Chesterton Tribune

Vietnam Vets remember

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Why they fought; Viet vets remember

Essay

By KEVIN NEVERS

War, Karl von Clausewitz famously said, is politics in another form.

One could also say, and just as rightly, that war is physics, in its purest form: the setting of mass in motion to overcome the inertia of flesh.

A grim calculus has always prevailed on the battlefield, made very much grimmer by the randomness with which it dumbly apportions life and death. Yet armaments have grown so destructive as to make anyone's survival in a modern firefight seem impossible.

Sub-caliber ammunition--only fractionally larger than the rounds favored by squirrel hunters--caroms and ricochets inside bodies like pachinko balls. Anti-personnel devices--landmines, mortars, grenades--produce lethal geometries of flying scything steel. High explosives, when they don't distill soldiers into mists of red, concuss and compress internal organs and turn chest cavities into jello molds. Anti-tank rounds flush the interior of armored vehicles with spumes of molten metal. Napalm sticks viscously to the skin like some honeyed hellfire.

Those of us who have learned of war from CNN--for whom the sine qua non of war is the smart bomb dropped cleanly and safely from 10,000 feet--may wonder, should wonder: what induces the soldier, frequently only a boy, to stand his ground and fight?

In his useful book The Face of Battle, John Keegan attempts to answer that question. Bravery, training, leadership, honor: each he considers in turn. But Keegan never did serve himself, he is just a military historian, and the miracle of the motivated soldier finally eludes him.

Dr. Andrew Lovy it does not.

Screaming Eagles

Lovy, formerly Capt. Lovy, served in Vietnam as a battalion surgeon in the 101st Airborne Division. A psychiatrist based in Detroit, Lovy has come to Northwest Indiana to visit some friends from his old unit, among them Sgt. Mike Krawczyk of the Porter County Sheriff's Police. They'll make a pilgrimage Saturday to the Vietnam War Memorial in Chesterton.

I had the privilege last week to spend a few minutes with Lovy and Krawczyk as they ate breakfast at Leonard's.

The basic mission of the 101st has remained unchanged since its formation during World War II: every dirty job. The Screaming Eagles made their bones in Normandy. They made their name at Bastogne. In 1969--less than a year after Lovy was medivaced--the Eagles outlasted an NVA contingent in the most famous battle of the war: the brutal slog for Dong Ap Bia in the A Shau Valley, known today as Hamburger Hill.

But the public has almost certainly never heard of Lovy and Krawczyk's unit, the 3rd Battalion of the 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment. Composed entirely of volunteers handpicked in 1967, the 3/506 was assigned to pacification, a fine word for a foul mission, the suppression of insurgents.

Unlike most surgeons, Lovy didn't wait in the rear for the medics to bring back the wounded. He accompanied the men on their missions and could, by beginning to work in the helicopter on the ride in, gain valuable time. "That extra five minutes frequently saved lives and limbs," he said.

"I wasn't an officer," Lovy added. "I was the doc."

Krawczyk recollects one time when Lovy was forced to use a dirty bootlace to tie off a bleeder. "'I can cure an infection,"' he remembered the surgeon saying. "'I can't cure death.'"

For his efforts Lovy took a bullet in the hip in 1968 when his chopper landed in a hot LZ during a night mission.

Buddies

For Lovy and Krawczyk--older now, grayer, fatter, balder--the jungles of Southeast Asia are only a shimmering memory away. The whop-whop-whop of a helicopter still appalls Lovy, and should he happen to awaken in the early morning sleep will never return to him: "That's when the casualties came in."

Yet for all of the terror and crushing sorrow, Lovy and Krawczyk would not have foregone their hitch in the 3/506 for any cushy deferment. "We would do it again," Lovy said. "Hopefully we would never have to. But we would do it again."

Not because they're warriors by nature. Indeed, Lovy said, "no war is worth fighting." Nor because they're patriots, although they clearly love their country dearly. Not for honor. Not for duty. Not for Mom or apple pie. Rather, I think, they would do it again because in the mists of time their friends are still there. Still fighting. Still bleeding. Still dying.

"It was an incredible bonding experience," Lovy said. He hesitated for a moment, then added, "What they had to endure in order to do the mission was incredible. I don't think anyone would understand except the guys who were there."

Krawczyk tried to explain. "The soldier's fighting for the guy on his left, the guy on his right, his buddies. A guy doesn't jump on a grenade for America. He jumps on a grenade for his friends."

In a nation growing ever more self-indulgent and narcissistic, I doubt whether many people today would jump on a grenade for anybody. And perhaps it is precisely that instinct for self-preservation at any cost which lies behind the hate and spite which greeted Vietnam veterans when, broken and bitter, they came home. For merely by doing his duty the vet was an affront to those who did not, a provocation not to be tolerated.

Those too young to have manned the barricades, Lovy said, "the ones who know nothing about Vietnam, are more receptive as time goes by." But his generation, the Boomers, "have blocked it out" altogether.

So the veterans remember because no one else will. Krawczyk in particular is involved in finding, wherever they live now, the members of the 3/506. And in finding their survivors. "Some of these people to this day," he said, "all they know about is the telegram."

And Krawczyk told the story of the mother of one KIA in the 3/506 who for 30 years believed her son to have died in vain, killed by friendly fire. He didn't, Krawczyk was able to inform her.

He was killed while carrying wounded to the rear.