Monday, August 17, 2009

What WE Did During WOODSTOCK

Infantryman Cyril "Rick" Rescorla, whose photo graced the cover of "We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young," on patrol in Vietnam in 1965. He survived the war -- and was Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's security chief when he died in the Twin Towers on 9/11.

As the nation marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock it should be remembered that not everyone from that generation was at the party. During the summer of love in 1969, I was a young 17 year old U.S. Marine aboard a U.S. Navy ship call the USS York County (LST 1175) on rapid response duty in the Mediterranean Sea with the First Battalion of the Sixth Marines assigned to the U.S. Sixth Fleet, other young Marines, soldiers, sailors and airman also missed Woodstock, they were in a place called Vietnam. In April of 1970, at the age of 18, I had the privilege of serving in Vietnam also, with the best of the Woodstock generation.

Unfortunately, not all of us survived the Woodstock generation.

What follows is from the August 2009 Issue of the VFW magazine.
August 17, 2009

NEWSWEEK described them as "a youthful, long-haired army, almost as large as the US force in Vietnam." One promoter saw what happened near Bethel (nearly 40 miles from Woodstock), NY, as an opportunity to "showcase" the drug culture as a "beautiful phenomenon."

The newsmagazine wrote of "wounded hippies" sent to impromptu hospital tents. Some 400,000 of the "nation's affluent white young" attended the "electric pot dream." One sympathetic chronicler recently described them as "a veritable army of hippies and freaks."

Time gushed with admiration for the tribal gathering, declaring: "It may well rank as one of the significant political and sociological events of the age." It deplored the three deaths there -- "one from an overdose of drugs [heroin] and hundreds of youths freaked out on bad trips caused by low-grade LSD." Yet attendees exhibited a "mystical feeling for themselves as a special group," according to the magazine's glowing essay.

The same tribute mentioned the "meaningless war in the jungles of Southeast Asia" and quoted a commentator who said the young needed "more opportunities for authentic service."

Meanwhile, 8,429 miles around the other side of the world, 514,000 mostly young Americans were authentically serving the country that had raised them to place society over self. The casualties they sustained over those four days were genuine, yet none of the elite media outlets were praising their selflessness.

So, 40 years later, let's finally look at those 109 Americans who sacrificed their lives in Vietnam on August. 15, 16, 17 and 18, 1969.

They mirrored the population of the time. A full 92 percent were white (seven of whom had Spanish surnames), and 8 percent black. Some 67 percent were Protestants, 28 percent Catholic. A disproportionate number -- more than one-third -- hailed from the South. More than two-thirds were single, nearly one-third married. Not surprising, the vast majority (91 percent) were under the age of 30, with 78 percent between the ages of 18 and 22.

Overwhelmingly (87 percent), they were in the Army. Marines and airmen accounted for 8 percent and 4 percent of the deaths, respectively, with sailors sustaining 1 percent. Again, not unexpectedly, two-thirds were infantrymen. That same proportion was lower-ranking enlisted men. Enemy action claimed 84 percent of their lives, non hostile causes 16 percent. The preponderance (56 percent) had volunteered, while 43 percent had been drafted. One was in the National Guard.

Of the four days, Aug. 18 (the last day of "peace and love" in the Catskills when the 50,000 diehards departed after the final act) was the worst for the men in Vietnam. Thirty-five of them died on that one miserable day.

Many perished in the Battle of Hiep Duc, fighting with the hard-luck Americal Division in the Que Son Mountains. In fact, 37 percent of all GIs lost in this period came from this one unit.

So when you hear talk of the glories of Woodstock -- the so-called "defining event of a generation" -- keep in mind those 109 GIs who served nobly yet are never lauded by the illustrious spokesmen for the "Sixties Generation.


  1. Interesting blog. Arguably, the biggest legacy of Woodstock is its huge impact on the real children of the sixties: Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X). This USA TODAY op-ed speaks to the relevance today of the sixties counterculture impact on GenJones:

    Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report forcast the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009.

    Here's a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:

  2. Thanks to the men who fought in Vietnam.