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Vietnam War Recollections Linger Painfully

July 14, 1998

Re "War Stories" (July 3): I was not surprised to read the declaration of Holy Cross University sociologist Jerry Lembcke that he found no documentation of Vietnam veterans being spat upon. Instead, he opines, this is a myth created to deflect from our being defeated by a "small, undeveloped nation" (not by the well-armed Viet Cong).

Coincidentally, a TV program hosted by Stone Phillips aired two days after the "War Stories" article with a segment on Vietnam veterans, and one of the veterans interviewed reveals how he was spat upon by antiwar demonstrators. Couldn't Lembcke have also ferreted out a vet who was exposed to such hateful conduct? Shouldn't investigative reporting be more thorough than to rely solely on accounts of the '60s and '70s when media focused on anti-America rhetoric?

Lembcke must be aware of the war of words that was fought on the home front. That is, descriptions of flower-carrying Doves, while labeling as Hawks individuals who also hated the war, but supported servicemen embroiled in war at home and abroad. As proof of media bias, one of the photos appearing with your article features a fresh-faced youth stuffing flowers into the muzzles of rifles carried by, I presume, members of the National Guard. The other photo features older, sour-faced anti-peace marchers.

As a mother of two Vietnam War vets, I often felt that, other than their loved ones, no one cared about the welfare of our servicemen.

JOSEPHINE BOTELLO GARCIA, Rosemead

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I can take Jerry Lembcke to the exact spot in San Francisco, where I stood, in uniform, on the northwest corner of 9th and Market at 2:30 p.m. May 3, 1967, and someone spat in my face. Whether he was an antiwar demonstrator or just someone who was angry at the world mattered little to a 20-year-old kid who had just returned from Vietnam.

Why was he unable to verify a factual occurrence of such an incident? Maybe he didn't look in the right places. The majority of vets who came home kept their mouths shut and didn't make a big deal about the war. We just wanted to get on with our lives. We didn't start the war and sure as hell didn't have anything to do with ending it.

I wonder if it ever occurred to any of the people who spend so much time and energy trying to figure the war out, that most of us went because we gave a commitment. I signed a contract to perform my duties to the best of my ability. I gave my word. Whether it was Vietnam or the moon, I did as I was told to do.

Was it confusing to come home and find that people were divided about the war? Yes. As a matter of fact, I went back to Vietnam for a second tour. Things seemed safer and saner there than in the streets of my own country.

The war left scars. One would have to be void of feelings to say otherwise. Just recently, after 30 years, I have started to discuss the experience, and that took the urging from the person who means more to me than anyone. That is probably what prompted me to respond to the article in the paper. Not to do so would be irresponsible. It would invalidate the magnitude of the experience of having someone spit in your face.

GARY KIRK, Marina del Rey

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If I may add to the excellent story, a comprehensive Louis Harris survey in 1980 showed that the American public did not blame the Vietnam veteran for the unpopular war: 77% of veterans felt they received a "very friendly" reception.

President Nixon proclaimed Vietnam Veterans Day for March 29, 1974. In a Veterans Day speech in 1974, President Ford focused on the Vietnam veteran. President Carter declared a Vietnam Veterans Week to coincide with Memorial Day in 1979. Veterans Day in 1979 was also dedicated to the Vietnam veteran.

The U.S. Congress declared April 26, 1981, Vietnam Veteran Recognition Day. The Vietnam Memorial dedication, in Washington in 1982, drew a crowd of 150,000. It was a four-day tribute. The names of all 57,939 military personnel who died were read at the Washington Cathedral.

On May 7, 1985, 25,000 Vietnam veterans marched in a New York City ticker-tape parade.

VAL RODRIGUEZ, Signal Hill

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