Monday, May 4, 2009

May 4, 1970: The Kent State Massacre & the Cambodian Campaign


Americans are remembering The Kent State Massacre today. And well they should.

When those National Guard troops opened fire on the students the world went flip-flop for a lot of us. Above left, is a handbill passed out five days after the shootings, encouraging Americans to stop the war and to get us out of Cambodia. Many were concerned that Nixon was extending the war in Vietnam to another country, and more people would die. More would have to be drafted. The very idea of going into Cambodia inflamed way activists.

What most Americans didn't know (and I'd hazard to say don't know today) is that when when we went into Cambodia it was an attempt to win the war by taking out their command and control headquarters. It was common knowledge they hid just within Cambodia's borders knowing that we couldn't come across or we'd spark an international uproar. Nixon took a big chance when he announced the invasion of Cambodia on May 1st, 1970. He gave us the okay to go after them. The American public roared with indignation....fanned by anti-war protestors who saw this invasion as proof the war would never end.

My squad (we were Army combat engineers/demolition experts) went into Cambodia in April. We had been briefed and were attached to an element of Marines. The choppers took us up to the Cambodian border and dropped us off, and we humped into the interior. During the course of action on May 4th, we were ambushed and I lost my best friend. The next day I found out from a war correspondent what happened at Kent State University.

You cannot imagine how disillusioned I was. I was never Gung Ho. Just doing my job and trying to stay alive. But, when I thought I'd be involved in ending the war, I have to admit I was excited. I'll tell you how stupid I was. I thought I'd come home a hero for being involved in the Cambodian Campaign. Then all hell broke out in the states, and we were told to stop chasing the NVA and to go back into Vietnam. The damage was done all around. The public was pissed and we were mad. Mad that we didn't get to take our full shot at getting the NVA leaders. I was mad because I knew my friend died for no reason.

You cannot begin to understand what it was like, unless you were in Vietnam that year. Morale was already at an all time low. We were fragging our officers. We were smoking dope and mainlining H. The Army gave us "cross whites" (same same speed) when we were in the field to "stay alert." There was an underground contract on a Marine general among the people in his command. It was as close to hell on earth as you can imagine.

So when I hear people talking about those students that were murdered on May 4th, 1970, I have mixed feelings. They were in "the world" and I was in hell. Yes, four students died that day. So did 18 American soldiers and Marines in Cambodia who thought they were doing the right thing. Un-experienced National Guardsmen panicked and made everyone in the active military pay the price. We are still paying it today.

As It Stands, there's always more to the story, and that's true of what happened on May 4th, 1970. 

images via Google


Anonymous said...

Dave...Wow, you grabbed hold of my lungs and stopped my breath reading this.

If I were in the hell you described, I'm not sure I would understand how the Kent State murders changed things for so many people.

The deaths of the soldiers should have had the same impact but we grow inured to the deaths of 18 and 19 year old boys once they wear a uniform--somehow their deaths become expected, accepted.

I can't be sorry that what happened at Kent State helped stop what I still view as a pumping up of our military presence in the world but thinking of you young boys believing that you could save lives and stop the war with what you were doing hurts.

Looking back now, do you think pushing the Cambodian campaign would have had the intended results? Do you really think that if we had "won" that America would have stopped.

I think if America had won, we would have tried to steamroll any opposition around the world from then on. We still do but the memory of Vietnam stops the most egregious military offensives.

God what a horrible waste of lives all around!

ImBlogCrazy said...

Looking back, I know that it wouldn't have made a difference. No doubt at all.
I turned 19 while in the Nam. I still believed America could do no wrong.
I know we are warmongers and a nation that feels it can impose it's will anywhere in the world. We fought for oil. We fought to save the world from Communism. We fought to make the defense contractors rich, and the lobbyists, and the Senators, and those Chicken Hawks who never went to war, but were ready to send others to their deaths in the name of patriotism.
I still cringe and sweat during this time of year. The Monsoon-like rain today didn't help.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Dave, you graphically demonstrated the feeling of the time. It was our generation that was manning the war. Although I was lucky and never spent any time in the service, I had friends that did. Like you, I lost one of my best friends to a land mine about a week after he arrived.

As some others have expressed, the people that I was raised around were shocked by the disrespect for the Viet Nam soldier, and the war in general. Most of them were from the McCarthy era when communism was to be defeated at all costs. The student protestors and the draft dodgers were looked down on. The killing of the students at Kent State turned the tide for almost everybody. The feeling was that if we were going to start killing our own people over a war in South-East Asia, it was time to leave.

As for me personally, I will forever be grateful for, and humbled by, the service that the Viet Nam soldier gave us. So you didn’t do anything wrong, you did your duty as you were expected to do. You guys returned as Heroes in my mind, even back then. Thanks again! And, thank-you Dave for your story.

olmanriver said...

Dave... thank you so much for sharing your story. I am sorry that you still suffer from your experience. What you shared moved me.
There are scenes in Apocalypse Now showing the dispirit of the troops that I always assumed was exaggerated. Your offerings suggest it was widespread. Hell.
I hope you have support in your life.
Great contribution to getting all the stories of that time out. Thank you.

ImBlogCrazy said...

Thank you Ernie and Oldmanriver.
Your words help more than you know.

The Republic of Florida? DeSantis Wants His Own Vigilante Force

In his campaign to run for president, Gov. DeSantis is pulling out all the stops to make Florida an independent country. His latest assault...