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Winning Hearts and Minds vs. Body Count

Harold Lewis

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Let me introduce myself, I am Harold E. Lewis, Command Sergeant Major, United States Army, (Retired). Combat with 101st Airborne Division, B Battery, 2nd Bn. 11th Field Artillery, I Corps, Republic of Vietnam. and USARV, United States Army, Republic of Vietnam, II Corps, assigned as a Forward Observer with "C" Company, 54th Infantry. I served a total of 29 years on active duty, served in eight combat divisions, and was fortunate to draft classified briefing on Nuclear Issues to the late President Ronald Regan.

I am honored to be a part of this distinguished group of individuals, and I would like to thank you for including me in your discussions. The topic of linking battlefield success with the number of enemy killed in action was new to the United States Army prior to our involvement in Vietnam ( we can't blame the French for not trying to talk some sense). In prior wars, almost at the beginning of time. Success in a war was straight forward, Ground=winning. The more of a country that you occupied with your over-whelming force, and once that ground was occupied, then the task of winning the hearts and minds began. You were winning. Not so in Vietnam.

Not being especially in tune with combat doctrine, I mistakenly assumed that the occupied areas in I Corps, which included Hue City, and Quang Tri, would view the United States Military as they had been viewed during WWII. I would learn on my second day in the field not everyone thought we were liberating them for their own good. The Vietnam War was played every night on what seemed to be every television in America. American dead were shown in graphic detail and the chant for common sense was beginning to be heard throughout the country.

I want to stop, and try to make a point. The United States fought the war in Vietnam with Generals and Senior Officers and Commanders that had served in WWII and Korea, the Order of Battle that we were so proud of was useless in the jungles of Vietnam. The Domino Theory that was used to scare everyday Americans into believing that if Vietnam was occupied by the Communist North that South East Asia would be at the mercy of China and USSR. We viewed the French Indochina disaster with, and I hate to say, disdain and almost an attitude that the French were not good jungle fighters and did not take the fight to the enemy. A quick review of the German soldiers that were recruited by the French, along with daily combat logs from the front line French soldiers, were ignored, laughed at and make fun of. The French were seasoned jungle fighter, as well as the Germans. You cannot make the mistake of linking bad General Officers who wanted to show that the French could fight and win, with the everyday French soldier who was every bit as combat hardened as his enemy counterpart.

America made, in hind sight mistakes that some six year old boys would not. And I was a soldier, and I love my country, but if a country and its military establishment have to count legs and hands and feet, most of the time separately, in order to somehow prove that we were killing more of them than they were of us, is at best Laughable. I personally attended combat briefing to include what is now the Air Mission Brief, and given an operations order that ended once we got off the helicopter and went to combat VOCO. Which in American Military terms means, Your Screwed-the enemy has seen it all before. Once on the ground the pressure to call in KIA's was tremendous, the radio chatter (especially when I was a Forward Observer) was focused on "how many of the bad guys are your killing", I have had to intervene in radio communications in order to send Artillery Fire Missions, and the number of medivac helicopters that was needed at the various company and platoon positions. This was almost bordering dereliction of duty, a senior commander interested in total body count in order to justify the operation. Justify to the American people, and the Senior Commander in Saigon that we were winning, because we could count.

This is my first attempt at Topic Writing. Vietnam was, and still is America's Waterloo. It divided our country, almost dismantled our Army, and caused a generation of soldiers to feel somehow ashamed of their service to the Nation.

If I am, OFF CENTER, maybe too close to the issue, tell me, you can ask me any question about the US Army, and my service. I served from 1969-1997. Along side wonderful solders from the NATO Allies, and have a deep and humbling respect for the soldiers that I was privileged to serve, British, French, German. In uniform we are all brothers.

Again, Thank you. Respectfully. CSM H.E. Lewis,U.S. Army,(Retired), The decoration that I really earned (American soldiers are medal crazy) was a South Vietnamese award-The Individual Award of the "Vietnam Cross of Gallantry-with Silver Star".

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