Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

April 18, 2012

More on Garwood and the late '60s

Pat Smith
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Last week's column ended with Lyndon Johnson, President; Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense; and Robert Kennedy, U.S. Senator from New York.

Draft calls soon doubled to more than 40,000 men per month. Decatur County's Robert Garwood, with less than two weeks to go before returning to the States, was captured by the Viet Kong in Vietnam in September 1965. His family was informed Oct. 2, 1965 that he was missing.

Kennedy entered the race for President on March 3, 1968, came to Decatur County in May and was killed June 5, 1968, one of only two sitting United States Senators to be assassinated.

Huey Long, who married a Decatur County native, was the other one.

The day after his inauguration, President Carter followed through on a campaign promise and granted a Presidential pardon to everyone who had avoided the draft during the Vietnam War by burning their draft card, not registering or by traveling abroad. The government gave up the right forever to prosecute those draft dodgers.

In 1971, Vietnam veteran John Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying: We watched the U.S. falsification of body counts. We listened when told the back of the enemy was about to break. We watched while men charged up hills because a general said that hill must be taken, and after losing one platoon or two platoons they marched away leaving it for the reoccupation by the North Vietnamese. We couldn't lose, we couldn't retreat, and it didn't matter how many American bodies were lost to prove that point.

Veterans, former POWs and intelligence officials had been insisting that more POWs were left in Vietnam. The government had assured the American public that, "There are no POWs left behind or concealed in Vietnam." In 1979, nearly 14 years after being captured, Garwood saw a non Vietnamese man at a hotel, furtively passed a note to him telling of his plight and that he wanted to come home.

Government officials were disturbed when Garwood told the world there are still prisoners of war in Vietnam. It was reported that North Vietnam had held some soldiers intending to trade them for reparations which didn't come. Later, a CBS documentary claimed that General Westmoreland had deliberately misled the Pentagon and public. He sued but lost.

Jim Small loved practical jokes but his innate wisdom and ability as a reporter was evident from the beginning. Having served in the Armed Forces, he worked as sports writer and later as editor of the Greensburg Daily News. He wrote, "The emergence of Marine PFC Robert Garwood from Vietnam after nearly 14 years has brought attention to our small community." Small wrote of calls the Daily News constantly received from state and national newspapers and radio-TV personnel. Most wanted information, wrote Small, but many simply said, "He didn't go to Canada, he went to fight." Others wanted him fried over a fire. Small urged everyone to wait until facts were known.

Small wrote an editorial about false reports appearing in the national news. "Until the Bob Garwood story focused the attention of media on Greensburg, those of us in the community assumed that what we read in the nation's newspapers or saw and heard on TV and radio to be factually correct. Today, with emphasis on speed and with everyone trying to be first to break a news story, the system breaks down and mistakes are made."

Small later gave the story to other reporters at the Daily News so he could again do his regular job. He received an award from United Press International for the way he handled the stories.

The government first accused Garwood of desertion and leading troops into combat against our troops but later admitted that he had been captured, had not deserted. They charged him with collaborating with the enemy by serving as a translator and one charge of assault. He was found guilty and given a dishonorable discharge.

Sgt. Major "Top" Holland, friend of Garwood, played an important role in an effort to bring home POWs and MIAs. He helped start Rolling Thunder, which brings attention to POWs/MIAs left behind in Vietnam and other wars.

Named on the wall, placed in a "missing in action" status, are 2,539 men. Some will never return, but some do. Nine groups of names have been added since it was dedicated. Those added in 2011 made 58,272 names on the wall. Americans now admit that Vietnam veterans were not given the respect they had earned. In spite of that, every Vietnam veteran I have talked with said he would go again if their country asked them to do so. It's called patriotism.