Written By Mark Kevin Smith
The first time Ryan heard the word Vietnam, he was watching the nightly news, just as his mother was preparing dinner. He had never heard of that country before and asked his mother to look it up on the family globe. Vietnam is such a tiny country, he could not help to wonder why we were there. It was explained to him that the communist north were trying to impose there way of life on the south. America was fighting to keep the south free. All pretty confusing for an eight year old, but Ryan was old enough to know that it was wrong to force people to live a way they don’t want too.
After that, Ryan watched the news almost every night before dinner. He learned about the battle of la Drang Valley and the terms, central highlands, demilitarized zone, free fire zone and many others. Ryan, new the war wouldn’t last long, it is such a small country and we have never lost a war.
Walter Cronkite became kind of a friend to young Ryan, delivering the war news nightly, night after night, then year after year. As the war continued he was not disheartened, there was never any doubt as to the outcome of the war. He would give his mother updates on the war every week as to keep her informed. The president always gave positive reports about the war, so I knew that it would end soon, even though it had been years since Ryan first heard the word Vietnam. Ryan was now ten years old, he heard of the battle of Dak To, operation ark light and many more that year. Our president kept sending more and more troops. Ryan thought that with that many troops that we would have to win soon.
As Ryan graduated elementary school and moved to what then was called Jr. High, he was nervous moving to a new school and meeting new people, Ryan was starting to have a social life, distracting him from the war and other problems in his life. But the war hit hard again, on January 31, 1968 after he thought we had about won the war, the TET Offensive began.
So instead of thinking about a girl he would like to ask out, all his attention went back to Walter Cronkite and the vietnam war. This was the first time Ryan started to have doubts. He started thinking is it possible for this to last long enough that I might have to go. That made him a little scared. Ryan continued to go to school and socialize, while the war was never far from his thoughts.
Ryan is now fourteen and all set to go to his first day of high school, scared, nervous and with all the protests, the Kent State University killings still on his mind. Ryan had no idea what to expect. The first day went incident free. One of the advantages of living in a small town, there was very little political unrest there. Ryan liked to listen to music, and a lot of it was anti war. Even then Ryan still thought what we were doing in vietnam had to be done. By now he new everything there was to know about communism and he decided he would fight to stop it if needed.
Ryan found a passion that helped him think about something besides war, protests and the nightly death toll of US and NVA troops for that week, broadcast every night. Ryan found that he loved to race motorcycles. Every sunday he would leave with friends to go to the local race track. He continued this for fourteen years.
After the horrible Cronkite report on February 27, 1968 when he said the war was unwinnable Ryan never believed him. But in January 1973 the Paris Peace Accord was signed. They said peace with honor. Ryan wanted the war to end, but with a victory. Even with the accord signed, fighting continued and at that point in Ryan’s life all he wanted to do was graduate high school and go fight communism. Ryan graduated high school in 1975 at age eighteen. One month before he was to sign up for the draft, it was abolished.
It has taken decades of guilt, of not having his chance to prove himself a man worthy of being an American, to fight his war.
Now another generation of kids have grown up with a long protracted war, Iraq and Afghanistan. You Have Nothing to Prove.