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How much is an American citizen soldier worth these days?

by Leah Smith Angers | Permalink
April 26, 2010

I was the middle child of three and the only girl. Our dad had been a "lifer" in the Air Force and had flown B-25 bombers during WWII. My brother, Bobby was 17 months older and Billy was just 14 months younger than me.

Bobby dropped out of school and enlisted in 1966, went to jump school at Ft. Bennning, ending up in Vietnam with B Co 1/502nd 101st Airborne. It was December 1967, a month and a half before the TET offensive. I was 18 years old. Sometime in February, while in Quang Tri province, his unit was hit by mortars. He was evacuated to Tripler in Hawaii with closed head injuries, then on to Fort Sam Houston, and eventually home. At Fort Sam, because of his emotional and physical trauma, he was given 13 electro-shock treatments, as if the closed head injury was not enough to have scrambled his brain. Bobby was medically retired and spent the next 36 years in various phases of mental illness, PTSD, and alcoholism . At age 56 he was in the care of a private veteran's home where his care giver withheld his liver medication until he died. Within a year, there would be 7 additional deaths at the hands of this man, all veterans.

Billy enlisted in the Army in October 1969, and trained as a crew chief on Cobra helicopters. He deployed to Vietnam in June 1970, a month before my 21st birthday. He was assigned to D Co. 299th Avn Bn, a 1st Calvary unit of Cobra gunships. His unit supported the tail end of the Cambodian incursion, then moved from Quan Loi to Bearcat, near Long Binh. He spent most of his time on the ground, only going up in his helicopter for maintenance flights. So, when his unit was reconfigured into F Troop, 1/9th Cav, he jumped at the chance to go flying and "join" the war. My dear, sweet brother was sitting in the front left seat of an LOH OH-6A, acting as the scout observer, when a B-40 rocket severed the tail of the helicopter, causing it to spin out of control. He and the pilot died on March 24th 1971.

The Vietnam war, on so many levels, destroyed our family. My dad was never the same. He became an anti-war protester and raged against the manner in which the war had been fought. I carried so much anger for years that I could not grieve the loss of my treasured sibling. In 2002, I started to research my little brother's death and began to contact men he had served with. It wasn't until I went to Washington to take part in the activities for the 20th anniversary of The Wall that I began to grieve and find some semblance of healing. I met other sisters at The Wall and family members, soldiers, nurses, and even former Red Cross Donut Dollies. To hear someone say: "I understand." or "I know how you feel" well, that was everything to me. In 30 years, I had never met anyone who had lost someone in Vietnam or had even served in Vietnam. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by "brothers" and "sisters" and "family," at a place that came to have so much meaning for all of us, The Wall.

On March 24, 2003, 32 years to the day, after my brother died in Vietnam, I watched in horror, the reports of two 1st Cav Apache helicopter pilots, Chief warrant officers David Williams and Ronald Young Jr who had been shot down and were missing. It was like a nightmare all over again. Did they have sisters? What were they experiencing, now? Why on Billy's KIA anniversary? Why were we in Iraq, anyway? Why? Why?

After examining everything I could find about the Vietnam War, I came to believe that my family gave too much for too little. Vietnam was not a war that the United States should have been involved in. I understand the reasons and the world political climate at the time, but some wars should never be engaged in, and Vietnam was one of those wars. It would have been easier to convince myself that my brother's suffering and deaths held some higher patriotic meaning, but in the end, I could not. Billy's death was not without honor, though. He defended the lives of soldiers aboard another helicopter, allowing them to escape the fire the would kill him. He and the pilot were both awarded the Silver Star. Isn't it strange that our highest medals are given for selflessness under fire, not for the number of enemy killed.

We, as a nation, need to start caring for our soldiers more, making sure they serve in necessary wars, have adequate armor and weapons, and are properly taken care of when they come home injured or worse. How much is an American citizen soldier worth these days?

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