clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


A former Navy officer is helping honor Vietnam veterans this week in light of the furor former defense secretary Robert McNamara created by admitting that U.S. persistence in the war was wrong.

Provo resident Keith Haines, who did four tours in Vietnam between 1968 and 1970, said it's high time to honor the men and women who served their country with dignity."It is not our intent to participate in a divisive debate dissecting and attributing blame or responsibility concerning the tragedy in Vietnam. It is more important that we recognize the true "Forest Gumps" or heroes who had the gumption to answer the country's call to serve. Many are still paying the price for their service with their lives, their health and their dreams," he said.

Haines and other are asking local and state governments to declare April 25, the anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Vietnam Veteran Appreciation Day. In Provo, veterans will be honored Tuesday during a picnic at Kiwanis Park. The event is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. when all facilities with bells are encouraged to ring them for five minutes.

A candlelight vigil is scheduled for Saturday at 9 p.m. around the Vietnam War Memorial at the state Capitol. Simultaneous vigils are planned nationwide.

Although Haines doesn't want the events to turn into debates about the war's necessity, McNamara's well-publicized conclusion angered veterans nationwide.

"I've seen nine interviews with McNamara. He doesn't even have a clue," Haines said.

McNamara, the secretary of defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, was the architect of America's buildup in Vietnam from a small force to a peak of half a million. To many, the 11-year conflict was "McNamara's War."

But in his new book "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam," McNamara said the policy he helped formulate was "terribly wrong."

McNamara said he concluded the war was unwinnable in the mid-'60s, yet he did not speak out and continued to dispatch troops into combat, in part because he feared that the appearance of weakness by the United States could have emboldened the Soviet Union and created the risk of war..

"I'll accept that," said Orem resident Jim Subashe, an Air Force air freight specialist in 1965-66. "But I knew that a long time ago."

The vast majority of the 58,196 names etched into the black granite of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., are those of people who died after 1965.

"I knew a 1,000 people in Nam that didn't come back," Haines said.

The real lesson of the war, Haines said, is that a nation shouldn't put people in peril if it doesn't intend to go all out.

Subashe said he appreciates that veterans will be recognized this week for their willingness to serve. Haines wants people who know Vietnam veterans to shake their hands and hug them for their sacrifice. A Provo city proclamation encourages resident to drive with their lights on Tuesday or leave their porch lights on to honor veterans.