Former Republican Navy Secretary, Jim Webb: Vietnam veterans “are owed, if nothing else, at least a mention, some word of thanks and respect, when a presidential candidate who is their generational peer makes a speech accepting his party’s nomination to be commander-in-chief. And they are owed much more than that — a guarantee that we will never betray the commitment that we made to them and to their loved ones.”

Jim Webb’s devastating retort to Mitt Romney’s 47% comment:

Governor Romney and I are about the same age. Like millions of others in our generation, we came to adulthood facing the harsh realities of the Vietnam War.

2.7 million in our age group went to Vietnam, a war which eventually took the lives of 58,000 young Americans and cost another 300,000 wounded. The Marine Corps lost 100,000 killed or wounded in that war. During the year I was in Vietnam, 1969, our country lost twice as many dead as we have lost in Iraq and Afghanistan combined over the past 10 years of war. 1968 was worse. 1967 was about the same. Not a day goes by when I do not think about the young Marines I was privileged to lead.

This was a time of conscription, where every American male was eligible to be drafted. People made choices about how to deal with the draft, and about military service. I have never envied or resented any of the choices that were made as long as they were done within the law. But those among us who stepped forward to face the harsh unknowns and the lifelong changes that can come from combat did so with the belief that their service would be honored, and that our leaders would, in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, care for those who had borne the battle, and for their widows and their children.

Those young Marines that I led have grown older now. They’ve lived lives of courage, both in combat and after their return, where many of them were derided by their own peers for having served. That was a long time ago. They are not bitter. They know what they did. But in receiving veterans’ benefits, they are not takers. They were givers, in the ultimate sense of that word. There is a saying among war veterans: “All gave some, some gave all.” This is not a culture of dependency. It is a part of a long tradition that gave this country its freedom and independence. They paid, some with their lives, some through wounds and disabilities, some through their emotional scars, some through the lost opportunities and delayed entry into civilian careers which had already begun for many of their peers who did not serve.

And not only did they pay. They will not say this, so I will say it for them. They are owed, if nothing else, at least a mention, some word of thanks and respect, when a presidential candidate who is their generational peer makes a speech accepting his party’s nomination to be commander-in-chief. And they are owed much more than that — a guarantee that we will never betray the commitment that we made to them and to their loved ones.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Former Republican Navy Secretary, Jim Webb: Vietnam veterans “are owed, if nothing else, at least a mention, some word of thanks and respect, when a presidential candidate who is their generational peer makes a speech accepting his party’s nomination to be commander-in-chief. And they are owed much more than that — a guarantee that we will never betray the commitment that we made to them and to their loved ones.”

  1. Art Gallegos says:

    As a Marine Viet Nam Vetern I’m proud of what I did for my country, I went out today and had a bumber sticker made out for my truck with the words ” I’m part of the 47%”. Freedom has a flavor the the protected will never know!

    • Chad says:

      Art – I found a post that you were looking for the family of William K. Austin. He was my uncle. Please contact me at 541.379.1051. Chad D.

  2. mhasegawa says:

    I think the worst part of what Mitt Romney did during the War in Vietnam was to be for the war while using his religion to get an exemption. It was a terribly divided and chaotic time for young men – and young women. People had to make difficult choices and we weren’t always as respectful of those who made a choice we would not have made, but the anti-war movement gradually came to realize that those who fought and those who died deserved recognition. I remember walking to Arlington cemetary with a card on which was written the name of someone who had died. To this day, I wish I could remember the name, but I was young and didn’t think about history back then.

    Senator Webb, Mitt Romney and I are all the same age. The Senator went to fight, I did draft counseling and protested, and Mitt went to lie on the beach in France.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Mhasegawa:

      Wow! I respect and honor both Art Gallegos and you for your engagement in a traumatic time. You met the existential situation. Not an easy thing to do. Who can doubt you two are deeper persons today for it? “The unlived life is not worth examining.”

      –Santi

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