2018 Scholarship Winners

Quaid Cavallin

What did the United States Accomplish in the Vietnam War?

By Quaid Cavallin 2018

“The “grunt,” as he stands in dirty, muddy majesty, is as fine a fighting man as the United States has ever produced.  He is young, tough, intelligent, and he knows how to kill. He’s the (Marine) up front who is sticking his nose in the mud each day.  He is the one who sees the enemy at 25 yards; the one who has slogged through a sticky rice paddy or waded a stream carrying 60 rounds of ammunition...and, the one who knows what it feels like to be shot at close range…”

      That is a caption from an article in the Milwaukee Journal, written by reporter Jay Reed during the Vietnam War.  This article was cut out, and dearly kept by the mother of the Vietnam veteran that I interviewed this year, Mr. Don Weber. 

     Don Weber was a Grunt in the US Marines.  Following in his father’s footsteps, a WWII POW, Don joined the marines at 18, and spent 393 days on the front lines of Vietnam.  He suffered a gunshot wound to his leg, but still continued to fight in-country.  He was later awarded two Bronze Stars for his service. 

     The Vietnam War was a civil conflict between North and South Vietnam.  The U.S. intervened, in hopes that it could put a stop to the spread of Communism. Long story short, the United States pulled its last soldiers out of the war in 1975, and the Communist North Vietnamese took over  South Vietnam anyway.

      But the question is; Did the United States accomplish anything by fighting in the Vietnam War? At this point in American history, the general view is that the United States gained almost nothing from this war.  More than 58,000 were killed, thousands were injured, and many men and women today still suffer physically and mentally from this war.  As for veterans of this war, sadly, their opinions seem to echo that of the general public.  I not only asked Mr. Weber this question, but I also asked my Grandfather, Wayne Sletten, who is a Vietnam Era veteran, and Jim Latvela, a veteran I have interviewed for this scholarship once before.   All their answers were eerily the same.  

      In their opinion, the only positive thing the US accomplished during the war was to refine military tactics and advance weapon systems. Research states that even though we didn’t stop it, the United States did in fact, SLOW the spread of communism into Vietnam’s neighboring countries. But beyond that, sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any positives. 

     Don told me that the U.S. should have been able to go into Vietnam, do what needed to be done and get out of there in 6 months, but instead, because of politics, the government tied our hands and 58,000 service men and women basically died for nothing. Don, Jim and my grandpa all said the war divided our country, and tarnished the reputation of the US.  Jim stated to me that he felt the war condemned Americans who did what they thought was right, what they were told to do, and brought shame and doubt to these same Americans, who were left in the end with more confusion and heartbreak than anything else.  

     Don was definitely one of the soldiers who were left confused and more than anything; guilt ridden.   Upon his return to the Unites States, Don spent 9 months or so homeless, sleeping on the streets and in the back of stranger’s cars. When talking about it, Don told me that he was so overwhelmed with guilt from surviving while so many that he had served with died, that he buried himself in a hole of self pity and grief. His exact words were, “Guilt is to the soul what pain is to the body”. This quote really resonated with me during the rest of the interview as Don explained how he worked his way back from this and has now dedicated his life to helping make a difference in others, because, that is the true reason he believes God saved his life while in Vietnam.