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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > September 2017 > Vietnam War

Vietnam War

As GIs struggled to overcome their communist enemies in the jungle, another very different adversary brought the fight to the streets of America

THE WAR AMERICA COULD NEVER WIN

With an average age of 19, American soldiers in Vietnam were ill-prepared and ill-equipped. Fifty-eight thousand members of the US armed forces died, along with several hundred thousand Vietnamese civilians.
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Somewhere in the line of veterans – a single file of bedraggled hair, faded fatigues, wheelchairs and crutches – as they slowly snake towards the Capitol Building is Barry Romo. The former lieutenant of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade enlisted believing in fighting communism, and wishing to emulate his father’s deeds in World War II, but now he is joining comrades to protest the war in Vietnam. Today, 23 April 1971, is the end of a week of demonstrations, street theatre, candlelit vigils, arrests and camping on the Mall in Washington DC, and there is one last act of defiance, and sacrifice, for Romo to perform.

He looks down at his medals, which he will soon be rid of. He remembers when his patrol in Tam K province was ambushed by the Viet Cong and he, just 19 years old, ran out in the open rice paddy to wave down a medevac chopper. He received a Bronze Star for saving the wounded. He remembers when his platoon sergeant stepped on an American ‘Bouncing Betty’ mine and had his intestines and stomach blown out. He remembers his beloved nephew being shot in the throat and it taking 48 hours before the body could be retrieved.

It is almost his turn. Romo looks at each man stepping to the microphone to say a few words before turning and hurling their medals, ribbons and dogtags at the Capitol, stood behind a quickly constructed fence to keep protestors out. Many curse the government, others apologise, and one limping man throws his cane. Rejecting these symbols of bravery is a powerful display of how the war has no meaning. Romo says of his medals: “ These ain’t shit!” is day, the veterans capture the spirit of a massive movement, in which millions fight against a war America cannot win.

Vietnam War veterans tear off their medals and throw them to the ground during a demonstration

DID YOU KNOW?

Men younger than 21 were deemed old enough to fight in Vietnam, but not to vote – until the 26th Amendment, passed in March 1971, lowered the voting age to 18.

Hippies, veterans and celebrities alike descend on the Mall, Washington DC to protest the war
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About History Revealed

Inside, Tudor historian Alison Weir uncovers one of the most "grievous miscarriages of justice" in English history, we find out why the Vietnam War was doomed from the start, and explore the secret life of Albert Einstein, from his rebellious childhood to his scandalous affair.
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