Picture of Col. Friend on October 9, 2010. Click photo for more about this talk. (Photo by Dean Muehlberg)
Veteran Descries “Fiction” of Vietnam War History
Retired Colonel Says Public, Media and Historians Don’t Know the Truth about the War
Dale Friend is still fighting the Vietnam War. The Rapid City man isn't leading combat teams into a jungle as he did four decades ago, but he is battling to change what he terms a pack of lies about the war and the soldiers who served during it. Vietnam veterans live under a cloud that should be removed, said the retired colonel. Friend blames the media, an uninformed public disinterested in the facts and a government that has not corrected the "fiction" that has spread about the war.
"They do not understand the facts of Vietnam," he said. "They always say we lost the war in South Vietnam. We did not. The South Vietnamese did."
Friend, 74, served in the Army for 30 years, from 1949-1981 with a two-year interruption. He said he's making a case for other veterans who feel their story has not been told accurately or fairly. The real veterans are also upset by the large number of people who claim to have been "in country" but never saw combat.
"I believe the Vietnam veteran does feel that way," Friend said. "Yet, here's nine million that claim to have been a Vietnam veteran that were not. Now why they do that, I don't know."
Most Vietnam veterans served well and honorably, Friend said. They came home and married, raised families and held down jobs.
He's angry about what he terms the "myth" of the messed-up, strung-out veteran who can't forget the war. Unlike some reports, two-thirds of Vietnam veterans were volunteers, his research reveals. There was no disparity in the number of blacks who served and died, Friend's research shows, nor were most soldiers from poor and uneducated backgrounds. He also attacks big picture ideas.
The Domino Theory, which stated that America had to fight in Vietnam to prevent countries from falling like dominoes, has been criticized in most history books for decades. "The Domino Theory was accurate," Friend writes. He feels countries such as The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand remained free of communist rule because of American intervention in Vietnam.
"If you ask people who live in these countries who won the war in Vietnam, they lave a different opinion than the American news media," he wrote. The Tet Offensive, in which North Vietnamese troops staged an attack in early 1968, has long been portrayed as a major victory for the North. But Friend points out, and most historians now agree, that it was in fact a huge loss for the North Vietnamese in terms of the amount of soldiers killed and the loss of Viet Cong combatants in South Vietnam.
"It was reported as an overwhelming success for the communist forces and a decided defeat for the U.S. forces," Friend wrote of Tet, named for a Vietnamese religious holiday. "Nothing could be further from the truth. The Tet offensive succeeded on only one front and that was the news front and the political arena.
"This was another example in the Vietnam War of an inaccuracy becoming the perceived truth."
America Didn't Lose War, He Claims
Lastly, he is strongly opposed to the belief that America lost the war. Friend points out that the last American soldier left Vietnam on March 29, 1973, but Saigon didn't fall until April 30, 1975. The South Vietnamese lost the war to the North Vietnamese, he said. Despite his beliefs, Friend said he thinks America made a mistake going into Vietnam. It wasn't a war we were prepared to fight and win, since the public and the politicians were never completely behind it, he said.
Friend was a captain in the 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed at a base camp in Bien Wa. "You'd go out for about a month and then go back to base camp for three or four days and get your act together," he recalled.
Friend saw combat in Korea in 1950-51 and in Vietnam in 1966-67. In the late 1960s, he came home to a country torn apart by the war. "When we got off the plane coming home it was not unusual to be called “Babykiller," he said.
While he was earning a master's degree at Michigan State University he saw protests against Marine recruiters. "That was a common thing," Friend said.
After completing his military service, he ended up in South Dakota. "I was recruited by Homestake Mining Company and that brought me to the Black Hills and I just stayed here," Friend said. He worked as the chief of security and fire prevention at the mine from 1981- 84. Now he's active in the Fraternal Order of Elks and is on its board of trustees.
He's been married to his wife, Varro, "forever" and they have two sons, neither of whom served in the military.
Friend was born "way up in the mountains" in the small community of Friendsville, Md. He joined the service at 15 by lying about his age. He was an enlisted man for seven years and an officer for 23, retiring with the Bronze Star, awarded with oak leaf clusters for bravery in ground combat as well as other medals. Friend wears a cap that displays the wings he won for taking part in a parachute mission under fire.
But he doesn't want to focus on his own service. He's more interested in getting his version of the story of Vietnam told.
Collection of Statistics
"For over 35 years I and many Vietnam veterans rarely reflected on Vietnam except with other Vietnam veterans," he wrote in a note expressing his views. "It is high time that the truth is told about the soldiers who served there and past time that the American public learned the real story." He said the data he collected through his research "will be painful to some, shocking to others but informational to all. It is in all respects a tribute to those served, fought or died there."
Some of Friend's numbers include:
· 58,148 Americans were killed in Vietnam.
· 75,000 were seriously disabled.
· 23,214 were completely disabled.
· As of Jan. 15, 2004, there were 1,875 Americans unaccounted for in Vietnam.
· Average age of men killed: 23.1.
· 97% of Vietnam veterans were honorably discharged.
· 91 % say they are glad they served.
· 74% would do it all again.
· 87% of Americans hold Vietnam veterans in high esteem.
· 85% of Vietnam veterans made a successful transition to civilian life.
· 9,492,958 people falsely claim to have served in Vietnam.
“I think statistics like that go a long way,” Friend said. “More than anything else, (the statistics) go a long way. If 50,000 people read this it goes a long way.”
Friend gathered a lot of this data and relied on the research of Capt. Marshal Hanson, a retired Naval officer, for other information. Friend said he wants the public to know read data about the war and the men and women who fought it.
“They say we lost the war in Vietnam. The military did not lose the war in Vietnam,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Vietnam, Iraq Similarities
Friend said he often thinks about Vietnam and Iraq: “I think there’s a similarity.” He said the soldiers there face the problems of wondering whom they’re fighting. The enemy doesn’t wear uniforms and march in formation, he pointed out. "They have the same problem we had in Vietnam," Friend said. "One of those problems is, Who's your enemy?"
He said some of the "myths" that anger him about Vietnam are being repeated in reports about Iraq. "I think the media is giving us the same bad rap we got in Vietnam," Friend said. He's a proud veteran but chooses fo keep most of his thoughts to himself.
Friend went to the Vietnam veterans memorial service in Pierre last year and has visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., where he sees the names of friends he served with in Vietnam. "That's the most heartbreaking damn thing you ever saw," he said. "Even today, I can't handle it." He doesn't plan to attend any Veterans Day ceremonies this weekend and instead will head to South Texas.
Friend said he will continue to campaign to have what he sees as the true story of Vietnam reported and understood by the American people. But he's not optimistic. "I don't think the real story will ever come out," Friend said.
Written by Tom Lawrence
in Rapid City Weekly News 11-8-07
Comment in Rapid City Weekly News
This retired U. S. Army colonel is correct about how mainstream history harbors fiction: some ideas get promoted, others are ignored, while political values influence the arrangement of facts. As we know, those in the same foxhole may well interpret the “facts” of battle differently, owing to their unique personal histories.
Does anyone think that it’s only the Harvard students, not their book-writing professors, who shout down free speech in the name of political correctness? On the other hand, do we need to be reminded how fiction (short stories and novels, in particular) may well be superior purveyors of truth? Have we forgotten the insights within Shakespeare’s fictional histories?
It’s good to see that Dale Friend acknowledges a two-front war in Vietnam. Yes, we received the torch from WWII Germans and Japanese and Italians and others to fight the heroic fight against Enlightenment-rooted and management-savvy communism.
But Colonel Friend doesn’t say what it would’ve taken to win in Vietnam. Would an invasion of North Vietnam have guaranteed success, as many believe? Did the Korean War set a perverse priority: don’t invade the North because China is too powerful to antagonize, despite our nuclear advantage? And now that communist China dominates manufacturing (easily converted to armaments), aren’t we less secure against this current “Iron Curtain” behemoth?
Dispelling Vietnam Myths
The Rapid City Weekly News has a good piece on retired Colonel Dale Friend, a Vietnam veteran who wants to dispel some myths about Vietnam.
One of those beliefs is that the United States lost the war:
he is strongly opposed to the belief that America lost the war. Friend points out that the last American soldier left Vietnam on March 29, 1973, but Saigon didn’t fall until April 30, 1975.
That’s a good point. I’ve never believed we lost the war militarily; if we did, it was politically. The Johnson administration fought the war with one hand and another three fingers tied behind their back with his idiotic policy of “graduated response” and eventually lost the will of the American people to back the effort.
Nixon didn’t do nearly as well as he might have, but the mood here in America was so sour and the enemy so emboldened by 1968 that the war was almost unwinnable. He did at least step up the bombing enough to make for a semi-honorable withdrawal. But after we pulled out and Congress yanked the financial support of South Vietnam, the Chinese and Soviet-supplied communist North was bound to win.
Another problem he has was the gross misreporting of the Tet Offensive:
The Tet Offensive, in which North Vietnamese troops staged an attack in early 1968, has long been portrayed as a major victory for the North. But Friend points out, and most historians now agree, that it was in fact a huge loss for the North Vietnamese in terms of the amount of soldiers killed and the loss of Viet Cong combatants in South Vietnam.
“It was reported as an overwhelming success for the communist forces and a decided defeat for the U.S. forces,” Friend wrote of Tet, named for a Vietnamese religious holiday. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The Tet Offensive succeeded on only one front and that was the news front and the political arena.
One bright spot he points out again concerns a myth:
The Domino Theory, which stated that America had to fight in Vietnam to prevent countries from falling like dominoes, has been criticized in most history books for decades.
“The Domino Theory was accurate,” Friend writes. He feels countries such as The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand remained free of communist rule because of American intervention in Vietnam.
“If you ask people who live in these countries who won the war in Vietnam, they have a different opinion than the American news media,” he wrote.
While the media has been desperate since the beginning of the Iraq war to paint Iraq as “another Vietnam,” Friend points out some similarities that I’ve noted before, ones that the media doesn’t necessarily want you to notice:
“They have the same problem we had in Vietnam,” Friend said. “One of those problems is, ‘Who’s your enemy?’”
He said some of the “myths” that anger him about Vietnam are being repeated in reports about Iraq. “I think the media is giving us the same bad rap we got in Vietnam,”
The “mainstream” media worked very hard to accomplish an American loss in Vietnam, and they have likewise been working for an American loss in Iraq. They have predicted such a loss since even before we went into Iraq, and have remained invested in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When U.S. military forces go into action with the backing of a resolved president and a committed people, it is invincible. But as Vietnam showed, and as Iraq might show, if the America-hating Leftists in this country can succeed in souring the general population against a military effort, even the most powerful army the world has ever seen cannot succeed.
Sent by Travis Bolt 2-6-15: I wanted to pass along. I worked at the Fair Grnds Arena Friday evening and the Hot Springs VA brought about 8 residents in to watch the events. One of the Veterans looked familiar to me so I went to talk to him and his voice too was familiar, but I couldn't put a name to him or why I felt I knew him. We talked a little bit and he told me his name was Dale Friend, one of the guest speakers we have had and an attendee of the meetings. He was in a wheelchair and did not appear to be on his own. I did not dig into details but thought I would pass this along. He is a resident there, not sure how long or why. His son must have known he was going to be there as he stopped to visit with him a bit too. more