Shreveport, LA - 14 October 2000
By MG Ben L. Harrison, US Army, Retired, (Commander, 3rd Brigade, 101st Division, 1970)
Hi Troopers-- At Shreveport this past weekend we had a great gathering of Currahees and others supporting the 2nd Battalion, 506th at FSB Ripcord, 12 March-23 July 70.
LTG Randy House was our banquet speaker; B. G. Burket, author of Stolen Valor, was a luncheon speaker; and Rocky Blirier was a dinner speaker. Below is the speech I gave at the memorial ceremony. I think it will be of interest to anyone who fought in Vietnam.
Thank you, Fred. Colonel Spaulding has recognized our distinguished guests and organizations participating in this memorial dedication today. Let me add my most sincere personal appreciation for your presence today and your great contributions. It is fitting and appropriate that permanent recognition of the veterans of the battles for Fire Support Base Ripcord be placed here in this Memorial Plaza that already recognizes the veterans of America's wars: World War I, "the war to end all wars;" the Second World War, as a friend of mine said, everyone knew about it; it was in all the papers; and the Korean War, "the Forgotten War." Today we add the Vietnam War. You might call it "the Misunderstood War."
Some call World War II the Good War as opposed to Korea and Vietnam. The Second World War was indeed, in scope and significance, the most important event of the entire 20th Century. But there are no "Good" wars, as all wars rob us of our young men and women. They are, simply, America's wars. The World War II Generation, the Greatest Generation, deserves all the praise we can heap upon it -- they defeated the totalitarian and evil governments of Germany and Japan, restored Europe, and developed a mighty and economically healthy America.
But it may be time to recognize the Vietnam War Generation. The Vietnam War Generation contained Communism, restored democracy in Panama, stopped the Iraqis in the Middle East, won the Cold War, and caused the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has been the Vietnam War Generation that has made the United States the most technologically advanced and wealthiest nation in the world!! It is the Vietnam War Generation that has brought about more racial harmony and reduced gender bias in our society. It is our purpose today to honor all men and women who have fought for our country in all wars, but we pay special tribute to the Vietnam War Generation as we recognize two groups of America's Best -- those who made it back and those who did not!
This group of survivors seated with you today represent the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force veterans that participated in the five months of costly battles for Fire Support Base Ripcord, March through July, 1970. We certainly take no joy in the numbers, but the losses of Hamburger Hill fade to a small fraction of those who fought their last battle at Ripcord. And their names indeed are, "Graven not so much in stone as in the hearts of men." And they served in the spirit of the words on the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, "not for fame or reward, not for place or for rank, but in simple obedience to duty, as they understood it." I believe these men would be honored to have written on their memorial the same words as found in Washington on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier -- "I am the unknown soldier, and I may have died in vain . . . , but if I were alive . . . and my country called, I'd do it over again."
It is hard to believe that it has taken thirty years to have the story of Ripcord told. It's also hard to believe that some of us, occasionally, still have terrifying nightmares of Vietnam. But the story finally has been told, and all of us are deeply appreciative of the exacting and scholarly research that Keith Nolan has done for his tenth book on the Vietnam War. Keith has written moving, shocking, sad; sometimes emotionally draining, but more often, inspiring stories about our comrades. Ripcord, The Screaming Eagles Under Siege, is not just a tribute to the 356 soldiers that Keith has written about in his book; it is a tribute to the hundreds of thousands, yes, hundreds of thousands of Army and Marine infantrymen who fought on the ground in Vietnam and the Army and Air Force and Navy and Marine brave aircrews who time and again provided crucial fire support and medical evacuation.
Thank you, Keith Nolan!! Will Rogers once said, "It's not the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we know that just ain't so." This applies in spades to Vietnam veterans. Our Misundestood War is sometimes called, "the dirty little war." To help put the Vietnam War in perspective, James Webb reminds us that Vietnam was no way a "little" war; it was the most costly war the United States Marine Corps has ever fought! Five times as many dead as World War I, three times as many dead as in Korea, and more total killed and wounded in the five years the Marines were in Vietnam than in the entire three and one half years of World War II!
As grateful as I am to Keith Nolan and Presidio Press for bringing us this magnificent book that is sure to become one of the true classics of the Vietnam War, I feel compelled to take issue with one of their key editorial assertions. In the Introduction, it is stated that, at Ripcord, "The enemy victory was total." Simply not so! The mission of the 101st Airborne Division was to
1. destroy as much of the North Vietnamese Army and their equipment and supplies as possible,
2. to deny safe havens for the enemy to use to strike the populated coastal areas, and
3. gain time for the South Vietnamese military to improve their combat effectiveness.
Our soldiers accomplished their mission.It was not until three years after the 101st withdrew from Vietnam, that the North Vietnamese were able to invade with a 22 division conventional force. The forward assembly of these forces was made easy by the Kissinger-drafted Paris Peace Accords. The United States reneged on its promise of air support and military supplies to South Vietnam. President Ford pleaded with Congress to support the South Vietnamese but was rebuffed and denied. As our higher command in the 101st chose not to continue the fight at Ripcord, our country chose not to support the South Vietnamese any longer. It could be analogous to a football team never putting the offensive squad on the field, or probably more accurately, the entire team walking off the field at the start of the fourth quarter.
Nonetheless, it was a noble cause and a just war against an evil and cruelly oppressive North Vietnamese government that was trying to destroy its neighbor -- a government that proclaimed that is better to kill ten innocent people than miss one potential enemy. Our military forces followed the orders of the National Military Authority with courage and honor.
To the two groups of Vietnam Veterans that we honor today:
To all Veterans and your Families, we salute you!