I had a buddy in the Vietnam war who was a different kind of fighting man.  He didn’t carry a gun.  He was a civilian warrior for hearts and minds.  But he taught me the most important part of the combat soldier’s task.  I want to tell you about his one very special combat.

I’m going to call him “Bob.”  His mission was the aid and humanitarian work that kept children and their families alive in the crossfire of war.  As you would expect, he was a misery to the Viet Cong.  His work threatened to blow up their lies about “greedy and conquering” America and its “cruel and vicious” military.  How could any of that be true if this one young American was out there risking his life to help ordinary people survive?

For reasons of strategy, I suppose, the VC decided not to kill him.  They could have easily enough.  Bob had a couple of bodyguards.  Good fellows he ate with and shared hooch with.  The VC hired them to beat him.  To make him go away.  To show that Americans are cowards.  The beating was so severe you could see the scars on his body a dozen years later.

Bob didn’t go away.  Oh, he thought about it, lying there in a hospital bed, the tropic heat heavy on his face and mosquitoes nipping at him.  But he had a job to do in which he believed.  He went back to work, but he strapped on a pistol.

When I got to the war zone, he was back in Washington, D.C., working for a joint committee of the Departments of State and Defense.  The committee got into some wild bureaucratic combat over something that seemed so important that no one would budge, no one would compromise.

Finally, the exasperated chairman said, “We’ll have to kick this upstairs to the Secretaries themselves to decide.  Bob, you get a decision from the Secretary of Defense and I’ll do the same for State.  But the decision has to be today.”

Bob went to the Pentagon.  Walked into the Secretary’s office.  Said to the receptionist, “I have to see the Secretary immediately.  This decision is too important to wait.”

The receptionist said, “He’s too busy today to see anyone.”

“He’ll have to see me.  Our joint committee is stuck and we need his decision today.”

“All right,” she said.  She laid the Secretary’s daily calendar in front of Bob.  “You find two minutes on that schedule where I can squeeze you in and I will.”

He looked at the Secretary’s schedule for the day.  Every single block was filled.  From six A.M. past midnight, every minute was occupied with meetings, briefings, discussions, telephone calls, a state dinner at the White House.

But across the entire day’s schedule a big X was drawn, canceling every event.  Beside the X, the Secretary himself had written the words, “Think about Vietnam.”

Bob looked at those words a long while and finally said, “Yes, I see the Secretary has no time today for anything else.”

Think, he had written, about the war. 

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(c) 2014 Steven Hardesty

http://www.forgottenwarstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Chairbaby-300x300.jpghttp://www.forgottenwarstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Chairbaby-300x300-300x300.jpgstevenhardestyOp-Eddecision,vietnam war,war's meaningI had a buddy in the Vietnam war who was a different kind of fighting man.  He didn’t carry a gun.  He was a civilian warrior for hearts and minds.  But he taught me the most important part of the combat soldier’s task.  I want to tell you about...Recovering forgotten and overlooked military history