went on....life goes on. Maybe it is enough to say: "Yes. I remember that day."

Well written, my friend and highly Rated.
very interesting post...I'd love to see a higher resolution image of that front page. There are some interesting items there. I wonder what people would say today about meat prices restrictions if Obama were to do that...I also notice a headline about Watergate.

Do you think that the muted reporting about the end of our presence in Vietnam was due to people not wanting to deal with the information? It's a bit hard to recreate all the elements of political context, but it might be a combination to the nation being stunned by the Watergate revelations, and that many were perhaps in denial that the war in Vietnam, at such cost of blood and treasure, was not worth fighting, was not worth getting involved in...there is that aphorism about history, doom and repetition after all. Though it's easy to connect some dots...many architects of war in that era resurfaced to lead us into our present quagmires.
Steve, thanks for the historical perspective on this! The anniversary of that event is something that slipped my mind, too. I was a freshman in college and I recall being skeptical that this was really happening given that it involved Richard Nixon. I remember the stories of the vast amounts of equipment, South Vietnamese who had been loyal to us and even the war dogs that were left behind. It would appear that it was a really screwed up departure from Saigon, etc.

I've got a few newspapers from April, 1945 and VE Day, etc. Since it will be 65 years next month that seems like an appropriate time to do a post on that part of WWII.
dirndl, thank you for your kind words.

Torman, I can relate very easily to your sentiments -- something I have heard many times from those just a little older than me.

Barry, you raise some fascinating questions. The muted response to the end of Vietnam may have an almost mirror image to our reaction these days to Iraq. These unpopular misadventures don't elicit much recognition as they fade away. Your recollection about Watergate is also interesting, and it would soon replace Vietnam in the headlines. This was about 4 months before the House Committee hearings (chaired by Sam Ervin) would uncover the full extend of Nixon's corruption. In March, 1973, a lot of people still believed Nixon was more the victim than the perpetrator.
Nice to commemorate this date. We are still in America's longest war in Iraq. I wonder when that one will end.
Pro, I remember that photo very clearly. It was so ... arresting, I guess is the word I'd use for it. Touching, too. And wonderful, because it meant someone got home safely.

I too had forgotten the date, and thank you for reminding me -- all of us -- what it meant. Some of the names on The Wall came from north of the 49th....

And Torman? I wish you had written a longer reply.
I remember the photos, and I remember my draft number in 1973. It was 185.
Thank you for remembering. Also, I am a big May Lin fan! I think she's an artistic genius.
John, I always enjoy your looks back in time, and remember seeing many old newspapers you have saved through the years.

Lea, these wars we find ourselves in just seem to go on and on until they fade away, with so many lives needlessly lost.

Boanerges, it is easy for those of us in the USA to forget that many different nationalities fought in Vietnam. It was a tragedy affecting far too many.

sheepdog, that might have been the last year for the lottery, although I cannot remember for certain.

Monsieur, me too, and she was only 21 years old when she won the competition for the Vietnam War Memorial. I remember how some were at the time angry about both her design and the fact that she was of Asian descent. I think most would agree now that her creation is of amazing taste and reverence, and it is a highlight of any visit to D.C.
I should have mentioned there is a Vietnam memorial in Windsor, across the border from Detroit. Only one in the country, so far as I know. It commemorates the 117 Canucks who died in the conflict while serving with US forces.
Thank you for this reminder to remember.
leave it to you. the OS historian. i'd spent five prior years with an occupational deferment working as a child welfare worker in the South Bronx, then my number came up in the 300s. my wife and I took it as our signal to travel for a year around the world, so we were in malaysia at the time Nixon sent his armada to bomb Cambodia. it's hard to recollect those years now--especially the draft for those who don't know what can happen when ideology takes precedence over the lives of a people.

Is it possible that it could happen again--for the same misplaced reasons? I think so. Even if the reasons for Afganhistan are clear, Iraq is still a war that was launched for even less noble causes: personal vendetta on the part of the ruling class and pure capitalist greed.

In the last 40ty years its been proven this is a coutry where fear mongering pays off despite the educational level and despite the growth of a small conscious minority--but that too is a legacy of Viet Nam.
Thank God the US learned its lesson in Viet Nam and never again became entangled in an unpopular, unwinable foreign war... oh. Shit.
aim, thanks for stopping by.

Ben Sen, I fear we have learned very little since 1973. Fear mongering works.

Gordon, indeed.
Thanks for this thoughtful and beautiful remembrance.

It is a powerful advancement that we now honor our veterans, and are outraged that we have lost less than 5,000. They are painful losses, nonetheless.

But our reaction speaks volumes of change since Vietnam, when soldiers were still cannon fodder.

Looking forward to a new day to celebrate: the day our last Iraq, then Afghanistan vets come home.
Our nation doesn't celebrate it because it didn't end in victory. I think it's worth remembering, particularly whenever someone says we have to go do it again. Would our "Peace With Honor" have looked much different three years earlier? Ten thousand casualties earlier, twenty thousand?
Amen to your closing.
Steve,

It seems you and I are the same age. I remember how that war haunted us. I think it was really the first war that simply had no real purpose to it. And that seems to be the case with the current or most recent wars. Many people, even today, don’t seem to realize how long that struggle went on and how early our involvement began – 1950 as advisors to the French and South Vietnamese forces.

The French had an interest in trying to maintain their hold on that region, but when they recognized it would not be feasible, they pulled out; but not the good ol’ war mongering U.S. of A. No, sir, we were going to kill off as many of our young as necessary to be able to say, “We won another one.” I have no idea what it was we would win, exactly. Do you?

You’re right, of course, about how “the end” wasn’t really the end and so it just did not have the impact of the other conflicts you mention. But just as the end of the Vietnam involvement sort of just faded away rather than ending, that was reciprocal to the beginning of our involvement; we started out superficially involved and just sort of gradually sunk deeper and deeper into it.

That war was an embarrassment, and that is also a factor in why its end is not remembered or celebrated, I think. It serves as a perfect instruction in what damage occurs when fear and ignorance are allowed to direct national policy.

Great post, great point about the anniversary, and thank you for calling it to our attention. I think it has special significance considering the state of the world at this time.

RATED.
xenon, I recently read about the Battle of Antietam, when almost as many died in 24 hours, when the population of the country was just 1/10 what is now, as have died in 6 years in Iraq. That doesn't diminish their sacrifice, though. I'll celebrate when they can all come home, too.

jimmymac, how would you like to be the loved one of the last person to die for a mistake? Or among the last 20,000. That's the tragedy.

Pilgrim, thank you for stopping by.

Rick, I'm sure we're in agreement that the most frustrating thing about our current affairs is that we seem not to learn our lessons. And like you point out, far too many allow themselves to be swayed by fear and ignorance. I'd also add a naive trust in authority. You'd think that, more than anything, would have been a lesson learned.
I remember it well. My most vivid memory was watching the helicopters being pushed off ships to make way for more people.
Ralph, what you are recalling was actually two years later, when Saigon fell to the Communists (April 1975), and we were evacuating our embassy staff and the Vietnamese who had been helping America's efforts there. The events of 1973 were a happier time, at least for most Americans.
steve, late in commenting, but thank you for this. very poignant. i wouldn't have known the date though i am also of the era. funny thing. and what of our current endless wars? sigh.
Deborah, thank you for stopping by.
thanks for remembering, I never thought about this date, funny thing is I've even forgotten the exact date I came home, it was in mid-July 1969, and I got my discharge the next day, I suppose I could get the date by digging up my discharge papers, but why bother?
Roy, when you get right down to it, dates don't mean anything. The important thing is not the date that you came home, but that you came home at all. To me,, dates are simply an opportunity to remember something of significance. Certainly, the end of American combat operations is worthy of remembrance. Thanks for stopping by.