We Must Remember History


“Peace Flowers” © R.L. Herron

Thirty-five years ago this month the North Vietnamese army overran the U.S. Embassy and captured Saigon.

At 8:35 a.m. on April 30, 1975, the last ten American Marines from the embassy were helicoptered out of Saigon. The long, bloody conflict that so severely divided American conciousness in the 60s and 70s finally came to an ignominious end.

I don’t think about it often any more, and I can only say that with some measure of shame. It was a friend’s mention of a new online version of the Vietnam Veteran’s Wall that reminded me I need to remember it.

Several friends, high school and college buddies, never came home from that conflict, including a young man who grew up across the street from me.

At the time, the pain of those personal losses was severe. But with more than 58,000 American casualties sacrificed to that mindless endeavor the full scope of the nationwide anguish it must have caused is almost unimaginable.

I know this isn’t the time or place to talk about the “correctness” of that war.

However, it is always time to remember those who served America. Indeed, in every war our service men and women should be remembered, particularly those who gave everything.

More than that, we would do well to ponder the words of philosopher George Santayana, who said: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

We still don’t seem to have understood that lesson.

4 Responses to “We Must Remember History”

  1. Ron Herron Says:

    First, let me thank everyone for your comments.

    Ed, you are correct in many ways, but that is primarily true only for “our” generation, the ones who were actually involved. Vietnam has now become a “vacation” location in southeast Asia, although many folks our age cannot imagine it.

    Conrad, you flatter me. I’m glad you enjoy the blog. It’s why I started “Painting With Light” in the first place.

    Peter, you hit the nail on the head. We don’t talk often about the mistakes of the past, except to glorify the actions, when we should be looking for the root causes and eliminate them.

    Alas, I fear Santayana was right, and humanity is doomed to repeat its mistakes eternally. Or at least until we go so far as to sterilize the globe, and finally rid it of man’s continual folly.

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  2. Peter Wallage Says:

    Oh yes indeed, Ron. We must remember history.

    I had very little connection with the war in Vietnam except what I read in the newspapers, but my cousin with whome I grew up was with the UK Army division of the UN force in that almost forgotten war in Korea.

    He spent his 21st birthday firing a Bren gun into hordes of North Korean troops charging across no-man’s land followed by hand-to-hand fighting with the few who reached the UN lines.

    He was fortunate in that the only injury he got was a badly burned forearm from the very hot barrel of his Bren gun when he put it down to pick up a normal rifle and bayonet for hand-to-hand.

    He doesn’t talk much about it, but once told me it must have been like that of the German machine gunners in WW1 when they fired into the waves of British troops attacking at Mons and Ypres. As well as the scar on his forearm the experience left him mentally scarred for life.

    I didn’t see combat in WW2, it was all over bar the shouting when I joined the RAF, but I spent my teenage years in South-East England with days, and later nights, of almost constant air raids by the Luftwaffe. Even they were not as devastating as the day and night bombing of German cities by the RAF and US airforce later in the war.

    After the war I visited Germany fairly frequently and made many friends among former enemies. We used to talk, and ask each other: “Why?”

    Today in UK schools WW2 is taught in the barest outline. No mention of why it happened, it just “happened”.

    In my talks with German friends we came to the conclusion that the roots of WW2 went back even further than the impossible reparations imposed on Germany in 1919. They grew in the long-lasting French hatred of Prussia after their defeat in the Franco-Prusian war of 1870-1871.

    This is not taught in schools, yet in a few years time many of the children will be old enough to vote for candidates both the Westminster and to the Europen Union parliaments. How will they be able to judge the manifestos if they know nothoing of European history over the past 150 or so years?

    I wrote to the Department of Education in Westminster about it and was told that this period of European History is too recent to form considered judgements. When will they ever learn?

    Both the BBC and independent television channels make excellent documentaries about this period, usually with contributions from both English and German historians and film archive from both countries.

    But then, teenagers today don’t watch documentary channels on TV. They prefer space adventures which still glorify wars and the right of might.

    Many people of my generation both in the Uk and across Eaurope, find this saddening, but year by year there are fewer of us left who remember WW2. Soon, no-one will remember it at first hand. I hope that the younger historians who have access to both documentary and film archives will keep hammering away until the mass of people know the reasons for centuries of almost constant European fighting.

    If they fail, then we, or rather our grandchildren, will be doomed to make the same mistakes again.

    Peter Wallage

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  3. ed markowski Says:

    The divisions that came about from the VNW are wider now.

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  4. Conrad Tarnacki Says:

    First of all, Ron, I want to thank you for “Painting With Light”. I really look forward to reading this site when you post it. I worked with you for many years, and never realized the creativity you have in writing. I not only am impressed, I am proud you are my friend.

    Now, on with the subject at hand.
    I just purchased a book called “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes. This is a story about Vietnam. Mr. Marlantes was a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts and ten Air medals. He lives in rural Washington State. The New York Times Book section reviewed this book this past Sunday, and promised a riveting experience in reading this novel. I have not started it yet, but am looking forward to it.

    I also received your recommendation to view the virtual Vietnam Wall Memorial online. I found that to be a powerful experience. I looked up a few of my lost boyhood friends, and past on the URL for the site to many of my friends. Thank You for that, also.

    I had a chance to go to the actual memorial in Washington D.C and can honestly say it was a very sobering experience. The experience is a very solemn and quiet visit. When your at the memorial, quiet is the first thing you notice. It feels as if you are on hollowed ground. I never forgot my visit, and never will.

    I was in the Army Reserves during the Vietnam war and was fortunate (or not) not to have been activated and sent there. Some times a wave of survivors guilt comes over me, and I wonder how my life would have been had I gone. I always thank the Lord for the path he put forward for me.
    Keep up the wonderful work Ron. The light you are painting is a ray of sunshine for me.

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