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“That’s all right, I don’t blame you,” he says. “You did your part.” Yet I can tell he is practicing anger management and didn’t always feel this way. He suffered post-traumatic shock syndrome and says he is having small flashbacks even as we walk around the base. “I figure going back to my old unit is going to be a real healing.”
ONE THING WE FIND we agree on is that the current war already has overtones of the same kind of quagmire. “I just don’t see how we’re going to win,” he says. “What do you call a victory? No matter how long we stay, as soon as we leave they’ll just start fighting again.”
I tell him my “Bush Should Emulate Nixon” theory, opening up talks with Iran and Syria the way President Nixon did with China. “I’ve always said that, strategically, we won the Vietnam War,” I tell him. “We may have lost on the ground but we halted Asian Communism, which was our strategic objective.”
“I don’t know whether many veterans would agree with you, but you may be right,” he says.
Another thing we both agree upon is that the real tragedy of Vietnam was the scapegoating of the soldiers who fought it. “I never wore my uniform off the base after I got back,” he says. “It was nasty out there.” Bruce Crandall, a helicopter pilot who made 18 rescue landings at Ia Drang, saving 70 wounded soldiers, only received the Congressional Medal of Honor last month.
Yet one of the ironies of Konrardy’s current mission is that many local chapters of the Vietnam Veterans’ Association are now refusing to admit Iraqi War veterans — just as VFW chapters scorned Vietnam vets in the 1970s. “They say, ‘We’re unique. Nobody had it as bad as we did,” says Robert. “But I don’t think that’s right.”
And so within a day or so, Robert Konrardy and I will be donning our armor and flying into Baghdad, he to try to put his Vietnam nightmares to rest and me perhaps to pay some penance for not having any. We’ll be reporting shortly.
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