Tag Archives: Vietnam War

Vietnam And Modern Memory

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A member of the CIA helps evacuees up a ladder onto an Air America helicopter on the roof of 22 Gia Long Street April 29, 1975, shortly before Saigon fell to advancing North Vietnamese troops.

MILITARY TIMES By Edward F. Palm

Vietnam today is what we had tried to make it: a free-market consumer society. The tragedy of it is that over 58,000 Americans and some 2 million Vietnamese had to die just so that Vietnam could get there on its own timetable rather than ours.

The great majority of us served honorably and proved ourselves to be better than the muddle-headed politicians who had sent us. That’s something to be proud of.

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“Back in the mid-80s, an Army officer of my acquaintance succinctly summed up the mood of the post-Vietnam military: “It’s OK to be a Vietnam veteran in today’s military,” he observed, “so long as you don’t dwell on it or refer back to it.”

He was right. He had intuited the largely unspoken, but widely understood, politically correct attitude toward our humiliating defeat. Vietnam had been an aberration, the kind of war we would never fight again. And the less said about it, the better.

Ironically, this same spirit of denial and revision has spread to American society in general in recent years. It’s OK to be a Vietnam veteran in today’s America, so long as you remember that war the way President Reagan portrayed it, as a “noble crusade,” and so long as you profess utter admiration for our armed forces and unwavering support for our current crusades.

Thursday, April 30, marked the 45th anniversary of the fall of Saigon — and the end of our Vietnam misadventure. The Vietnam War I remember, and later studied, was anything but a “noble crusade.” It was a profoundly existential experience. Survival was the only moral touchstone, and getting through to our rotation tour dates the only goal we cared about. All the Marines I knew “in country” were profoundly skeptical of the official rationales for why we were there and increasingly embittered by the reluctance of the South Vietnamese to fight their own war.

My fellow Vietnam veterans seem to have forgotten how traumatized we were about all this. We have been co-opted, bought off with belated handshakes and glib expressions of gratitude. We have forgotten what really occasioned all the bitterness and fueled the post-traumatic stress of our generation.

It wasn’t that the country failed to welcome us home or to honor our service with parades. It was the discovery that our leaders had lied to us about the nature and the necessity of the war and that the conduct of the war put the lie to the ideals and values in which we had all been raised to believe.

Would that we all knew then what we know now. Ho Chi Minh was first and foremost a nationalist. Early on, he had appealed to us to help dissuade France from reclaiming its former colony at the end of World War II. But we needed France’s help in blocking communist expansion in Europe, and the ensuing Cold War clouded our judgment. We feared falling dominoes. By 1950, we were mired in Korea and bankrolling France’s Indochina War. With the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, we took over. We sent in intelligence operatives to subvert the Geneva Accords, especially the plebiscite that would have reunited North and South Vietnam under whichever government the majority chose. Having defeated the French, Ho Chi Minh was the hands-down favorite to win. The South Vietnamese president we had installed, Ngo Dinh Diem, was almost as alien to his own people as we were. Ho Chi Minh had cornered the market on Vietnamese nationalism, and out in the countryside, most of the people seemed to want no part of what we were selling.

What’s worse, once we had taken over in our own right, we began to take that indifference personally. Contrary to popular belief, we weren’t forced to fight with one hand tied behind our back. We unleashed a greater tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than we did in all of World War II. We declared free-fire zones. We defoliated large areas with Agent Orange. We made liberal use of close-air support and indirect fire weapons with little regard for the so-called “collateral damage” such weapons inevitably inflict.

Racists that we were, we dehumanized the Vietnamese as “gooks” and “slopes.” Unable to distinguish friend from foe, we viewed them all as potential threats. Hence, the worst atrocity of the war — the My Lai Massacre. Hell hath no fury like a country scorned, especially one that considers itself to be exceptional and eminently deserving of admiration and emulation.

This is not to say that, because we were wrong, the other side was wholly righteous. They resorted to terror. They mistreated our POWs. They were hardly magnanimous in victory. But the irony is that we seem to have won after all.

So how then should those of us who served in Vietnam feel about participating in such an unnecessary and misguided war? While so many of our contemporaries sat in self-indulgent safety and comfort, we put ourselves on the line. Some of us went in believing. Others suspended judgment or even went against our better judgment. But the great majority of us served honorably and proved ourselves to be better than the muddle-headed politicians who had sent us. That’s something to be proud of.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/commentary/2020/04/30/vietnam-and-modern-memory/

Edward Palm

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A native of New Castle, Delaware, Edward Palm served as an enlisted Marine with the Combined Action Program in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Returning to the Marine Corps in later life, Palm served as the Marine Officer Instructor with the NROTC unit at University of California, Berkeley and taught English at the Naval Academy before retiring as a major in 1993. His civilian academic career included appointments as a tenured professor and college dean. He now lives in Forest, Virginia. Contact Ed Palm at majorpalm@gmail.com

The Danger of Fibbing Our Way Into War

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“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)

Presidents seem to have an especially troublesome time with the truth when it comes to showing toughness……U.S. military response to an imaginary attack in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam in 1964.

……. Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction to justify his 2003 invasion of Iraq. …the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani shortly after the general landed at the Baghdad airport in neighboring Iraq on January 3.

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“Many recall Winston Churchill’s statement on the need to sometimes fudge facts. “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies,” he told Josef Stalin on the British prime minister’s 69th birthday in 1943.

What folks may not know is where he uttered those words: Iran.

Presidential rhetoric matters. And love him or loathe him, President Donald Trump isn’t bosom buddies with the truth. In today’s political environment, a lot of what used to be viewed as disqualifying for a president to say has been upended by our 45th. But one bright shining line should remain: The words he speaks as commander-in-chief should be true.

Trump’s boasting has highlighted a novice’s emphasis on weapons—shiny hardware—rather than on “software”—the troops and the training that are arguably more important.

The lives of Americans in uniform are too precious, and the nation’s credibility too important, to be frittered away by a president playing loose with the truth in a pursuit of political advantage or simply out of ignorance. Yet that is what is happening, and nowhere is that more clear than in the recent fracas with Iran.

Presidents seem to have an especially troublesome time with the truth when it comes to showing toughness. President Lyndon B. Johnson played loose with it when he pushed for a U.S. military response to an imaginary attack in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam in 1964. President George W. Bush exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction to justify his 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Trump fired a fusillade of fibs in the wake of his decision to order the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani shortly after the general landed at the Baghdad airport in neighboring Iraq on January 3. He seemed to exaggerate the imminence of the threat Soleimani posed (the U.S. had put him on a kill list last June), and declared the Iranian general had been ready to attack four unidentified U.S. embassies. There’s no doubt that Soleimani was a bad actor, with his Quds force responsible for sowing terror across the Middle East and for killing Americans. There’s no doubt that the region, and the world, is better off without him. But Trump’s faux facts surrounding the killing are dangerous because they could let Washington and Tehran stumble into a war. There’s a reason President Teddy Roosevelt said that it’s best to speak softly and carry a big stick.”

After nearly 20 years of winless wars following 9/11, and a Pentagon budget that is well above the Cold War average, U.S. national security spending has never been a more target-rich environment. That is why the Project On Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information has launched The Bunker, a precision-guided e-newsletter targeting your inbox most every week.Sign Up

Churchillian lies only work when they are salted among truths. But Trump’s fabrications are more routine than rare. According to the Washington Post, Trump has made more than 16,000 false or misleading statements since taking office. That’s an average of about 15 a day, seven days a week.

Make no mistake about it, Soleimani’s death was a good thing. I well remember the pain felt by U.S. troops following their invasion of Iraq when insurgents’ crude roadside bombs were replaced with so-called “explosively formed penetrators” developed by Iran that pierced armor and killed the soldiers inside. But baiting a terrorist, or his sponsor, carries its own risk. Most critically, it means that if the terrorist—and Soleimani was a terrorist in Iranian government garb—calls Trump’s bluff, Trump will be forced to back up his bluster with young American blood.

In an apparent effort to discourage Iran from taking action after Soleimani’s death, Trump warned that the U.S. was primed to retaliate bigly if Iran retaliated. “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World!” Trump tweeted January 5, two days after a pair of Hellfire missiles took Soleimani out. “If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way … and without hesitation!” But his spending estimate was a five-fold whopper. The Trump administration has spent “only” about $400 billion on new military hardware (the rest has paid for more boring items like troops, training, beans, and boots).

Even when he’s plainly wrong, the president dodges. After Iran responded to Soleimani’s death with a January 8 missile barrage aimed at U.S. bases in Iraq, the president declared that “no Americans were harmed.” It turns out, there were delayed diagnoses in at least 64 U.S. military personnel of traumatic brain injuries resulting from the missiles’ warheads that had detonated nearby. Instead of acknowledging those injuries, the president minimized TBIs—the signature, and invisible, wound suffered by U.S. troops in the post-9/11 wars—as “headaches.” His comments triggered ire from veterans and veterans’ organizations trying to help the nearly half-million U.S. troops diagnosed with brain injuries since 2000.

(Source: @realDonaldTrump on Twitter)

As U.S. skepticism surrounding the wisdom of the Soleimani hit mounted, Trump hyped the imminent threat the Iranian general posed to U.S. facilities and personnel. “I can reveal I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” he told Fox News January 10, in a double-weasel-worded bank shot. Unfortunately, reporting has shown no one else—not the U.S. diplomats in any embassies nor Secretary of Defense Mark Esper—was aware of the plot.

It contributed to a sense of chaos inside the U.S. government as everyone from cabinet officers to junior military officers struggled to retroactively jury-rig explanations for the verbal hand grenades the commander-in-chief was tossing their way. His enablers in government pivoted to praising the U.S. intelligence about Soleimani in general, and not the harder-edged claims about timing and targets.

(Source: @realDonaldTrump on Twitter)

The president’s claim quickly foundered on the facts. On January 13, three days after making it, Trump dismissed it all as a kerfuffle ginned up by “the Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners.” After all, “it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!” he tweeted in reference to Soleimani.

It was as if Emily Litella of 1970s-era Saturday Night Live fame were sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, looking straight into the camera. “Never mind,” Litella, played by Gilda Radner, would chirpily say after screwing up something markedly less important than war and peace.

No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, this kind of thing matters. U.S. relations with nations in the Middle East have suffered following its 2003 invasion of Iraq. And with scant credibility at home or abroad, Trump has no reservoir of truth to draw on to reassure the American public and nervous allies that he has anything more than a wing-it strategy.

Trump’s boasting has highlighted a novice’s emphasis on weapons—shiny hardware—rather than on “software”—the troops and the training that are arguably more important. “The quality of military personnel is what matters most in any military force,” the Army said in a 1991 report in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, the last time the U.S. military could claim a clear-cut victory. “Weapons are useless unless deployed in the hands of capable and well-trained people.”

On Christmas Eve, during the traditional presidential telephone calls to troops far from home, Trump told an Air Force officer that “you didn’t have brand new airplanes” until Trump occupied the White House. “You were not doing well,” he said, “And now you have all brand new.”

(Source: Congressional Budget Office, “The Cost of Replacing the Department of Defense’s Current Aviation Fleet,” page 2.)

Well, not quite. “The Army’s and the Department of the Navy’s aviation fleets are relatively new, but the Air Force operates many older aircraft,” the Congressional Budget Office noted in a January 15 report. “On average, the Army’s aircraft are 14 years old, and the Department of the Navy’s are 16 years old; the Air Force’s aircraft, on average, are 28 years old.”

The Air Force Times, an independent newspaper, reported last summer that the readiness of Air Force aircraft slipped to its lowest level in at least six years in 2018. In 2012—midway through Barack Obama’s tenure as president—77.9%of aircraft were ready to fly. By 2017—Trump’s first year in office—that figure had fallen to 71.3%. And in 2018 it had dipped to 69.97%. And fraying readiness has led to a spate of deadly military accidents.

What’s really depressing about Trump’s arms-length relationship with the truth is that he turbocharges the military-industrial complex’s self-licking ice-cream cone reflex. In the wake of Soleimani’s death, calls arose for boosting defense spending, which already tops the Cold War average. Hawkish cheerleaders for military action were echoing that line to their cable TV audiences, without revealing their lucrative alliances with defense contractors.

The illusion in all this chest-thumping and wallet-pumping is that money can buy victory. But the hubris wrought by fat military budgets has too often let the U.S. sleepwalk into war. The nation believes what the politicians and generals say, and what defense-contractor brochures declare (for example, per Trump: “We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World!”).

That’s especially the case when Congress fails to meet its obligation to debate, and vote on, the wisdom of declaring war. Restoring that constitutional duty would do two things: we’d go to war far less and we’d prevail far more. Too often, war has become a White House reflex, with Congress and the public serving as not-so-innocent bystanders. Yet the nation tends to become numb to such conflicts after a month or two, in part because its advice was never sought. That lets the Pentagon wage war so long as U.S. casualties are minimal.

What’s amazing about Trump’s Iran over-reaching is that it wasn’t necessary, given Soleimani’s key role in killing hundreds of U.S. troops. But instead of sticking to facts, the president chose fiction.

It was just such slippery language that greased the skids to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on the false claim that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

We need to take care that Trump’s all-too-real weapons of mass delusion don’t trigger another one.

Center for Defense Information

The Center for Defense Information at POGO aims to secure far more effective and ethical military forces at significantly lower cost.”

https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/01/the-danger-of-fibbing-our-way-into-war/

Like Post Vietnam – US Army Is Trying to Bury the Lessons of the Iraq War

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“DEFENSE ONE”
BY FRANK SOBCHAKCO-AUTHOR, “THE U.S. ARMY IN THE IRAQ WAR”

“Similar to how the Pentagon abandoned its doctrine of fighting counterinsurgencies and irregular conflicts in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, today’s military has shifted away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By scuttling plans to help its leaders understand what went wrong, the service is turning a blind eye to insights of enduring relevance.”

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“U.S. troops are still in Iraq — not to mention Syria, Afghanistan, and various African countries — to ward off or put down insurgencies. Within the national security apparatus, however, the Iraq War is old news.  

As has been explained to me by senior officers who are still on active duty, the conventional wisdom today is that our military has moved on — and in an odd redux, they note that we have returned to the philosophy of 1973.

Instead of preparing to fight insurgents and guerrillas, our security establishment has refocused almost exclusively on the realm of great power conflict — in their parlance, peer or near-peer competitors such as Russia or China. 

This trend away from “small wars” has been so intense that it contributed to Army’s resistance to publishing its own Iraq War Study, a project that I helped lead to its conclusion in 2016. During one of the periods that the Army was withholding publication of the completed manuscripts, a colonel in the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army’s office told me that the opposition was occurring because a study on the Iraq War did not fit the official narrative of the Army “returning to decisive action,” the jargon for “fighting other great powers like Russia with tanks, artillery, and airstrikes.” In January, the study’s two volumes were at last published online. But as a result of this ideological realignment, funds that had been allocated to spread the war’s lessons — to publish hard copies of the Iraq War Study, distribute them across the Army, and hold professional development sessions to foster discussion in the officer corps — were reallocated and never replaced. 

Instead of preparing to fight insurgents and guerrillas, our security establishment has refocused almost exclusively on the realm of great power conflict — in their parlance, peer or near-peer competitors such as Russia or China. 

This trend away from “small wars” has been so intense that it contributed to Army’s resistance to publishing its own Iraq War Study, a project that I helped lead to its conclusion in 2016. During one of the periods that the Army was withholding publication of the completed manuscripts, a colonel in the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army’s office told me that the opposition was occurring because a study on the Iraq War did not fit the official narrative of the Army “returning to decisive action,” the jargon for “fighting other great powers like Russia with tanks, artillery, and airstrikes.” In January, the study’s two volumes were at last published online. But as a result of this ideological realignment, funds that had been allocated to spread the war’s lessons — to publish hard copies of the Iraq War Study, distribute them across the Army, and hold professional development sessions to foster discussion in the officer corps — were reallocated and never replaced. 

Such resistance is deeply unsettling. The Operation Iraqi Freedom Study Group was originally commissioned because some of the Army’s senior leaders believed that a failure to learn the lessons of the Vietnam War had led us to repeat the errors of that conflict in Iraq. Army efforts to investigate what went wrong in Vietnam were haphazard and the limited studies that it commissioned were incomplete and uncritical. Lives were lost and funds were wasted re-learning the lessons of guerrilla and irregular warfare as a result of that omission, providing a difficult lesson on the importance of introspection. We cannot afford to make the same mistake again.

While we do not know whether our next war will be of the same category that we fought in Iraq, it would be folly to expunge all of its lessons. As the world continues to migrate to cities and pressures from failed or failing states push populations toward armed insurrection, it is quite possible that our next conflict could be another irregular war fought against guerrillas and insurgents. Even if we do end up facing a peer or near-peer competitor as the defense establishment is predicting, many of the lessons of the Iraq War still ring true. If we find ourselves facing such a foe, it would be highly likely that our opponents would fight us with a blend of conventional warfare—using ships, tanks, and warplanes—as well as with irregular tactics such as we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blending both types of warfare, which has been called “hybrid warfare” or “conflict in the grey zone” enables our enemies to counter some of our conventional advantages asymmetrically, and challenge us symmetrically with forces that are on par with our capabilities. The use of paramilitaries or militias rather than uniformed soldiers, ambushing logistics convoys with improvised explosive devices, and hiding soldiers and resources amongst the civilian population- all staples of the Iraq conflict- are tactics that have also been used by Russia and other states because they make attribution and retaliation more difficult. It would be a dangerous proposition to hope that nation-state competitors we face in the future have not studied the war in Iraq and adapted their tactics. 

We should not ignore our failures in Iraq out of embarrassment or shame. Rather than repeat the error of not learning from our mistakes after the Vietnam War, we should learn from the conflict in Iraq and capture those lessons so that our armed forces are capable of responding to a variety of threats and conflicts. Restoring the original distribution and dissemination plan for the Iraq War study would go far in communicating the importance of assimilating, discussing, and debating the lessons of a conflict whose consequences we will have to endure for a long time. Learning hard lessons and internalizing them is what our leaders owe to the members of our military as well as the citizens of our country.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Frank Sobchak is a PhD candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel who co-authored “The U.S. Army in the Iraq War,” the U.S. government’s longest and most detailed study of the Iraq conflict

https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/03/us-army-trying-bury-lessons-iraq-war/155403/

On Our Nations’s Birthday – What Lies Beneath the Enduring Stalemate in Afghanistan?

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Afghanistan is Vietnam Revisited  – We have forgotten: 

  •  The Lesson of 58,000 Dead U.S. Soldiers in Southeast Asia 
  • Similar Sacrifices Today By Our Volunteer Military
  • Pointless Warfare Objectives Keeping the Arms Companies Rich and Exponentially Deepening our National Debt 

Stalemate in Afghanistan

“STRATFOR WORLD VIEW”

“Almost 17 years after the start of the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency rages on with no end in sight.

And despite the launch last summer of a new strategy and a considerable ramp-up in air power, the United States appears no closer to breaking the stalemate.”


“The central government in Kabul continues to control Afghanistan’s urban areas and the Taliban exerts influence over wide swaths of the countryside. Foreign support and the failure of the Afghan state are central to the continued endurance of the Afghan insurgency. Another key element — often overlooked — is the Taliban’s success in establishing deep ties within Afghanistan’s rural social fabric.

Foreign Support for the Taliban

The Taliban have benefited greatly from foreign support over the course of the Afghan war. In particular, the Taliban’s relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency has allowed the insurgency to develop a relative sanctuary within Pakistan where it could recuperate and regenerate and from where certain leadership elements of the Taliban continue to direct parts of the war effort. Recently, there also has been considerable evidence that factions of the Taliban are receiving substantial assistance from Iran and Russia. Assistance from Iran has likely played a role in facilitating the Taliban’s recent gains in western Afghanistan, particularly in Farah province. The Taliban, through their links to the outside world, have also been able to import everything from fertilizer for their improvised explosive devices to night vision gear, which has enabled them to conduct a growing number of nighttime operations.

The National Unity Government between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, ridden with corruption and mismanagement, has also failed to provide rural Afghans an enticing enough alternative to the Taliban. Corruption exacerbates the systemic problems besetting the central government in Kabul, which include not only a heavy reliance on external sources of funding but also the historic difficulty of bringing the mountainous and demographically diverse country under effective central rule. Afghanistan’s fragmentation affects the Taliban, too. The movement is broken into different factions, which greatly complicates peace negotiation efforts.”

https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/what-lies-beneath-enduring-stalemate-afghanistan

 

 

 

 

Lessons of Vietnam Ignored – Air Strikes in Iraq and Syria Also Ineffective

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vietnam_bombing_1Vietnam

“FUTURITY –  Research News from Top Universities”

“CORNELL (US) — The ineffective and wrongheaded strategy of aerial bombings by U.S. allied forces during the Vietnam War was largely responsible for neutral citizens aligning with the Viet Cong.

“Our findings are of clear political importance to the American military and other counterinsurgency operations, but they’re also consistent with my personal beliefs about what makes war just or unjust. Killing civilians is unjust, but our research shows that it is also bad strategy.”

http://www.futurity.org/viet-cong-profited-from-u-s-bombings/

Iraq and Syria

“DEFENSE ONE”

“While more than 10,000 ISIS fighters are said to have been killed by airstrikes so far, the Iraq and Syrian turf where ISIS fighters roam has nevertheless grown in the past 10 months.

Take a look for yourself in the video below.”

A Rembrance

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12 Names on a Wall in Washington D.C. Forgotten By Many But Not By Me

Memorial Day  – 25 May 2015

To those who died serving USAECAV  Countrywide 

  Database of the 58,195 Names on The Wall in Wash,D.C. This is the most accurate database online.

Ghosts of Vietnam: Reports of Spitting on Veterans

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“WASHINGTON POST”

Veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were staying at the Laketown Wharf resort in Panama City during a recent retreat when they and the American flag allegedly were urinated on by fraternity brothers also staying there for spring break.

One of the veterans also reported that he and his service dog were spat upon — an act that particularly hearkens back to the Vietnam War, when troops said they were deeply hurt and outraged that anti-war protesters did so.

Linda Cope, the founder of Warrior Beach Retreat, told reporters this week that the college students also threw marshmallows at the veterans’ cars and broke flags off their vehicles.

The executive director of the fraternity involved, Zeta Beta Tau, released a statement Thursday saying that the organization is aware of the reports, and said “there is no doubt that some of our members engaged in ugly and unacceptable behavior.” Activities at two chapters, the University of Florida and Emory University, have been suspended while an investigation continues. Three members of the fraternity already have been expelled.

“On behalf of our entire organization, I want to apologize to veterans, both those who were in Panama City Beach, and those who have felt the pain from afar, as well as to their families and all who support the Warrior Beach Retreat and had worked to make it a positive and meaningful occasion for attendees,” said the fraternity’s executive director, Laurence Bolotin. “I am deeply saddened that the actions of our members ruined this special event and failed to show the respect our military and their families so deserve.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/04/24/ghosts-of-vietnam-fraternity-brothers-expelled-after-reports-of-spitting-on-veterans/