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NOTE
: THE DEFINING GENERATION is a project begun by Doug and Pam Sterner in 2002 and completed in 2006. Initially is was prepared for publication as a book, however with their changing focus to development of a database of military awards, was postponed indefinitely so they could concentrate on that larger, more important work. The stories found herein however, need to be shared, and they have consented to make this compilation available in this format. While each story can stand alone, it is recommended that for continuity, readers will be best served by reading the chapters sequentially from first to last.

 

The Defining Generation

-

Defining Dissent

DEFINING DISSENT

When it comes to venting anger Doug is one of the coolest people I know. His favorite line is, "I did my fighting 35 years ago and I'm tired." In fact, in the 32 years we have been married I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've seen him lose his cool. Sometimes it is infuriating. We've had our share of bitter battles as husband and wife and Doug is not generally inclined to hold in his anger or his side of the argument. Still, more often than not after I've laid into him with all the verbal abuse my anger over a particular disagreement can muster he just puts his hands on his hips, looks at me condescendingly and calmly say, "There, do you feel better now?" In fact I don't--at such times his sarcastically paternal and self-righteous response has pushed me nearly to the brink of murder!

We were married in January 1975 so we were still in that early phase of learning about each other on the last day of April when television news began showing images of American helicopters plucking the last Americans along with a few hapless and helpless Vietnamese off the rooftops of the American Embassy in Saigon , South Vietnam . When not at work Doug sat fixated by the television reports, usually without saying a word but occasionally slamming his fist angrily against our couch or uttering a curse from time to time. I knew it was effecting him deeply and that he was angry. Even then, however, he didn't let his emotions get the better of him. The following day he walked calmly down to the local telegraph office to address a bitter message to the Montana Senator with whom he had repeatedly clashed over the Vietnam War. The telegraph was addressed to "Senator Mike Ho Chi Mansfield ."

Before I met Doug I was what might be called a "wannabe" flower child. In fact, I was in middle school when Doug went to Vietnam and was a Sophomore in high school when he came home. I didn't know a lot about the war or the hippie movement, I was just a demure young girl who loved ideas of love, beauty, and peace. I was 17 when I met Doug in 1974 and as he taught me more about what he had learned while serving in Vietnam I gained a new appreciation for America 's role. I also knew that Doug was not angry with the war protestors but rather he admired them for speaking their minds. After returning from overseas and while spending a few months with his mother the spring before we met, he had become close friends with members of a hippie commune that attended his mother's church. He knew they were "peace freaks" and still respected what he considered their naïve approach to world event, they knew he had just come home from Vietnam but related to him on the basis of their common religious faith. This was all quite in contrast to the first incident where I ever saw Doug lose control.

It started innocently enough a few months after we watched Saigon 's fall on television. That day I could hear him coming up the walk to our apartment after he got off work and opened the door to greet him. He gave me a hug and a kiss while in the background an old movie, I don't recall exactly what it was but I think it may have been "Barefoot in the Park," that I had been watching on television. Suddenly Doug heard a feminine voice and froze. Then, in an instant he changed into a person I had never seen before.

Instead of simply turning off the television set he went into an uncontrollable rage. One moment he was hugging me and the next he was jerking the television from the wall, cord and all, no small feat since it was a 3' high console. How I kept him from literally throwing the set through the window and out of our apartment I'll never know. Even when I finally convinced him to somewhat gently set it down it took forever to calm him down. That day I learned that there was one name that would never be uttered in our household.

Pam Sterner

 

 

From Berkeley With Love

When I was bussed from the holding station near Oakland , California , to catch my first flight to Vietnam our bus had wire mesh over the windows. Someone asked why. "To keep the public from throwing rocks, garbage, maybe even shit at you guys," someone told us. The following day when I walked off the airplane at Tan Son Nhut Airport in Vietnam , again we boarded busses on which the windows were covered with wire screen. "That's to keep the enemy from throwing grenades inside as we go through town," someone told me. Ironically it seemed, we had two enemies--one of them back home.

On a cold, drizzly day six months later I was at LZ Nancy near the DMZ when our commanding officer called a special meeting. We all crowded into a large tent and almost immediately the gathering took on one of the eerie "secret mission" scenes from the World War II movies I had watched as a kid. We all new something was up as only a few days earlier my platoon leader, Lieutenant Robert M. Gribble, had been pulled out of LZ Nancy for some super secret mission.*

When he had our attention our C.O. announced that he was seeking volunteers to form a single squad for a very secret mission. He couldn't give us any details other than that the following day we would have to convoy north to the old Special Forces camp at Mai Loc. I was the company's perennial volunteer but on this day I balked. I wanted desperately to be part of the mission but because it sounded so grim I didn't want to lead the squad with all the related responsibility I would have to carry. I waited until one of our Staff Sergeant's volunteered to lead and by that time I almost lost out in my bid to become his assistant squad leader. Our C.O. pointed out that I was assigned that night to serve as "bunker sergeant" so it probably wouldn't work out anyway. I told him that I could sleep during the convoy to Mai Loc the following day and literally begged to go. He relented.

Everyone was very hushed that night…even the men who had not volunteered or those who had volunteered and not been selected were quiet. If this was as dangerous as the C.O. had made it sound some of our comrades would not be coming back. Those of us who HAD been selected were unusually quiet.

That night while making the rounds I stopped at a bunker overlooking the river that formed part of our perimeter. The NCOs always knew the guys on that bunker listened to the radio while on duty and overlooked it as the river drowned out the sound. As I climbed the ladder to their perch I could hear they were listening to a program out of North Vietnam . In the World War II fashion of Tokyo Rose we had our own Hanoi Hanna…in fact several of them. While I sat there she played a song from home and when it finished she launched into a typical propaganda diatribe.

After finishing her spiel she played a professionally-sounding radio spot, not at all unlike the typical public service announcements you still hear every day on the radio. What made it unique was that the announcer spoke perfect English. He reminded we American soldiers in Vietnam that we were criminals, that we indiscriminately killed women and children, and that our leaders were ruthless tyrants. He encouraged us to disobey orders, proclaim that we were Conscious Objectors, lay down our guns and come home. He assured us that it wouldn't be easy, that the leaders of our evil army would try to fight us every step of the way. He closed by promising us that there were lawyers at home who would defend us and multiple organizations that would support our decision. He closed by inviting us to write for more information on how to successfully do the right thing and lay down our arms. Forty years later I no longer remember the name or the organization, though I'll never forget the closing line: "For more information write to (name of organization), (address of organization), Berkeley , California ."

It all struck a funny chord in my mind and I threw back my head and laughed out loud.

One week later our squad was back at LZ Nancy…the actual mission had proven to be anti-climactic to its buildup. Ours was the Engineer squad that led the way to re-open the Khe Sanh Valley in 1971 for the offensive called Lam Son 719. We actually experienced very little resistance or danger. That came later for those like Lieutenant Gribble who stayed in the valley for the duration…as well as for the ARVN soldiers that used Lam Son 719 as springboard for a drive into Laos . Every man in my squad was decorated for valor. Mine was an award I never felt I really earned.

The two months following that mission was the only time during my two tours of duty in Vietnam that the anti-war movement back home bothered me. Newspapers reported repeated incidences of ARVN cowardice in their drive into Laos: sensational stories of tank commanders having to lock their men inside their armored vehicles to keep them from deserting, of whole companies abandoning their artillery and fleeing, of cowardly soldiers clinging desperately to the skids of helicopters bringing in supplies to try and desert and escape the danger of doing their duty. The intent was obvious, to send a message home that "These (Vietnamese) people are too cowardly to defend their own country, so why are we sending our (American) boys over there to fight and die for them?"

While there were no doubt such incidences, I knew that they were not occurring with the frequency with which they were being reported, and that any such examples were dwarfed by the number of ARVNs who bravely went into combat to do their job and often die for their own country. I came to hate the war protestors, not for what they said about me and my American comrades, but for belittling a people I had come to love. I had witnessed many acts of heroism by ARVN soldiers and was personally aware of several instances in which an ARVN soldier risked, and sometimes gave his life to save an American. In March I finally vented my frustration by sending a letter home to the Daily Interlake newspaper in Kalispell , Montana . It was the only such letter I ever wrote home about the war itself.

To say that I was then, and even that I remain today somewhat "hawkish" would be an understatement. When I was a Senior in high school in 1968 my government teacher, Mr. Jerry L. Agen, assigned our class a project to write a paper about the Vietnam War that included two pages PRO and two pages CON. Mine was titled "Bullets or Bondage" and had the requisite two page argument against the war and 40 pages of reasons why I believed it was just. Mr. Agen was against the war but wrote on my paper, "Doug, while I disagree with your premise herein, what you write reflects the spirit that has made America great. Don't ever lose that!" He gave me 200 points out of a possible 50 points.

While serving in Vietnam I validated my belief in our cause. To this day I maintain that despite the errors in leadership and the controversy in Washington , D.C. that tried to rob us of victory, our cause was just. I believe to this day that going to aid that small country in Southeast Asia was the right thing to do. I only wish we had stayed to finish the job and to win.

When I came home in 1972 and was discharged at Fort Lewis , Washington , we were all told NOT to wear our uniforms home as we might attract undue attention. I was proud of my service and believed I had earned the right to wear that uniform home…to hell with those who didn't like it…and did. Perhaps I was fortunate; never in my nearly three years of military service from 1969 to 1972 was I spit on and only a few isolated times was I the subject of vulgar expletives. Of course the public was much more appreciative of soldiers in my home state of Montana . I do know that some of my comrades in other states were not so fortunate.

Three decades later I watched television as the United States was attacked once again. As one might expect the old soldier and the political hawk in me emerged in a not too subtle fashion. The following year, shortly after American forces entered Baghdad , Pam and I took our children on a week-long vacation to visit my mother in Idaho and my father in Washington . Upon learning we were coming my dad asked if I would speak at a school while I was there. The Moses Lake, Washington, high school has the uncommon distinction of numbering among its alumni two recipients of the Medal of Honor for actions in the Vietnam War. It is a school where patriotism runs deep and, following release of the 2002 documentary "Beyond the Medal of Honor" in which I appeared in several on-camera interviews and as son of a local man, I was something of a celebrity there.

On the day of my presentation I first was treated to breakfast at a local restaurant by a school administrator. My father, sitting at the table with us and knowing I tend to the "hawkish" side of the political spectrum sought to reassure me. "This town is VERY patriotic," he told me. "Don't worry about pulling any punches this morning when you speak." Knowing how I planned to begin my presentation I wondered then if I was about to give him a big dose of disappointment.

Hundreds of high school students were crammed into chairs before me as I walked to the front of the room in my Army uniform after being introduced. At the very back of the auditorium sat my five adult step-brothers, every one of them equally hawkish. They had come to watch with pride the presentation by their oldest brother.

I looked across the room and then began: "I've been told that Moses Lake is a very patriotic city. But I would like to ask one question before I begin." I paused, wondering if anyone would answer the question I was about to pose with an affirmative. "Is there anyone in this room who is opposed to the war in Iraq ?"

I needn't have worried…those who oppose a popular (at that time) ideal are generally not shy. One young man on the front row raised his hand. I walked over to stand in front of him while the room became quite still. "I have just two words for you, young man," I stated and then paused. You could have heard a pin drop. "Thank you!" I announced loudly. In the back my brothers slouched down in their chairs in embarrassment while I'm sure my father began to worry that I had gone liberal on him. Then I explained.

"I thank God that there are those who oppose this, or any war. I disagree with you…I believe you are wrong. I'm a 'hawk' I'll admit. The thing is, if everyone thought exactly like I do the Persian Gulf would now flow all the way to the Syrian Border, and North Korea would be the world's largest parking lot. The fact is, if everyone believed like I do our country would be prone to become the world's biggest bully."

Then, before spending the bulk of my presentation defending WHY I believed in the Iraq War I spoke to those students who comprised the vast majority in the room and who believed like I did. "You need to respect this young man, and any others in this room who oppose the war. I didn't say you have to agree with them but they have earned your respect. It takes REAL COURAGE to stand up for what you believe, especially when it is the minority opinion and everyone else thinks you are wrong. There is nothing more American than freedom of speech, and by showing the courage to stand up for what he believes, this young man is a model American."

Doug Sterner



* As in fact, our battalion's finest officer, Lieutenant Gribble was tasked with leading the Engineer units that reopened Khe Sanh and then supported activities for two months during the Lam Son 719 mission. It was a difficult job during which he did an admirable job under the most tragic of circumstances. We heard reports of his work but didn't see him again until he returned to LZ Nancy on March 29, 1971 , to pack his gear and go home. He had suffered too much. That afternoon he put his M-16 in his mouth and ended his awful nightmares. To this day I maintain that he was the finest officer it was my privilege to serve under during two tours in Vietnam

 

 

The Defining Generation: Copyright © 2006 by Doug and Pam Sterner
All Rights Reserved

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Cover & Introduction
     Preface
Out With the Old
     The Defining Generation

I. - Defining the New
     John Fitzgerald Kennedy
     Roger H.C. Donlon
     Robert Robin Moore
     Barry Sadler
     The Green Beret

II. - Defining Equality
     When Worlds Collide
     Dr. Martin Luther King
     Jimmy Stanford & Vince Yrineo
     Milton Lee Olive, III
     Specialist Lawrence Joel
     Sammy Lee Davis
     Black MOH Recipients - Vietnam War

III. - Defining the Role of the Sexes
     Evolution of a Husband
     Remember the Ladies
     Rosie the Riveter
     Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard
     Linda G. Alvarado
     Karen Irene Offutt
     Women in Military Service
     Lieutenant General Carol Mutter
     The Modern Woman in Combat
IV. - Defining Human Rights
     My Brother's Keeper
     Who is My Brother
     Christopher Dodd & Christopher Shays
     Peace Corps Politicians (Memories)
     Don Bendell
     Sir Edward Artis
     General Colin L. Powell

V. - Defining Entertainment
     Life Imitating Art
     Troubled Waters
     Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
     Brian's Song
     All in the Family
     Adrian Cronauer

VI. - Defining Dissent

     From Berkeley With Love
     The Pen and the Sword
     General David Shoup
     Muhammad Ali
     John Forbes Kerry

VII. - Defining the Future of Politics
     An Act of Congress
     All Politics is....Hereditary?
     Hillary Rodham Clinton
     Condoleezza Rice
     James Henry Webb
The next Section is scheduled for posting on May 20, 2011
VIII. - Defining Memories
     Jaime Pacheco
     The Glory of their Deeds
     Jan Scruggs
     Delbert Schmeling
     Peter C. Lemon

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
The authors extend our thanks to the following who granted personal interviews for this work
: Roger Donlon (MOH), Robin Moore, Don Bendell, Jimmy Stanford, Vince Yrineo, Sammy L. Davis (MOH), Linda Alvarado, Karen Offutt, Lieutenant General Carol Mutter, Sir Edward Artis, General Colin L. Powell, Katharine Houghton, Adrian Cronauer, Jan Scruggs, Delbert Schmeling, and Peter Lemon (MOH).
Our thanks to the staff of the following who either wrote or allowed reprint of their own works for this book: Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, Don Bendell, Congressman Sam Farr, Congressman Thomas Petri, Congressman Mike Honda, Congressman Jim Walsh, Governor Jim Doyle, and Scott Baron.
Our special thanks also to the staff of the following who provided information and fact-checked the chapters related to their subject: Staff of Senator John Kerry, Staff of (then) Senator Hillary Clinton, Staff of Senator Jim Webb
A SPECIAL THANKS also to Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard for his assistance in writing and editing the entire section on the Role of the Sexes.

 

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