The Meaning of the 4th of July
A Vietnam Veteran Reminds What We Fight For….
By Patrick Camunes
Blood and Freedom – Fourth of July, 1967 . . . I'm on a fire support base in the mountains of Tam Ky Vietnam that's separated from it's main unit, the 4th of the 31st of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. I've recently returned to my unit from an unscheduled "visit" to the Cam Ranh Bay hospital because of my cravings for some enemy's metal souvenir in my body. Seems like the REMF's (non-combative types) in Cam Ranh seem to think that the recuperating grunts are there to build their bunkers, sweep out their their fancy living quarters and scraping and washing the dishes that we had fed them on. This grunt's mind is on "payback" and getting back to his unit and his men, and repaying the pain that he had gone through. All it takes is slipping out and bumming a ride from a gun or supply ship going up "North".
Travel is no problem, without ID or travel orders, since no questions are ever asked. Why would someone want to leave the peaceful and secured hospital and beach in Cam Ranh Bay to go back to "I" Corp where the spilling of our enemy's blood, and especially our own, is creating a "brotherhood" between our Allied forces?
I'm again with my squad and I feel safer in this area of death and destruction than I did in the hospital, having been stripped of what I had been trained for, the use of my knowledge, a reliable weapon and support to protect and defend my life that now belongs to the US Army.
The security of being around my fellow squad members relieves me since I know that they will not hesitate to do anything within their ability to protect me, as I would them.
It's the fourth of July and we sit and listen to the Armed Forces radio station through ragged, banged up and taped together portable radios, with what ever metal we can find as an antennae. Batteries have been scrounged and put together from discarded batteries from our own PRC radios, that are the number one means of communication in this hell hole. We listen to the patriotic music, but yearn to hear the hard rock, soul, TexMex, or country music that our relatives and friends are listening to back home.
I believe that there is no patriotism here and as I look around my surrounding, I'm almost convinced. Our two to three men bunkers have been dug into the side of a steep incline without the advantage of steel aircraft planking, PSP, or pierced-steel-planking, like we "borrowed" from the airfields down South. There are no airfields where we are now and we make due with whatever lumber we can find to put a roof over our heads. Half heartedly sandbagged, they don't really protect us, but cover over our heads, puts our minds at ease. We squat or sit in our bunkers since there is no room to stand, grunts without having bathe for weeks and afraid to take off our boots because of the urgent need to have them on at any second. Merely loosening our boot strings is a luxury. Surprisingly, when one of us takes off their boots, the whiff that is expected is not experienced . . . more than likely because of the surrounding stench that we already live in.
As the Fourth of July is upon us, we watch from our vantage point, far in the distance and all around us, the fireworks and actual weapons' fire coming from many of the more secured bases in celebration. We, ourselves, cannot compromise ourselves to using up any ammo that we have. The rains have been upon us, the drainage flowing freely through our bunkers and the heavy cloud cover on this mountain top has greatly affected our supply runs. It is only with the bravery of the many helicopter pilots and their crews that ignore the fog and heavy cover to bring us our rations of food, medical supplies, mail and ammo, that we get to this point. I have to think, "Maybe, this is part of patriotism".
As I sit and stare into the darkness and unknown, I think back to my school days when we were taught that the Fourth of July was associated with the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and basically all having to do with the freedom of our country. Is it patriotism that has me sitting in this hole in the ground and glad that it's not in my own front yard? Is it patriotism that ties us together as brothers to the death, to fight a war that we don't understand? Is it patriotism that makes me follow the orders of my government to do things that are probably against every fiber of my moral? Is it patriotism that causes so many of my present and past relatives, friends and fellow countrymen to sacrifice so much to live in a country of dreams, free of oppression and prejudice? . . . Maybe so.
I have to think if these were the same thoughts going through the mind of some colonist as he waited for the English enemy to show, and sat in his own little "bunker" contemplating. Two centuries and a couple of decades separate our thoughts, but not the idea of freedom. The very idea of me writing this and expressing my feelings is a sign of the freedom of speech that came about on the Fourth of July so long ago.
To many, the Fourth of July means just another day off work, as on Memorial Day, Veterans Day and so many other holidays. But to many others, what the Fourth of July really means, is the involvement in the creation of this freedom for our country. It means not only the history of that date in 1776, but the events that followed and the blood shed to keep this freedom.
As a Vietnam Veteran, I have considered the personal meaning of the 4th of July. I realize the heart of the 4th of July resides within the great documents and framework of this Republic, but the spirit of the 4th was best summarized by the Prisoner of War who scratched on a wall at the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam: "Freedom has a taste to those who have fought and almost died for it that the protected shall never know." That "taste", or lesson, is the truism, also inscribed in stone, of the Korean War Monument in D.C.: Freedom Is Not Free.
So, on this 4th of July, I pray our protected citizens recognize that our country's freedom was won by the blood of veterans, is retained by the blood of veterans, and shall exist so long as we, the American people, stand fast against any enemy who would challenge our right to be free, and are willing to pay the price in blood . . . Freedom is not, and never will be free.
APVNV Pat (Beanie) Camunes
D/4/31 196th Lt Inf Bde,
Tay Ninh 12/66-04/67 Tam Ky 04/67-12/67
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