A web site that shares the emotional and spiritual experiences of the Vietnam War through poetry, stories, and photos by combat veterans.

Hosted by Vietnam Veteran Bill McDonald

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Most Vietnam Veterans get asked these basic questions, I know I have over the years. Recently, I was asked to share these answers with another combat veteran, Larry Stimeling on his web site. The following was his email request to me.



Thank you for the kind remarks, please feel free to link to my site.  This site has been started off of a yahoo club which I founded mid summer. The idea is an offshoot of what a group of Nam Vets here in central Illinois are doing.  We go into high schools and talk about our "Vietnam Experiences".  We do not teach history nor do we tell "war stories". We just tell how it was for each of us "in the Nam".

I would like to extend to you an invitation to join our small little band.  I can put an info page about you on the site in a few days all I would need is answers to a couple of questions. since most of what I need is on your site the only unanswered questions are:

                                The worst thing about Nam ?

                                The best thing about Nam?

                                How you felt about the war before you went to Nam?

                                After? Now?


The worst thing about Nam?
This under the assumption that there was but only one worse thing, that was more worse than any other bad thing, in the Nam. Besides, the most obvious answer - losing friends and brothers in combat; let me explore this one step in another direction.
It was not the weather - God knows the countless rainy days,, and nights, that never washed away any of that red dirt and mud, that we got on and under your skin. Nor was it those hot humid "4 canteen days", that left you always thirsty and always wet, from your own perspiration (some of it caused by the 100 degree temperatures, but certainly some of it caused by a fear within, that you could never share, or expose to others.) Nope, the weather was not the worse thing about Nam.
So, was it the bugs, and the rats, and smell of burning "honey dew pots" (human waste being burned with some fuel to dispose of it) filling the air with such wonderful aromas? Nope, none of these gets my vote for the worse thing about Nam either.
So, you might ask - "was it the actual combat and people shooting at you?"
Nope, you could live with that (or in some cases you could die with that). Combat was something that you trained for and prepared for. The actual moments of combat were alive with adrenal and fear at the same time. Heck, combat was almost a release from the hours of quiet that hung in the air so thick with fear, that you looked forward to shooting back and engaging an enemy that you could never see, until you heard the shots being fired. (Or felt the sting of tracers flying past you) So, combat was bad, but it was not the worse thing about the Nam.
So was it the bad food, the lousy working schedules - every day in the Nam was a work day; or was it something else? 
Not getting mail was a bad thing ,and so was being away from family and your high school buddies. Of course, someone always missed their girl friend, or wife - I had neither to miss and that was a bad thing as well.
The worse thing about Nam for me was the feeling that people back in the world (USA) just did not understand, nor appreciate what we were trying to do. I felt that the protests were not just a statement about being against the war - but about being against everything that made the war possible - meaning the GIs fighting it and dying for it.
Having my old friends from high school telling me about their college protests and how "right" their cause was and how wrong we "baby killers" were - that hurt! By far, this was the worse thing about being in Nam for me. I can forget about the bugs, the rats, the physical wounds and the VC - but being betrayed by your own country, hurt more than any thing else. No other wound hurt so bad - not even getting bounced on my head by a rocket explosion. To this very day - this is my biggest soul killing memory of the Nam.
What was the best thing about Vietnam?
I think that finding out what you were made out of, was a real growth experience. Facing the enemy and succeeding at staying alive while facing your fears. There is just no other feeling like having gotten through a fire fight alive, after so many very close calls. You will never feel so alive again, as long as you live. You begin to value every second of your existence. You can feel and hear and see so much more around you. Your senses are so heightened that you feel "high" just from breathing in that dirty smoky air around you. You walk taller and almost swagger. You felt proud knowing that you did what you had to do and did not break. You did not let your buddies down while facing death, eye-ball to eye-ball and won that contest - at least for that moment in time. This may not sound like a great, or best thing - but coming out of combat a live and in one piece always made my day!
How did I feel about Nam before the war?
I was one of those rare students of Far Eastern History and knew much about the history of Vietnam and the old French Empire. I knew that the French blew it and that the North and South were fighting a dirty little civil war between themselves. I however, hated communism with a  great passion and believed it to be an evil force in the world, that would need to be stopped one day. I was willing to help defeat that evil.
How did I feel about the war in Vietnam when I was there?
What I discovered, real fast, was that there was no way to win this war. I was soon to discover that fighting this war came with many rules of engagement - free fire zones, no fire zones, places and areas that were off limits to attacks. We never did engage the enemy to win this war - we fought a political war. It was not a war we could ever win given the restraints that were put on the fighting forces. It only took me about 3 months in country to discover this truth. I often wondered what took Washington DC, so long to realize what all combat troops had discovered  - and in my case, by the March of 1967. Why did we continue to throw away our young men to that machine of death for so many more years after that?
How did I feel after the war about Vietnam?
I felt betrayed by my country. I was made to feel guilty about being there, or having fought there. I returned to San Francisco in November 1967 - right after the famous "Summer of Love" had ended. I made the mistake of wearing my uniform while on leave, when I just got back from Nam. I wanted to show off my ribbons and medals. I was home less than 5 hours, when I had more troubles than I wanted. Hippies taunted me and followed me down Broadway Street, as I tried to enjoy my first night back in the states, after my tour. I was called names and yes, I was spit on by these young long haired, righteous, butt-heads. They did not welcome me home, but made me feel isolated and depressed. Not a very joyous memory at all. I went home and took off my uniform never to wear it again outside of a military base.
When I got out of the  Army, I threw all my medals, ribbons and patches in some dusty old box and avoided ever talking about the Nam and what happened there to me.
How do I feel now about the Vietnam War?
Time heals some wounds for sure - but I think I have finally taken a good look backwards and realize that I have nothing to be hiding from. The past is something that I am now proud to have been a part of. I respect all my brothers and sisters who went there and fought there. I respect all those who gave their all on those muddy fields of battle. Most importantly, I respect myself for what I did there. I am not ashamed of my service for my country. However, I still do harbor some strong feelings about those who fought the " Anti-War" on the home front. 
I have read this old quote, from the guy who wrote the book that the movie "Full Metal Jacket" was filmed from. He was the late Gustau Hasford (1947-1993) Although I do not fully endorse all of this statement it says a lot:
"Like a women who has never given birth, the man who has never faced death and inflicted death, will never for all of his life feel somehow not quite complete."
That is a little stronger than I can handle. I do not think that a man needs to inflect death to be called, or thought of as a man. However, I think those men who missed their chance to face the enemy and their fears, in a real test of life and death combat - can never fully savor that zest of life that a combat veteran has each and every day he wakes up alive!
Rev. Bill McDonald
Vietnam 1966-67]
128th Assault Helicopter Company

  Hope this answers your questions.... 

Larry Stimeling's web site called:

  Vietnam Veterans Answer Your Questions


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