Memorial Day: A Veteran's Perspective
Sgt William (Bill) C. Newell USMC
Treasurer Fall of Saigon Marines Association
I didn't have any political sophistication upon joining the Marine Corps; furthermore I had no political motive in volunteering for Vietnam. I simply wanted to serve my country as my father and uncles had all done before me.
I arrived in Saigon on May 5, 1974. Our unit's mission was to provide security for US facilities and protection for American personnel working in Vietnam, including Ambassador Graham Martin and his state department staff. I served nearly one year as an embassy marine until April 30, 1975 when at 0735H in the morning I was airlifted off the roof of the embassy and flown to the safety of the 7th fleet off the coast in the South China Sea.
Marines on roof of American Embassy Saigon
My tour of duty was very routine until the last 5 months when the North Vietnamese launched their last offensive on South Vietnam.
From January on the political and military situation deteriorated until the final few weeks, when the city of Saigon was surrounded by (16) North Vietnamese divisions. On (3) occasions the city was bombed by enemy aircraft. We were subjected to hostile small arms fire from military forces and rioting by Vietnamese civilians. The city and our positions were shelled by artillery and rockets from advancing military units, the latter resulting in the deaths of two of our Marines LCpl Judge (from Iowa) and Cpl McMahon (from Woburn, MA).
LCpl Darwin Judge and Cpl Charles McMahon
They and two additional marines were killed when their helicopter crashed into the sea attempting to reach the ships, and they were among the last to die in the war. Continually threatened by incoming fire and the imminent danger posed by massive crowds that gathered outside the embassy we remained at our posts
until all noncombatants at the evacuation sites of Tan Son Nhut airbase and the actual embassy compound were safely loaded aboard aircraft and flown out. We were the last to leave both sites--the final military personnel to serve in Vietnam.
As I look back on my Vietnam experience I hope that all Americans will separate the noble sacrifice of American veterans from the political mistakes of the war. When asked to serve the veterans' gave their time, energy, youth, health and in many cases their lives. The Americans who served were answering the call of one of our greatest Americans, John F. Kennedy, who said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". Herein lie important political and personal lessons for me.
Marines defending the Embassy Wall
Politically: (1) If we embark on a war of any duration the majority of Americans must believe it is a noble cause; it will be their young boys and girls who will die for it. Furthermore, we must be sure to have the full support of the people we are fighting for. Their support is more important than weapons because if people believe a cause is just they are capable of extreme sacrifices. Without that support all the weapons in the world are useless. (2) People don't give a damn about your politics when their bellies are empty. Economic aid and development may be in the long run the lowest cost political strategy. Yet, this is viable only when the local governing authority is willing and capable of providing equitable distribution and delivery of the aid.
Personally: We veterans are war's living legacy. We continue to serve long after as America's conscience. The veteran lives with the suffocating truth of war - not the Hollywood version. I mean to say, if we as veterans do not discuss the war and our experience than someone else will rewrite the script. Each of the body bags and all the graves will be reopened and the contents misrepresented. A veteran who serves and survives the trauma of war has a responsibility to articulate the experience. Not to do so, is to abdicate one's moral obligation to the younger generation. Our inability or reluctance to share the war experience will doom future generations to one day surrender their anatomy, humanity, or life far from home in a military campaign of little or no strategic significance. Public autopsy or our successes and failures as a nation allows us to learn and grow as a people. Our collective conscience and national character can only benefit from this retrospective.
In the future, the hearts and minds that are there to win or lose, belong to our children.
William C. Newell is President of Atlantic Capital Management, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor located in Sherborn Mass.
This was published in the Boston Herald Sunday edition Memorial Day weekend 2000
Signing Flag for KIA LCpl Judge at 25th Memorial/25th Reunion
Bill Newell at Breakfast at Hotel in Marshalltown, Iowa
Bill Newell top row 4th person from the left.
Picture taken with Susan McMahan sister of Cpl Charles McMahan.
Bill Newell is on top row 4th person from the right.
Picture taken in Marshalltown, Iowa.
LCpl Darwin Judge Memorial.