June 11, 2007
The Vietnam War was a significant event that will forever resonate throughout the history of the United States of America. The war was officially fought between 1964 and 1973 involving conventional United States military forces (Vietnam Online). This conflict sought to prevent the spread of communism from North Vietnam into the democratic realms of South Vietnam. Official statistics of American lives lost are hard to accurately report because of the complex accountability problems in recording those designated Missing in Action (MIA) or captured as Prisoners of War (POWs). However, over War (Vietnam War Casualties). Mired in domestic U.S. movements involving civil rights and the anti-war protesters, many Vietnam veterans returned home to ridicule, chaos, and the bitter reality that in some ways the war was actually lost. Some wondered if their personal sacrifices might have been in vain. One such Vietnam veteran is Mr. Randy Taylor.
Now sixty years old, and working as a Security Officer at the Lockheed Martin Missile & Fire Control facility in Orlando, Florida, Randy Taylor experienced the carnage of the Vietnam war from its most dramatic viewpoint: on the ground. As an Army Combat Eng Veteran trained in ground level combat and extensive handling of automatic weapons, and explosives ordnance disposal Taylor experienced some of the horrific battles in Vietnam that Hollywood films only wish they could emulate. Recently, the former explosives expert and now grandfather, sat down to recall his memoirs of the conflict and how it changed his life forever.
Clean-shaven and still as lean as he probably was during his days as an airborne soldier, the title bestowed upon a paratrooper,
which he obtained on Okinawa after being attached to the 1st Special Forces Group. Taylor was drafted into the U.S. Army after high school. When asked if he was upset about being drafted, he answers with a straight face: “No, I wanted to do my patriotic duty.” It is quite amazing to meet such a brave man, who unrelentingly answered his country’s call to duty, given unbeknownst consequences.
Even more so amazing to meet a man who volunteered to join an elite element of the military, in which he knew he ran the risk of being maimed or mortally wounded in the crux of ground combat.
With the official title of Explosive Ordinance Specialist, and the rank of Spec. 4, Mr. Taylor was apart of the 588th Combat Eng. Batt-
allion that was primarily based in South Vietnam. Randy actually served in Vietnam in 1968 and believes wholeheartedly that at the time he was preventing the spread of communism for the people of South Vietnam. “Communism,” Taylor says “is what I consider to be living in a socialist state under a dictatorship. The people [literally] have no voice.”
In terms of alliances during the Vietnam conflict, the United States, The Republic of Vietnam (South), New Zealand, Australia, and South Korea formed a coalition to ward of the communistic threats of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North) and the National Liberation Front (NLF) which was a group of South-Vietnamese communist guerillas. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is said to have provided military support to the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), although there were never any conventional Soviet troops provided to support them (Vietnam War Casualties).
Taylor describes Vietnam, or “Nam” as the veterans of his day called it, as “a beautiful country, with part of the country wanting to be free and the rest of the people wanting a socialist state.” He says he never had the opportunity to conduct any patrols or missions with any soldiers from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) - those South Vietnamese soldiers with whom U.S. forces were fighting with, but he respected most of them because they understood their duty to protect their country. A typical, mellow dramatic day for Randy and his unit of Combat Engineer's would involve waking at 0530 hrs (5:30 a.m.) to the sound of B-52 bomber planes dropping simultaneously around his base camp to ward off any suspecting enemy personnel. This was followed by dressing, breakfast (chow), and the systematic job of sweeping the roadways around his base camp for landmines that the North Vietnamese might have planted overnight. Clearly, this was not the typical nine to five form of employment that young men his age experienced back in the United States!
Most notably of Taylor’s tenure in Vietnam was a particular incident prior to the the heralded Tet Offensive of 1968, in which North Vietnamese soldiers tried vehemently to attack U.S. personnel and bases throughout Vietnam, under the guise of their celebrated national holiday. “My base camp was over run,” remembers Taylor matter-of-factly. “The 101st Airborne was flown in to help us keep our base from falling into enemy hands.”
Upon returning home to the U.S. following his tour in Vietnam, Taylor admits that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which caused him to have flashbacks of his experiences, and to occasionally jump at the sound of a car backfiring or other erratic noises. In terms of disabilities, Taylor now says he suffers from a loss of hearing “due to the explosives,” he came into contact with. When asked the monumental question of whether or not he felt the war was lost, Taylor believes the actual combat portion of the war--in terms of destruction and annihilation of enemy forces--was won without question. “But, the political outcome,” he laments, “was lost!” Spoken like a true war veteran, Randy says he was not overly upset that it took so many years for the Vietnam War to end, because “that’s what happens in prolonged war!”
On the subject of confronting anti-war protesters upon his return home, Taylor says he was “once spit on by a man in a crowd of demonstrators at the Honolulu [Hawaii] Airport when [he] was on R&R (Rest & Relaxation periods away from the war).” While respecting their right to freedom of speech, Taylor feels that most anti-war protesters “don’t have a clue what it takes to keep our freedom.” He even goes so far as to call former Democratic Presidential candidate and Vietnam veteran John Kerry “a traitor to his country,” for his participation in anti-war rallies following his participation in the conflict.
Pertaining to contemporary matters involving politics and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Randy appears adamant about the current situation saying, “we need to stay and win, or we will have terrorists on our door steps.” Furthermore, in response to the interventionist ploys of politicians in the handling of Iraq, Taylor again does not hesitate to retort:
“Politicians should be able to initiate the wars, but the military command should have the power to tell Congress and the President when to end the war.”
Following this interview with Mr. Randy Taylor, my view of the Vietnam War has not really changed much. Although I will admit that I did not fully understand all of the background information pertaining to the actual alliances and elements of the war, I still believe and can justify my belief from the death toll statistics, that this was one long and bloody war that will never be forgotten by Americans. The fact that Mr. Taylor wholeheartedly believed in his mission of stopping the spread of communism is not much different from my divine belief in my mission in Iraq during three tours as a U.S. Marine Rifleman. I am forever grateful for having the opportunity to have met and interviewed a man like Randy Taylor, and will forever share his comradeship as Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) that the domestic American populace did not always believe in, support, or understand. In closing, I think former President Richard Nixon explained the Vietnam War best in his 1985 quote: “No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now” (Vietnamwar.net).
58,000 Americans are listed as having been killed or gone missing as a result of the Vietnam War.
Taylor, Randy. Personal Interview. 31 May 2007.
“Vietnam Online. An online companion to Vietnam: A Television History.” PBS.org. 30 May 2007<http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/vietnam/timeline/index.html>.
“Vietnam War Casualties.” Vietnam-war.info. 29 May 2007<http://www.vietnam- war.info/casualties/>.
“Vietnamwar.net: Educational, Entertainment, and Research Material Relevant to the Study of the Vietnam War. Vietnamwar.net. 29 May 2007 <http://www.vietnamwar.net/history.htm>