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INSIDE TRACK ON WORLD NEWS
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis
A GREAT AMERICAN HERO: MAJ. GEN. KEITH WARECopyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005
September 23, 2005
MIAMI - This is the remarkable story of how a soldier that I never met, Major General Keith Lincoln Ware, very likely saved my life and those of 200 of my buddies during the Vietnam War.
In 1967, as the war raged, I enlisted in the US Army an infantryman because I believed -and still do all male citizens have the duty to serve their nation in wartime.
I had been accepted at Cambridge University to do a PhD in history, and could have avoided military service. But that, I felt, was dishonorable - a view not shared by Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.
Regular readers of my columns may be surprised to learn I supported the Vietnam War when I have been so vocal at opposing the Iraq War.
At the time, back in the 1960s, we truly believed that advancing communism would engulf all of Southeast Asia unless America intervened in South Vietnam. The US campaign in Vietnam was a genuine strategic attempt to blunt a perceived Soviet-Chinese threat to Americas security.
Vietnam turned out to be a disaster based on faulty information, but our hearts were in the right place. Iraq, by contrast, is a colonial war, based on a farrago of lies, that was launched to grab oil and strengthen Israel. We knew Iraq was wrong from day one.
I was based at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, and headed to officers school, when President Lyndon Johnson announced the US would seek a negotiated settlement instead of military victory in Vietnam. Incensed at this no-win policy, I organized a protest by 200 fellow officer candidates. We renounced our future commissions.
Punishment came swiftly. All of us were transferred to units or positions with extremely heavy casualties. A sergeant confided, `boy, they sending you all off to Nam to be killed for sure.
As ringleader, I received special attention: transfer to the Pioneers of the Combat Engineers at bleak Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. This units thankless job in Vietnam was to rappel down ropes from helicopters under fire into thick jungle, clear mines and booby traps, blast landing zones with high explosives, kill all enemy there, and set up perimeter defenses so the infantry could land.
Unit casualties were over 60%. `Do one full tour of duty, a vet told me, `and your chance of survival is zip.
We were shipping out to `Nam in six days. Since all the men in my unit were functionally illiterate hillbillies from the Ozarks, I was made company clerk. As a native New Yorker, I felt on a different planet in deepest Missouri.
Desperate that my Ft. Dix friends were being sent to their deaths, I got onto the Armys internal phone system and called the Pentagon in Washington.
`This is Private Margolis calling from Ft. Leonard Wood. I'd like to speak with the Army Chief of Staff, please.'
He was unavailable, but somehow the Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Keith L. Ware took a call from a mere private. Only in America.
I didn't know it at the time, but I had reached probably the finest officer in the US Army. Ware had won the US Congressional Medal of Honor for storming a fortified German hilltop position at Sigolsheim, Alsace, in 1944, killing or capturing a score of enemy soldiers and knocking out four machine guns. Ware, a native of Denver, Colorado, was then a Lt. Col. in the 15th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Division.
Ware was close friends with another famed war hero in his unit, Audie Murphy. This legendary fighter saved ware's life during a violent engagement in France and went on, after the war, to become a movie star. Both friends won the Silver Star for bravery.
`General, I told Ware, `we are all patriots. We enlisted to fight for our country. We just want this war won. I was responsible for our protest. Punish, me but please save my friends.
Ware listened patiently, then replied, `Son, leave it to me.'
Two mornings later I was summoned to breakfast with the Lt. General commanding Ft. Leonard Woods 40,000 soldiers. `Private Margolis, you have some powerful friends in Washington, he said. `Gen. Ware called me and said, ``those boys have been screwed - now fix it!'
He told me all my buddies were being transferred back to regular units. I was ordered to report to Massachusetts, where I ended up teaching courses on strategy and military history to majors, colonels and generals, and running command briefings at the Pentagon.
I never got to thank Gen. Ware. Soon after, he went to Vietnam to command the 1st Infantry Division, the famed Big Red One.
During the 1968 Tet Offensive, Ware organized and brilliantly led the successful defense of Saigon, crushing the Viet Congs elite units. Always modest, he credited the South Vietnamese Army with his victory. The fight for Saigon was one of the most difficult combat missions a general could face a swirling, confused, chaotic series of violent engagements in a dense urban area. Ware pulled it off with consummate skill.
On 13 Sept, 1968, Gen. Ware was leading his 1st Div in battle along the Cambodian border near An Loc when his helicopter was shot down, killing all aboard. He was the highest ranking American officer killed in the Vietnam War.
On this 37th anniversary of his death in combat, I salute the memory of this gallant soldier and great American hero.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2005
To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here
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