Category Archives: Viet Nam

John Harrison Turnipseed, Jr.

Turnipseed was one of our OCS class who was booted out in the final days before graduation. I knew that he went on to Viet Nam as an E-6, his former rank, and was awarded three Purple Hearts. Now I’ve learned that he was an assistant to then-Major Colin Powell, the deputy G-3 of the Americal Division, in 1968 and ’69, wielding the pointer on the maps while Powell briefed ranking officers.

But he also drove Powell when the future four-star and secretary of state, was at division HQ in Chu Lai and probably had a more extensive relationship that included helping out when Powell went into the field to check on operations. Powell received the Soldiers Medal for non-combat valor when he pulled three men, including the division commander, out of a burning helicopter. No proof yet but could John have been there? What assistant would not be with the boss at such a time and others? That may have been how he received three Purple Hearts.

UPDATE: Now know he didn’t enter the army until Feb, 1967, so he couldn’t have been an E-6 about 10 months later when he entered OCS. Reading Powell’s otherwise interesting autobio, I sadly find no mention of John, and he apparently wasn’t in on the helicopter rescue which Powell details. Which was little more than an excursion gone bad so maybe there was no reason for John to be there.

Rice paddies of Vietnam

I can still see a multitude of bobbing heads and raised rifles as our PFs (Vietnamese Popular Force soldiers) crossed a flooded, stripped rice paddy one afternoon in 1969. It only got me, the advisor, to the waist, which was bad enough. Always a few leeches to disconnect. Paddies were foul places to be, however like mirrors they looked from the air. Mostly because the farmers used night soil (poop) for fertilizer. Especially in war time, fertilizer was expensive and hard to come by.

Our Vietnam dead

Remembering our “lost” on this Vietnam Veterans Day. Curious that we have a day to ourselves.

KIA were Infantry OCS graduate Jacob Lee Kinser, tactical officers Reese Michael Patrick & Daniel Lynn Neiswender. And four dropouts: Sherry Joe Hadley, Reese Currenti Elia, Robert Kendrick Chase, and Jeffrey Sanders Tigner.

Not really lost, just “home” in the Greater Reality before us. Blessings on you all.

The Geopolitics of Heartbreak

July 23, 2021

By George Friedman

The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is winding down, just as it had in Iraq and Vietnam. There are always those who believe wars must be fought, and when they are fought, they are fought by those out in the shit, where lives are lived in the dirt and in the foul smells that feed the battlefield, from unclean bodies to exploded munitions. Later, these soldiers will speak of duty and honor, and they will mean it, but while in the shit, they usually think of the condition of their weapons, the likelihood of a warm meal, and the profound fear of death competing with the profound fear of fear itself.

The life of a soldier in combat is lived with a strange love for what has archaically been called brothers in arms, and if there is honor, it rests in the respect of those he loves and the urgent need not to think of that love or even express it. His brethren share everything with an intimacy even the best marriage can’t imagine. Everything belongs to everyone, from the last drop of water in your canteen to the last drop of your blood. And when a brother or sister dies, the feeling is one of not only loss but also shame. The fear is that there is something you could have done but didn’t do, or more bearably that it was a result of failure to be alert. In fact, death is simply something that happens in war. An artillery shell or a sniper round happened to hit home, and someone died accordingly. The soldier’s soul revolts at the thought that it is mere accident. If it were mere accident, then the death would have no meaning. There is a desire to believe that death can be defeated by vigilance and caring. This is untrue, but when a soldier’s friend dies, the soldier often feels responsible. They call it PTSD now, but this medical condition fails to capture its real name – heartbreak – made all the more agonizing because there’s no time to mourn in the heat of battle and little appetite among the public to let them mourn when they return to civilian life. The deployed must live a life in which loved ones – even the most unlovable – are their responsibility, their death, their shame.

Wars are waged from faraway headquarters often with shocking carelessness. The planners don’t know the enemy, and they don’t really know the terrain. They don’t know the smells that are endured, and they don’t know the name of the soldier who just died. This is as it should be. Presidents and generals cannot afford to love the men they send to war. They must treat war as impersonal, a balance sheet containing available artillery, airstrikes and the latest intelligence about the intention of the enemy. Much of the balance sheet is wrong. The war is far away, and the soldiers who know the answers are too busy defending their unit. War is the sphere of uncertainty, and the farther from the battlefield you are, the more uncertain it is. The experts on war hold forth with power points. Those living wars understand that the reality is the unknown thing lurking behind the tree line.

The reality of Afghanistan was simple. Al-Qaida planned its attack on the United States from Afghanistan, so Afghanistan had to be attacked in order to destroy al-Qaida. After Washington failed to destroy the group, a second objective arose: to pacify Afghanistan and cleanse it of its radical Islamists so they would not threaten the United States again. The logic would have been impeccable had it been connected to reality. Radical Islam is the dominant religion of Afghanistan; cleansing Afghanistan of radical Islamists can’t happen. The Russians, British and countless others failed to, so why would the U.S. succeed? To war planners, the answer was probably air power or better intelligence or some other form of illusion. Thus, in clean rooms with lunch served on china and no tears shed, a tough mission that failed was replaced by an impossible mission that had to fail.

The United States also repeatedly failed to admit the obvious. There were good reasons to remain in Afghanistan: proving to the Muslim world that America would ruthlessly pursue its enemies, convincing allies that the U.S. would not cut and run, and so on. So the war went on, far beyond the point where anyone seriously thought the U.S. could achieve its goals. It went on because it was easier to continue the war than to end it.

And so a generation of American soldiers went to the shit with the pseudo-brave uncertainty that welcomes newcomers to the battlefield, to the sorrow that is its true meaning. Soldiers quickly learn that they want badly to leave, though they never admit as much to the soldiers they will come to depend on and then love in that strange and twisted way they have done since Troy and Jericho.

Eventually, reality sets in, and it is time to go. And then that realization comes to those who are in theater, and the remembrance of those who were there and the recollection of all that was lost strikes. It is not only those lost but also the youth of those who survived that was surrendered. The careless frivolity of the young is gone, and all that is left is a grim anger and an inability to live the life that others live.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan is necessary. Bringing over the translators to the United States is a moral obligation. Thinking of the Afghans who died innocently or fighting for their beliefs is needed. A thought should be given to the war planners who didn’t intend the war to end this way. It is easy to believe that you would have chosen differently under the same circumstances, when you never would face that moment. All of these things have to be remembered. But when the withdrawal was called, my thoughts were for the soldiers who fought in Afghanistan long after good reasons had evaporated. This was another war lost because it could never have been won. Do not mourn the geopolitics of failure; mourn what geopolitics has done to their souls. They have to live with their failures, real and imagined, and now with the thought that it was all for nothing.

The soldiers’ hearts will be broken less by war than by the peace that revealed the indifference with which their courage and brotherhood were used and discarded. To fight and be told defeat didn’t matter is heartbreaking. There is no redemption for them but love, but it is hard to love the brokenhearted.

Via GeoPoliticalFutures

Viet pedicure

Hurrah, I discovered another Vietnamese pedicure/manicure spot not far from the mini-rancho. Beavering away as usual, charging significantly less than other places for the same service. Saving their money for greater things. Probably illegals. Very little English spoken but generally understood. Viva la Viet Nam!

Two tombstones

I’m going to buy a civilian tombstone for Russ, copying his father’s & mother’s, adding only Beloved Son and Russ’s birth and death dates. His father, Rev. F.M. Wheat’s stone has a quotation from Corinthians: “At home with the Lord.”

I’ll use that, too. I like its double-meaning, whatever was meant in the New Testament (I’m not a Christian), plus an Afterlife meaning as well.

Retired Colonel Art, who may not want his last name used, is leading the effort to get a military stone recognizing Russ’s service as a Vietnam combat infantry lieutenant platoon leader. Who was wounded in both legs, still wearing the scars when he transitioned at age 81. Hope you’re enjoying yourself, Russ.

Russ’s headstone

In Higgins, Texas, way up in the panhandle, Bar and I found that our old OCS friend Russ Wheat has only the funeral home’s plastic marker on his grave. So his classmates are working to get him a military headstone from the Veterans Administration. Stymied so far by a lack of his DD 214 separation document. The funeral home never got a copy nor had any idea Russ was a Vietnam combat veteran. The plot thickens. Stay tuned.