Anti-War Vietnam Vets Joined by Iraq Counterparts


U.S. vets make Vietnam-Iraq generational transition
by Grant McCool

Left, two members of the 1st Cavalry Wreath layers embrace at the Vietnam Memorial Wall during Veteran’s Day ceremonies in Washington November 11, 2005. Aging American veterans of the unpopular Vietnam War are passing the torch of political advocacy to a younger generation coming out of Iraq with many of the same physical and mental scars. REUTERS/Jim Young 
HANOI– Aging American veterans of the unpopular Vietnam War are passing the torch of political advocacy to a younger generation coming out of Iraq with many of the same physical and mental scars.

The transition is happening as U.S. President George W. Bush becomes the second president to visit Vietnam since the Americans were chased out in April 1975 by Communists who unified the country and remain its one-party rulers.

His administration is globally criticized for its handling of the Iraq occupation and Bush himself has made a comparison between the Iraq carnage and the height of the Vietnam conflict.
“It is again the same thing, we’ve got money for bullets and bombs, we don’t have money for bandages and medicines,” Vietnam veteran Tom Leckinger said in his office in Hanoi, referring to what he sees as deficiencies in post-war health and other services for men and women who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan…


“That’s a huge similarity which is doing nothing but angering these folks,” said Leckinger, 56, who is the representative in Hanoi of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF).

In the United States, VVAF changed its name six weeks ago to Veterans for America with the mission of “uniting a new generation of veterans with those from past wars to address the causes, conduct and consequences of war”.

It is just one of several veterans advocacy groups.

On Saturday, Bush will visit the Hanoi office of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command that works on returning any prisoners of war and remains of those missing in action from past conflicts.

Bush, 50, who was a pilot in the Texas National Guard during the war but was not called up for Vietnam, arrived in Hanoi on Friday for a state visit and to attend the weekend Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

His predecessor Bill Clinton visited in 2000, five years after the normalization of diplomatic ties between former foes.

Post-traumatic stress disorder and the consequences of exposure to toxic material are just two of the similar problems experienced by survivors of Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam.

“For us, it was dioxin/agent orange and for them it’s depleted uranium,” Leckinger said.

Iraq war veteran Garett Reppenhagen says betrayal by leaders, being sent to war based on questionable intelligence and shifting rationales for staying there, is another common feeling.

“I am not sitting across from another generation of veterans in 20 years listening to how they were betrayed by their government and sent to war without proper training and equipment, without a plan and for causes that have proved fraudulent,” Reppenhagen wrote in an email.

Reppenhagen, a Cavalry/Scout Sniper in the 1st Infantry Division in Baquaba, Iraq in 2004-2005, appeared last week on U.S. television with Vietnam War veteran Bobby Muller, founder of VVAF. Other groups such as Vietnam Veterans Against the War are supporting Iraq Veterans Against the War on anti-war activities.

The Vietnam War killed 58,000 U.S. troops and three million Vietnamese military and civilians.

As of Thursday, 2,863 Americans have been killed and more than 20,000 wounded in Iraq since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. An estimated 51,000 to 58,000 Iraqi troops and civilians have been killed.


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