On this Memorial Day, I am reprinting a column I wrote for the Daily Inter Lake in June 2016 that reflected on the large debt we owe to the veterans who served in Vietnam, including those like my cousin Frank Andrisano who didn’t make it home. Please join me in saying a prayer today for those whom we have lost and for those who remain. May they never be forgotten.
Vietnam heroes straddled two worlds with honor
June 12, 2016
By Frank Miele/Daily Inter Lake
The ceremony in Kalispell earlier this month that saw roughly 200 local Vietnam War veterans receive lapel pins for their service in the war was a heartfelt reminder of the sacrifice and bravery of our military in even the most trying of circumstances.
Rep. Ryan Zinke, himself a veteran of service in the Iraq War and a Navy SEAL commander, thanked each veteran or their families for their service. Tim Grattan, who later would become the developer of Grouse Mountain Lodge, told the audience of his experiences in South Vietnam first as a military adviser in 1960 and eventually in the middle of a full-blown war through 1967.
He told of leaving one America at the beginning of his service — an America still proud of preserving freedom in World War II — and returning to an entirely different America in the late 1960s in the middle of the cultural revolution known as the anti-war movement.
“We had no way of knowing the whole mood of the country by the late ’60s had changed. I had friends spit on in the airport as they returned,” Grattan recalled.
Zinke spoke of being too young to serve in Vietnam, but still recognizing the impact it had on him and everyone because “it came into every living room with Walter Cronkite.”
I’m six years older than Rep. Zinke, and I remember well the despair of Cronkite when he journeyed to Vietnam in 1968 and saw the devastating effects of the Tet Offensive, telling his CBS Evening News audience, “it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”
I was a news junkie even then, and would flip between Cronkite and the Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC, to learn the latest from Vietnam and from the Capitol. In ’68 I yearned with the rest of the nation for a better future with Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and then had my hopes dashed by their murders. It was a horrible decade that planted the seeds for our nation’s decline in so many ways.
The shift from my boyhood memories of watching Veterans Day parades celebrating the heroes of World War II and the doughboys of World War I to the sickening experiences mentioned by Grattan that were experienced by our military heroes who returned to catcalls during my teen-age years is too heartbreaking to be contemplated without shame and tears.
Yet the human toll of Vietnam — a war that could not be adequately explained to the public — understandably turned much of the public against the government and unfortunately against the military as well.
I was too young to be drafted and never seriously contemplated enlisting even though the Vietnam War was dragging to a close when I graduated from high school in 1973. My older brother too had avoided the draft when his lottery number in 1970 had proved to be considerably higher than the last number called that year.
But my family, like so many others, was touched in a devastating way by Vietnam. One of my indelible memories is my mother breaking down in tears when she heard that her godson and cousin Frank Andrisano Jr., who had enlisted in the Marines right out of high school, had been killed in action. I was just 12 in November 1967, and I hardly knew the older Frank at all, but I remembered seeing him at a family gathering in New Jersey when he was in uniform and probably soon to be shipped oversees. All I knew was that my mother loved him and her heart was broken. You never forget that kind of pain.
Frank was more than just a family hero. According to the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial (http://www.njvvmf.org/faces/bio/1940), he was awarded the Navy Medal of Valor “for acts of bravery that saved several men in his outfit during an attack by the Viet Cong near the village of Thanh Hieu in Quand Province on March 5, 1967.” That was just two months after the 19-year-old had arrived “in country,” but there was no grace period to protect our young soldiers from the enemy.
According to his Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” citation, “Private First Class Frank Andrisano exposed himself to continuous Viet Cong fire” to assist in guiding not just one but two medical helicopter evacuations into a zone that was under heavy fire. “Throughout the vicious fire fight, he displayed exceptional professional ability and initiative and was instrumental in saving the lives of several Marines.”
Heroism and courage unfortunately do not come with a shield, and it was just eight months later on Nov. 19, 1967, that this young man, by then a corporal, was killed in action while his patrol was under heavy fire in Quang Ngai, Vietnam.
My mother didn’t understand it, and I suppose neither do I, but I suspect Tim Grattan does, along with the thousands of men and women who served alongside them in Vietnam. They answered the call of duty. Although today that is famously the name of a video game, it meant something much more then to men such as my cousin Frank and to Tim Grattan and to an entire generation. Let us honor them all by never forgetting their sacrifice.
Frank Miele writes from Kalispell, Montana, at www.HeartlandDiaryUSA.com and is a columnist at Real Clear Politics. My new book is “The Media Matrix: What If Everything You Know Is Fake.” To support my work, please consider buying “The Media Matrix” or my “Why We Needed Trump” trilogy, which documents the downward spiral of the USA before Trump arrived on the scene. The books are available at Amazon in paperback or Kindle editions. Go here for a free sample: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/sitb/B07PDQBJM4