My Enemy My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War

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The Whitehouses had gone to the Wall as a family the first time in the s, and regularly returned. They'd seen the letters, candles and flowers. They'd stood in silence, they'd thought about the stories. That's where Tom Whitehouse, 61, began to think the medals he carried home weren't trophies. They told a soldier's story. A story that didn't belong to him. Tom, the younger Whitehouse, reached Vietnam first. Not pro-war, not anti-war, just a second son, a "classic underachiever," he called himself, drifting through his freshman year at Penn State. When he dropped out and faced the inevitable draft, he volunteered for the Army's Special Forces, the Green Berets.

There, his man team recruited, trained, armed and led Cambodian irregulars in a running battle with the North Vietnamese. Working in pairs, or often alone, the Green Berets fought as the Cambodian guerrillas they led did, without helmets or flak jackets, conducting long-range patrols and ambushes to stop and kill enemies crossing the border. On his first reconnaissance flight, anti-aircraft fire blasted the M between his feet in half. On his first patrol, he was the lone American. At 21, he was almost always the senior person on the ground.

Calm by nature, Whitehouse was able to compartmentalize much of what happened, a response that served him in the year ahead. News accounts and Army documents show that beginning in February, the tiny force faced an unprecedented push by the North Vietnamese into the Mekong Delta. On Feb. According to the Army's account:. Whitehouse repeatedly exposed himself to the heavy enemy fire to reassure his troops, to guide their maneuvers and direct effective counter-fire.

He constantly moved through open areas to aid the wounded and led assaults on enemy positions. During one action he personally destroyed three fighting positions and killed the soldiers who occupied them. Despite the tremendous fire, Lt. Whitehouse remained cool and his sound tactical decisions allowed the friendly units to defeat a larger NVA unit. After four days of heavy fighting, Whitehouse's forces helped disrupt the push toward Saigon, leaving more than enemy troops dead. Robert Henderson, and Whitehouse's favorite interpreter Lat, died June In all, two thirds of those in Whitehouse's unit were killed or wounded during their yearlong tour.

Whitehouse identified bodies and prepared them for transport. He stayed with the interpreter's body and his widow, all night. He wrote letters to families. During his last week in Vietnam, he was ordered to lead a convoy into Cambodia, where he became convinced he would die as well. He did not.

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He left Vietnam at 22, a captain in the Green Berets. He volunteered to go back, but there were too many West Point graduates in line. So he went to survival school, where he withstood water torture and other training to prepare him for being taken prisoner of war. He became an expert on Pakistan. But as the Army began to downsize, he realized he could not advance without a college diploma and completed his service.

He went back to the life he envisioned before the war. Married the girl next door. Finished his degree at Penn State. He earned a law degree at the University of Miami. Then his attempt at normalcy unraveled. He divorced and drifted west to a friend's couch in Portland in He started driving as a dispatch messenger at The Oregonian.

In , he was named director of human resources. The couple raised their daughter, Dawn, in Lake Oswego. They became grandparents of two boys. He took up golf.

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Few knew that Whitehouse had ever served as a Green Beret or that his dearest friend at the paper also served in Special Forces -- for South Vietnam. Decades after the war, Whitehouse's beloved godchildren were Vietnamese.

Book Excerpt

I saw them shoot an M79 grenade launcher into a group of people who were still alive. But it was mostly done with a machine gun. They were shooting women and children just like anybody else. We met no resistance and I only saw three captured weapons.

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We had no casualties. As a matter of fact, I don't remember seeing one military-age male in the entire place, dead or alive". One group of 20—50 villagers was herded south of Xom Lang and killed on a dirt road. According to Ronald Haeberle 's eyewitness account of the massacre, in one instance,. All of a sudden the GIs just opened up with M16s. Beside the M16 fire, they were shooting at the people with M79 grenade launchers I couldn't believe what I was seeing".

Lieutenant Calley testified that he heard the shooting and arrived on the scene. He observed his men firing into a ditch with Vietnamese people inside and he then started shooting, with an M16, from a distance of 5 feet 1. After that, around , Captain Medina radioed to cease fire and the 1st Platoon took a lunch break. After the initial sweeps by 1st and 2nd platoons, 3rd Platoon was dispatched to deal with any "remaining resistance". During this operation, between 60 and people, including women and children, were killed.

Over the next day, both companies were involved in additional burning and destruction of dwellings, as well as mistreatment of Vietnamese detainees. While some soldiers of Charlie Company did not participate in the crimes, they neither openly protested nor complained later to their superiors. William Thomas Allison, a professor of Military History at Georgia Southern University, wrote, "By midmorning, members of Charlie Company had killed hundreds of civilians and raped or assaulted countless women and young girls.

They encountered no enemy fire and found no weapons in My Lai itself". They landed their helicopter by a ditch, which they noted was full of bodies and in which there was movement. Thompson, shocked and confused, then spoke with Calley, who claimed to be "just following orders".

Forgiveness in Vietnam - Vietnam Vets Meet a Former Enemy

As the helicopter took off, Thompson saw Mitchell firing into the ditch. Thompson and his crew witnessed an unarmed woman being kicked and shot at point-blank range by Captain Medina, who later claimed that he thought she had a hand grenade. Thompson landed and told his crew that if the soldiers shot at the Vietnamese while he was trying to get them out of the bunker that they were to open fire on these soldiers. Thompson later testified that he spoke with a lieutenant identified as Stephen Brooks of 2nd Platoon and told him there were women and children in the bunker, and asked if the lieutenant would help get them out.

According to Thompson, "he [the lieutenant] said the only way to get them out was with a hand grenade". Thompson testified that he then told Brooks to "just hold your men right where they are, and I'll get the kids out. A crew member, Specialist 4 Glenn Andreotta entered the ditch and returned with a bloodied but apparently unharmed four-year old girl, who was flown to safety. Watke, using terms such as "murder" and "needless and unnecessary killings. Glenn Andreotta was awarded his medal posthumously, as he was killed in Vietnam on 8 April In March , the helicopter crew's medals were replaced by the Soldier's Medal , the highest the U.

Army can award for bravery not involving direct conflict with the enemy. The medal citations state they were "for heroism above and beyond the call of duty while saving the lives of at least 10 Vietnamese civilians during the unlawful massacre of non-combatants by American forces at My Lai". Thompson initially refused the medal when the U. Army wanted to award it quietly. He demanded it be done publicly and that his crew also be honored in the same way. After returning to base at about , Thompson reported the massacre to his superiors. Barker radioed his executive officer to find out from Captain Medina what was happening on the ground.

Medina then gave the cease-fire order to Charlie Company to "cut [the killing] out — knock it off". Since Thompson made an official report of the civilian killings, he was interviewed by Colonel Oran Henderson, the commander of the 11th Infantry Brigade the parent organization of the 20th Infantry. Koster, sent a congratulatory message to Charlie Company. General William C. Westmoreland , the head of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam MACV , also congratulated Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry for "outstanding action", saying that they had "dealt [the] enemy [a] heavy blow".

Owing to the chaotic circumstances of the war and the U. Estimates vary from source to source, with and being the most commonly cited figures. A later investigation by the U. The official estimate by the local government remains Initial reports claimed " Viet Cong and 22 civilians" had been killed in the village during a "fierce fire fight". As relayed at the time by Stars and Stripes magazine, "U. Helicopter gunships and artillery missions supported the ground elements throughout the day.

Henderson interviewed several soldiers involved in the incident, then issued a written report in late-April claiming that some 20 civilians were inadvertently killed during the operation. The Army at this time was still describing the event as a military victory that had resulted in the deaths of enemy combatants. It would indeed be terrible to find it necessary to believe that an American soldier that harbors such racial intolerance and disregard for justice and human feeling is a prototype of all American national character; yet the frequency of such soldiers lends credulity to such beliefs.

What has been outlined here I have seen not only in my own unit, but also in others we have worked with, and I fear it is universal.

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If this is indeed the case, it is a problem which cannot be overlooked, but can through a more firm implementation of the codes of MACV Military Assistance Command Vietnam and the Geneva Conventions, perhaps be eradicated. In his report, Powell wrote, "In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between Americal Division soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent. So, in war, these sorts of horrible things happen every now and again, but they are still to be deplored. Defense Department investigated press coverage of alleged atrocities committed in South Vietnam.

In August , the page report "Alleged Atrocities by U. Military Forces in South Vietnam" was completed. No further action was taken. Independently of Glen, Specialist 5 Ronald L. Ridenhour , a former door gunner from the Aviation Section, Headquarters Company, 11th Infantry Brigade, sent a letter in March to thirty members of Congress imploring them to investigate the circumstances surrounding the "Pinkville" incident. At one point, they hovered over a dead Vietnamese woman with a patch of the 11th Brigade on her body. As members of Congress called for an inquiry and news correspondents abroad expressed their horror at the massacre, the General Counsel of the Army Robert Jordan was tasked with speaking to the press.

He refused to confirm allegations against Calley. Noting the significance of the fact that the statement was given at all, Bill Downs of ABC News said it amounted to the first public expression of concern by a "high defense official" that American troops "might have committed genocide. Peers was appointed by the Secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff to conduct a thorough review of the My Lai incident, 16—19 March , and its investigation by the Army. The evidence indicates that only 3 or 4 were confirmed as Viet Cong although there were undoubtedly several unarmed VC men, women, and children among them and many more active supporters and sympathizers.

One man from the company was reported as wounded from the accidental discharge of his weapon. Critics of the Peers Report pointed out that it sought to place the real blame on four officers who were already dead, foremost among them the commander of Task Force Barker, LTC Frank Barker, who was killed in a mid-air collision on 13 June In May , a sergeant who participated in Operation Speedy Express wrote a confidential letter to then Army Chief of Staff Westmoreland describing civilian killings he said were on the scale of the massacre occurring as "a My Lai each month for over a year" during — Two other letters to this effect from enlisted soldiers to military leaders in , all signed "Concerned Sergeant", were uncovered within declassified National Archive documents.

The letters describe common occurrences of civilian killings during population pacification operations. Army policy also stressed very high body counts and this resulted in dead civilians being marked down as combatants. Alluding to indiscriminate killings described as unavoidable, the commander of the 9th Infantry Division, then Major General Julian Ewell , in September , submitted a confidential report to Westmoreland and other generals describing the countryside in some areas of Vietnam as resembling the battlefields of Verdun.

In July , the Office of Provost Marshal General of the Army began to examine the evidence collected by the Peers inquiry regarding possible criminal charges. Eventually, Calley was charged with several counts of premeditated murder in September , and 25 other officers and enlisted men were later charged with related crimes.

On 17 November , a court-martial in the United States charged 14 officers, including Major General Samuel Koster, the Americal Division's commanding officer, with suppressing information related to the incident. Most of the charges were later dropped. During the four-month-long trial, Lieutenant Calley consistently claimed that he was following orders from his commanding officer, Captain Medina. Despite that, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on 29 March , after being found guilty of premeditated murder of not fewer than twenty people.

Two days later, President Richard Nixon made the controversial decision to have Calley released from armed custody at Fort Benning , Georgia, and put under house arrest pending appeal of his sentence. Court of Military Appeals in In August , Calley's sentence was reduced by the Convening Authority from life to twenty years. Calley would eventually serve three and one-half years under house arrest at Fort Benning including three months in a disciplinary barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

In a separate trial, Captain Medina denied giving the orders that led to the massacre, and was acquitted of all charges, effectively negating the prosecution's theory of " command responsibility ", now referred to as the "Medina standard". Several months after his acquittal, however, Medina admitted he had suppressed evidence and had lied to Colonel Henderson about the number of civilian deaths. Captain Kotouc, an intelligence officer from 11th Brigade, was also court-martialed and found not guilty.

Major General Koster was demoted to brigadier general and lost his position as the Superintendent of West Point. His deputy, Brigadier General Young, received a letter of censure.

Both were stripped of Distinguished Service Medals which had been awarded for service in Vietnam. Of the 26 men initially charged, Lieutenant Calley was the only one convicted. Howard Callaway , Secretary of the Army, was quoted in The New York Times in as stating that Calley's sentence was reduced because Calley honestly believed that what he did was a part of his orders—a rationale that contradicts the standards set at Nuremberg and Tokyo, where following orders was not a defense for committing war crimes.

Army from January to August for crimes against civilians in Vietnam. The destruction was officially attributed to "Viet Cong terrorists". Some of them expressed regrets without acknowledging any personal guilt, as, for example, Ernest Medina, who said, "I have regrets for it, but I have no guilt over it because I didn't cause it.

That's not what the military, particularly the United States Army, is trained for. There is no such thing.

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  7. Not in the military. If I go into a combat situation and I tell them, 'No, I'm not going. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to follow that order', well, they'd put me up against the wall and shoot me. American veterans Hugh Thompson and Lawrence Colburn, who were shielding civilians during the massacre, addressed the crowd. Among the listeners was Phan Thi Nhanh, a year-old girl at the time of the massacre. She was saved by Thompson and vividly remembered that tragic day, "We don't say we forget. We just try not to think about the past, but in our hearts we keep a place to think about that".

    More than a thousand people turned out on 16 March , forty years after the massacre. They threw me into a ditch full of dead bodies. I was covered with blood and brains. On 19 August , Calley made his first public apology for the massacre in a speech to the Kiwanis club of Greater Columbus, Georgia : [] [].

    My Enemy, My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War (Cherry)

    I am very sorry Since the first Trump-Kim summit last June in Singapore, a few small steps have already been taken along a timeline forged by the U. It was the same missing in action issue that heralded U. Having enjoyed close relations with North Korea since , Vietnam could be the ideal go-between in nudging Pyongyang to re-engineer its disastrous economy and turn foes to friends. But Thayer and other experts share strong reservations about how much of the U. There are stark differences in the way the North Korea responded once the fighting stopped.

    Vietnam, however, chose to put behind its tragic past and move forward. Not long after the war, American journalists and official U. The only clothes many men had were the baggy green uniforms and pith helmets of the North Vietnamese army. Suspicion was palpable and Westerners, including journalists, were assigned minders to keep tabs on them. Expecting a hostile reception, the Americans were stunned at the lack of animosity displayed by the average Vietnamese, even those who had lost loved ones to U.

    Returning American veterans were often signaled out for especially warm welcomes, sometimes tearfully embracing their onetime battlefield enemies while exchanging stories of suffering.

    My Enemy My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War My Enemy My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War
    My Enemy My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War My Enemy My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War
    My Enemy My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War My Enemy My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War
    My Enemy My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War My Enemy My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War
    My Enemy My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War My Enemy My Friend, a story of reconciliation from the Vietnam War

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