John N. Baldwin
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ON – A REFLECTION
This talk was given in 2000 before about 2,000 people in California at a ceremony commemorating the 25th anniversary of the “end” of the Vietnam War
Remarks Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the End of the Vietnam War
April 30, 2000
Major John N. Baldwin, US Army Medical Corps, Retired
Former Chief of Surgery, 24th Evacuation Hospital, Long Binh, Republic of Vietnam
Friends, distinguished guests, ladies, gentlemen, comrades-in-arms: welcome.
I am John Baldwin of Twain Harte, and I was a battle surgeon in the United States army in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. My wife, then Lt. Jean Mitchell, of the Army Nurse Corps, served with me.
How can I distill into this ceremony that year in Vietnam, my nearly two-thousand operations on wounded American soldiers, some your sons and loved ones? How can I, in five minutes, draw from that year and the intervening twenty-five years some meaning to honor those who answered the call?
My departed Carmel friend, General Jimmy Doolittle, who raided Tokyo in the dark days of early World War II, once gave me this speaking advice: “be brief, be brave, and tell them the truth.”
I will tell you the truth. Vietnam was a war that need not have happened. It was called “A Bright Shining Lie” by one excellent writer on the subject.
The sad truth is that we were, as a nation, and as a people, lied to by three presidents.
John Kennedy secretly started our involvement, making the key decisions for initial involvement and conspired deeply in the assassination of the South Vietnamese president.
Lyndon Johnson inherited John Kennedy’s war, fabricated the Gulf of Tonkin incident to allow major US escalation, and then promised us “light at the end of the tunnel.” “I will not be the first president to lose a war,” he declared.
Richard Nixon allowed twenty thousand more to die during his term while offering us and the South Vietnamese “Peace with Honor.” Over ten years it dragged on and on.
Congress never had the courage to vote to declare war.
Pulitzer Prize-Winning Wall Street Journal Editor Robert Barclay in Friday’s paper said it best: “The Vietnam War was the price the nation paid for the lack of Presidential character.”
We were lied to as it pertained to:
- The cause
- The purpose
- The objective
- The duration
- And the chances for success
In this war, as in several others, the men and women who served were far more noble human beings than the politicians who sent them.
We were drafted because we were minorities, small-towners, poor kids, or high school dropouts. If you could get to college, you could get out of Vietnam. Or you could hide in Canada.
Why have I gone into this background history? Because it makes their sacrifice even more incredible; because we have a great debt to those who served, who died, and who, in Lincoln’s immortal words, “gave their last full measure of devotion”. We are here to honor those who answered the call and did not run. We are here to honor the parents, children, and sweethearts of those men and women. We also honor those in the military who served elsewhere around the world in support of our mission. We are here to honor those of you at home, who “waited for the news” and the awful letter that began “We regret to inform you.”
Not one of us who served or who waited emerged unchanged.
I ask you then, in light of what they gave, to demand a Congress and a president with the courage to declare a war if your sons and daughters are asked to die. Do not allow presidential executive orders to draw our nation into bloody conflicts that have no bearing on our national interests. Value your voting rights and do your homework before voting. Do not accept a lie that covers the truth. Character does matter! We owe at least this to the ones who answered the call.
We also, in grateful appreciation, should pledge to honor their sacrifices in our own daily lives: tell the truth, be honest, do not steal, do your best in all endeavors, honor your children, your father and mother, regard all life as precious, and above all, know that your freedoms have been purchased at a tremendous price by kids in all wars who were cut down before the joys of college, marriage, children, ballgames at the ‘Stick, barbecues on the 4th of July and grandchildren in their laps.
So, I am saying: cherish your Constitutional rights! Never allow yourself to become complacent about your freedom to travel, your right to personal safety in your own home, your right to keep and bear arms, your right to speak out against the government, your right to print your opinions in our newspaper, your right to vote and your right to worship, or not, as you choose.
Finally, remember this: America’s noble effort in Vietnam, and the concept was noble, bought time for the rest of Asia which today enjoys a prosperity and security purchased in no small part by the American boys who fought and died there. Lastly, remember our resolve in Vietnam was a step along the road to the downfall of Communism in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Germany, and parts of South East Asia.
Carry these thoughts with you every day and the 58,000 who died in Vietnam will be honored and will not have died in vain. God bless all of you for coming here today.
John N. Baldwin, MD. Major, US Army, Retired
©Copyright April 30, 2000 by John N. Baldwin