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As part of the nation's ongoing 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War, the National Infantry Museum hosted Vietnam: Valor and Sacrifice, a half-day symposium and dinner, featuring four Vietnam Medal of Honor recipients, four former Vietnam-era prisoners of war and various guest speakers March 20.
Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, was the initial speaker at the symposium. McMaster discussed lessons America can learn today from the Vietnam War experience.
"America is again engaged in a form of war, protracted counterinsurgency, that, after the painful experience of Vietnam, many believed it would never again fight," he said. "At a high level of generality, Afghanistan and Iraq appear similar to the American experience in Vietnam because they present complex problems with inter-connected political, military, economic, and cultural dimensions. More specific Vietnam analogies extend beyond the strategic context of the war and the character of the conflict to operations and tactics."
McMaster's historical perspective established a foundation for the symposium that included candid conversation and remarks from many prominent leaders from the Vietnam period such as Medal of Honor recipients retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert F. Foley and Cols. Jack Jacobs, Walter "Joe" Marm and Gordon Roberts. Each reflected on the driving forces that helped them to overcome fears and make critical decisions that destroyed enemy forces and saved the lives of their fellow Soldiers during the war.
For example, on Nov. 3, 1966, while serving as rifle company commander of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, then-Capt. Foley led a fight to rescue a besieged American unit. He single-handedly destroyed several enemy positions near Quan Dau Tieng, South Vietnam. Foley said 17 were killed and 21 were wounded in his company. As a result of the recommendations of his Soldiers, Foley was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 1, 1968.
Foley stressed that teamwork, discipline and respect are essential qualities that create a powerful company and accomplishes each mission.
"When you're with a group of Soldiers everyday making combat assaults and going through these dangerous times, there's a special bond that sits in you, there's compassion and respect ... and consideration for the Soldier to the left and your right," Foley said. "There was an unwritten creed in my company that they would not let their fellow Soldier down."
Another example of the heroic actions of the Vietnam generation came from Marm. Foley shared the story of how then-2nd Lt. Marm, a platoon leader with A Troop, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, led an attack against a heavily fortified enemy force on Nov. 14, 1965, personally knocking out several positions in the Ia Drang Valley in South Vietnam. Marm said 79 Soldiers in his battalion were killed in action and 121 were injured. He was presented with the Medal of Honor on Dec. 19, 1966, and three years later volunteered for a second tour of duty in Vietnam.
"We wear the medal for all of the brave men and women we served with in combat whose actions go unsung," Marm said. "We had great men and as leaders. We led by example. We wouldn't ask our men to do anything that we wouldn't do ourselves."
Another story of valor discussed was Roberts. Under fire in A Shau Valley, South Vietnam, on July 11, 1969, while serving with B Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, then-Spc. Roberts destroyed three enemy bunkers, while relieving a pinned-down unit and evacuating wounded. He was awarded the Medal of Honor March 2, 1971.
"What's really important is that young Soldiers today and leaders learn to communicate clearly in very hectic situations to get missions accomplished," Roberts said.
The common thread of Soldiers taking care of Soldiers continued with Jacobs, who was an assistant advisor to the army of Vietnam for 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, during the war. Although seriously wounded, then-1st Lt. Jacobs dragged 13 of his fellow Soldiers to safety after an ambush in Kien Phong Province, South Vietnam, on March 9, 1968. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on Oct. 9, 1969. Reflecting on his time in Vietnam, Jacobs said everyone in combat is faced with split-second decisions with little information and an uncertainty of the outcome. Every situation places Soldiers, no matter what age or level of experience, in a position to take care of each other.
"Every decision that you make has to be one in which there is an excellent chance that you will be completely wrong," Jacobs said. "Anyone who is in a combat situation has to do what he needs to do in recognition that either we hang together or we hang separately. We fight to defend the country and we fight to accomplish the mission, but most of all we fight for each other."