This Memorial Day, The Story About My Dad’s Death In Vietnam Gained A New Chapter

portrait of PFC Michael John Kelly
PFC Michael John Kelly (1948-1968)

Memorial Day is for remembering those who served who didn’t make it back home alive. We honor their sacrifice.

Millions of people have just as many stories about their lost loved ones. For years I believed one story about what happened when my father was killed. Only recently I found out what I knew wasn’t the whole story.

My father, Michael John Kelly, was killed in action on February 15th 1968 in Vietnam. His platoon was on patrol when it was ambushed. My Dad was on point and was killed instantly. I was only a month and a day old at time and never met him or knew him.

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Bush wants to compare Iraq to Vietnam

On Wednesday August 23 President George Bush, speaking to the VFW convention in Kansas City, said this:

Finally, there’s Vietnam. This is a complex and painful subject for many Americans. The tragedy of Vietnam is too large to be contained in one speech. So I’m going to limit myself to one argument that has particular significance today. Then as now, people argued the real problem was America’s presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end…..

There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today’s struggle — those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that “the American people had risen against their government’s war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today.”

President Bush Attends Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention, Discusses War on Terror

Bush, and his neo-con buddies, are trying to introduce another “reason” we need to stay in Iraq. He thinks that if we leave then Iraq will descend into chaos and it will encourage our “enemies”.

Iraq is a lot like Vietnam but not like Bush wants us to think.

Our work in Iraq is the result of arrogance and a lack of acknowledgement of a failed policy. President Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamera knew their Vietnam policy was wrong and we wouldn’t “win” but were so worried about their pride that they allowed thousands of more US deaths. The Bush administration will not admit their policy has failed and their pride makes them come up with stories like Bush’s speech to the VFW.

In Vietnam, President Johnson believed that if more troops were sent in then we would win. Even after having 500,000 troops on the ground and winning the few conventional battles that North Vietnam tried, we still couldn’t win the non-conventional war that was the main focus of the Viet Cong. Just as in Iraq, conventional troops can’t win a non-conventional war no matter how many troops you have.

The Johnson administration supported, propped up, and manipulated a corrupt South Vietnam government. Just like in Vietnam, in Iraq, the civilian government has no power without the US troops keeping them protected. Instead of trying to form a government that would give the people the democracy we say we want it seems we want a government for our own purposes. It didn’t work in Vietnam and it won’t work in Iraq.

The Mahablog stated:

Vietnam and Iraq are similar in that they present the same paradox — that victory could equal defeat. By that I mean using enough military force to utterly crush the warring factions would amount to throwing away our political objectives. The operative phrase, I believe, is “Pyrrhic victory.” To those who continue to complain that we could have “won” in Vietnam, and could still “win” in Iraq, I say, of course. But this isn’t a game. Get over childish ideas about “victory” and “defeat” and see the bigger picture, for once.

Instead of talking about winning and losing, we should clearly understand what our objectives are in Iraq and then consider how those objectives might be achieved. Military “victory” and “defeat” are abstractions that don’t apply to the reality.

Of Soldiers, Spooks, and Do-Gooders

Before we got into Iraq, Bush and his cronies strongly claimed that it would not be another Vietnam. Now Bush wants us to believe it will be and it will be, just not the way he thinks.

Reconnecting and Reunion

This past weekend visited my hometown of Findlay.

It has been awhile since I visited last and I like to say that my Mom was forcing me to visit (that’s sort of true) but my visit was also for a milestone in my life.

Saturday, I attended my 20th High School reunion.

I was both very nervous and very excited to see my former classmates. Some of us attended elementary and junior high school together before Findlay High. Most I have not seen or heard from in years.

When I told my Mom I was going she asked “Why?”

Truth be told I had a good High School experience. By my senior year I had accomplished several major goals like getting on the honor roll (FINALLY), playing on the football team, worked on Trojan TV (I sucked as a play-by-play announcer), directing a one act play, being a class speaker at graduation, and getting into a major college (Ohio State).

Those things allowed me to hang out on the fringe of the cool kids group – the ones who spent more time on extracurricular activities than they spent in school and still got good grades.

I was worried that I wouldn’t see anyone I wanted to see – either I may not have liked them 20 years ago or I didn’t really know them. I saw a preliminary list of those attending and there did seem to be a few people I did want to see again. Whew!

Of course the other side of the coin was – did they want to see me again. HA!

High School was also good for me because the people who use to bully me either grew up (which is what happened in most cases) or attended the vocational school next door so I spent no time with them – except Health class Sophomore year when all the “shop rats” were in my class. Imagine what hell would be like (if it existed) and my Health class that year was worse. But there was some fun moments then like seeing the reaction when the VD movie was shown with close ups of various private areas infected with various VDs, the drug movie and the scene when the heroin addict strokes out on screen, and our teacher showing the class the 3-D relief model of the male reproductive organ and then asking one of the giggling girls if she wanted to take it home….. (this was way before teachers could lose their jobs for doing that). — ah, good times….

The festivities started Friday night at the football game where there was a section roped off for us. Then Saturday night was the party at a local banquet center.

At the game, our team played Worthington Kilbourne and we won, 34-7. It helped our classmate Mark Ritzler get his first win as new head coach of the Trojans. There was some discussion that we all may need to come to all the rest of the games as a good luck charm for the team.Findlay High against Kilbourne

Also at the game, but who didn’t attend the party on Saturday, were two Bobs that I have known since elementary school and Little League. We played on the GM Red Sox. I believe that team was coached by Mr. Nichols, who would become our Jr. High phys ed teacher and later a long serving Findlay city council member. At the time I was discovering that I needed to wear glasses. During one hard practice, Mr. Nichols, tired of me striking out put the ball in his hand and ordered me to hit the ball. I looked at him and he said it again so I swung the bat at full speed and smashed it into his hand. One or two expletives spilled out but at the pain not at me. I got glasses soon after that. During my season on the Red Sox I had 2 base hits.

The party on Saturday night was a good time. One of the guys, Chad, I hung out with starting in Jr. High was there. I hadn’t seen him since graduation day. One of my other friends from Jr. High, Tim, was also there (he had been at the game too). I hadn’t seen Tim since the last reunion I attended back in 1996.Class of 86 reunion

People said to me that I didn’t look any different than I did in High school. Other people looked pretty much the same. There were some who looked very different.

One of the ones who was very different was a guy named Jim. Back in High school he was one of my bullies. He was a stoner and most people remembered him because he use to sleep during study hall. Saturday night he looked normal. I actually was glad he changed and that he attended the party.

Just like in high school the clics from back then reformed during the party. You could tell which people hung out with who by what groups formed that night for talking. The jocks and preps toward the front and the fringe and losers in the back. But I will say that the groups moved amongst each other better than back in the day.

The other interesting note was all the people who live around Columbus. I had known of one or two but there was quite a few more than I realized.

The other thing that I did this past weekend was to visit my Mom. She had recently reconnected with my grandmother and was able to pass on my request for some pictures of my Dad. Dad in VietnamHe was killed in Vietnam back in 1968 and I had one or two pictures. My grandma had some copies made of an 8 x10 of him in his Marine dress blues, a couple of candids of him in his Marine dress greens, one that was taken at his funeral, and couple of him in Vietnam taken by his buddies. Those were pretty cool. I also noticed how much he looked like his Dad.