After Bush's Iraq speech, area veterans dispute Vietnam analogy
But they are cautious about withdrawing troops

By Lou Michel - News Staff Reporter
Updated: 08/23/07 7:48 AM

President Bush’s analogy between a withdrawal from Iraq and what happened in Vietnam more than 30 years ago isn’t finding many sympathetic ears among local veterans.

But a Vietnamese man whose family found a home in Buffalo and two local veterans support the president’s position that a hasty departure could lead to deadly consequences. Even veterans who dislike Bush’s unpopular war see a need for caution.

The remarks, some of them harsh, came in response to Bush’s speech Wednesday in Kansas City, Mo., to members of the Veterans of Foreign War.

“I think he took us to the wrong war and he lied about the reasons we went there. He said it was all about al Qaida, and it wasn’t. Now it is, but they weren’t there until he sent us there,” said Mike Heiman, a 58-year-old Lockport resident who began his 13-month stint in Vietnam as a Marine in 1968. “I think we should get out of there.”

Another veteran, though, sees dire consequences from a quick withdrawal.

“I think the president is exactly right. If you look at the results of our actions in Vietnam after our withdrawal, millions died in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia,” said Francis M. Malczynski, 63, a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam era.

But those were kind words compared with what other Buffalo Niagara veterans had to say about the speech.

“He makes me throw up. Here’s the thing: All these past comparisons don’t have any relevancy to the situation today,” said Jerry McDonough, a Korean War Army veteran who took aim at Bush’s efforts to use other Asian wars to make a case for staying in Iraq.

“With Korea, right or wrong, at least we went under the auspices of the United Nations. I fought alongside not only Korean troops, but Turkish, Canadian, British and Australian troops. It was part of the Cold War. It was a testing point of American will to fight communism,” McDonough said.

Before serving in Korea, the 78-year-old Niagara County vet said, he served in Japan after World War II.

“Japan was one unified country, and [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur ran it just like he’d run a dictatorship, and the Japanese by and large were educated. You can’t contrast that with the tribal situations of Iraq,” McDonough said.

Stephen T. Banko III, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran from Buffalo, said Bush’s speech put him in mind of another famous World War II general, George Patton, and the nickname his troops bestowed on him.

“ ‘Blood and Guts´ — his guts, our blood,” Banko said. “That’s exactly what Bush fails to realize. The sacrifice inherent in Vietnam cost us 58,000 American lives, 300,000 Americans seriously wounded, countless others emotionally destroyed, and still after 12 years of fighting alongside the South Vietnamese, they were unable to stand up for themselves.”

How many American lives, Banko asked, will have to be lost until Iraq is stable — if ever?

“The real insult to Vietnam veterans accrues from somebody [Bush] who didn’t see fit to fight but seems more than capable of defining what our sacrifice was all about,” Banko said. “I have seen too many recent amputees in airports . . . for me to be concerned about anything except getting our troops out of harm’s way.”

In contrast, Minh Tran, an immigrant from South Vietnam and longtime member of the local Vietnamese community, spoke with deep respect for the president and the U.S. government — even if he still does not understand the motivation for the war fought in his native land.

“But at this time, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Iran, there are terrorists. It’s very dangerous,” said Tran, a Buffalo businessman. “You have to support the government. Let them do whatever they want to do. They are intelligent. They know what is wrong and what is right.”

Unlike the Vietnam War, he said, terrorists in Iraq have global reach and can hurt Americans on their home soil.

Many local Vietnamese immigrants, especially those who are older, lost their homeland when South Vietnam fell, Tran said, so they support government efforts to do whatever necessary to keep the United States safe and secure.

George Jones, a Korean War veteran who served in the Navy from 1951 to 1964, said the United States has a responsibility to finish the job it started in Iraq.

“It would be a bad thing to pull out. My feelings are that we got into a mess, but we’ve got to clean it up,” said Jones, a supporter of the president’s Vietnam comparison and military policies.

“To a degree, there are parallels to the point you have inner strife, which we did have with the South Vietnamese, as well as the Viet Cong,” he said. “We had some support from Vietnamese. We never knew who the enemy was going to be. You basically have the same thing going on right now in Iraq. We can’t possibly win this thing unless we get the support of the Iraqis themselves.”

Leonard Marciniak, who serves as patriotic officer for Pvt. Leonard Post Jr. Post 6251, VFW, in Cheektowaga, said Bush took on too much with the Iraq War.

“I’m a Korean and Vietnam veteran and a veteran of the Bay of Pigs. In my opinion, we should have never put our nose [in Iraq]. . . . There’s no way we can save the world. We can’t go over and teach other people how to run their countries,” Marciniak said.

Tim Leary, a Vietnam veteran and commander of Hamburg Township Post 1419, VFW, in Lake View, said a cautious withdrawal is necessary.

“My daughter was over there when it first started; she was a Marine,” Leary said. “Everything was predicated on lies. If push came to shove, I’d say, put them all [U.S. troops] in Kuwait and see what happens. Then if things don’t work, then go back.”