ON THE OCCATION OF THE TWELVFTH ANNUAL ROLLING THUNDER WASHINGTON D.C.
30 MAY 1999


I would like to open today with an apology. It is an apology for anger, for assuming too much and mostly for failure. On numerous occasions, I have stood before you and other Americans with hopes of success that, for whatever reasons, went unfulfilled. I come from a background where failure is looked upon as inexcusable - and it should be. I have yet to rescue or buy one single American POW or talk our enemies out of one single missing American from the Vietnam War - or bring a single hostage out of Cambodia or other nations. For this I apologize to each and every one of you. There will be those of you who say, "This is where he bows out." Nothing could be further from the truth! There has been no lessening of intelligence on those missing - alive or dead.

There has been no great re-motivation within our government to track down every lead and there is only the same orientation to systematically go down the list of the missing and find remains to bring back to their final rest at home. And while there are serious questions about the identification process, once remains - or alleged remains - have been recovered, I commend those in the field for a fine job.

I, however, cannot fixate myself on the dead, though I honor their sacrifice. I will remain dedicated to the living! When "there are no longer any reports of living Americans in any category" in Southeast Asia, I will say exactly that. But that day has not yet come! I am not here today to sell you on this idea. I, and those close to me, are dedicated to the living - today and everyday. It is our personal and professional priority, even if it is not truly our nation's highest priority, nor has it ever been.

As we meet once again, American soldiers have been in the hands of a cruel and inhumane enemy in Serbia. Men remain missing in Iraq. I would hope that we pray for them every day. They are ours and we are them. Do not let them be forgotten or bartered over or ignored. They did it to us before. Never again!

Today, Americans are involved in a war in Yugoslavia. I see men who served beside me as young soldiers leading this endeavor. I am proud of each of them and you should be proud of each of them. I was frankly embarrassed by some of the statements from Vietnam veterans, who whined when there were parades for Gulf War veterans. We were not whiners on the battle field and we have no right to whine in our middle age.

These are our sons and daughters. Our mission today is to fulfill the requirement of a patriot of any nation when its young are sent to fight. A requirement that was not met by many in our Government and media - including our current President - when we fought on a foreign shore. But we, like those brave men and women of all military branches today, are better Americans than that.

Behind the scenes, there is an attempt to clone some of our worst collaborators with the Vietnamese enemies into "heroes" and they are now debating honorable people who have tried to reveal the truth about their sorry behavior in the POW camps of Vietnam. They claim they have reputations to protect. I must tell you the reputation some of them have with me is of weakness, cowardice and assistance to the enemy while other men suffered.

Beware of those who accuse a former Private of some of the things they themselves are guilty of! These people should be shunned and anyone who supports them should be shunned. Anyone with the courage to oppose them must be supported. Further, I want to make something absolutely clear: I will stand by and behind, in any forum, those who wish to see the truth made known and justice prevail. No one asks me to say these things or attempts to get me to stand behind a certain side of these issues. Honor dictates my position and there is no equivocation available to me as much as I personally hate to place myself in opposition to my fellow returned POWs. But I am tired of the evolution of these people from much less than stalwart warriors into "Vietnam War heroes", by using a Marine Corps Private as their "whipping boy" and crying when challenged by those who know better.

As I sat chained in a dank underground dungeon in the jungles of Cambodia, I was forced to listen to their girlish whining on Radio Hanoi as Colonel Ted Guy, the Commander of their camp, was beaten and tortured only feet away from them! Do not listen to their excuses! Damn them as the scum they are! The book "Kiss The Boys Goodbye" is being re-released in paperback. It will be up-dated to include a statement from the late Col. Guy, made days before his death, about who these people really were and how they compare to other POWs - including Robert Garwood.

Today, a new law has been passed, sponsored by Sen. John McCain, which seals the record of what happened in the POW camps of Vietnam. We cannot see who my brother POWs really were in those camps. I cannot speak for other POWs, but I feel that you and every other American deserve to know exactly how we really performed in Vietnam, and not how we say we performed.

Many of us returned POWs are asking you to support us in business and politics. You need to know who we are. If we can expose extramarital affairs, financial misdealing - stealing, if you will - in others, then we can expose treason as well. Why should statements some POWs made from Hanoi - and what their treatment was compared to other POWs - be secret? I have no shame in my actions as a POW and believe our records should be an open book for historians and future generations to learn from. No American would hold it against a politician or private person if he was tortured into making propaganda during his time as a POW. But hiding these things should raise questions in our fellow American's minds about all of us who were in the prisons of Southeast Asia. After all, the terrible torture of some POWs, such as Red McDaniels, Colonel Guy and others, may be worn as a badge of honor - but simpering, whimpering fools have no right to wear that badge, for they have no honor!

Like the whining, detested child of our youth, caught with his hand in the cookie jar, these people point at someone else and scream, "He's worse than I am!" Or in this case: "He is a lower rank than I! Let me shift the blame!" True honor allows no finger pointing at the rear rank. It is all about personal responsibility and setting an example for the rear rank. Ted Guy could claim that honor but some of the loudest in condemnation of others have no right to it and never did!

Do not give credence to the waffling, in print, of those who would not eat the food offered and cried of aching feet on the march. Read Dramesi's "Code of Honor" and listen to those who had no food to refuse and those who were shot by the enemy but persevered. So do not listen to those who claim their job in the Army negated their responsibility to lead or rendered them a non-combatant. We had no Chaplains in the POW camps of Vietnam. With rank on your collar and a pistol on your side or a rifle in your hand, you are expected to lead and fight when required. The oath of an Officer makes no exceptions for personal feelings about a given war. It requires you to lead; and there can be no complaint from you later, when it is pointed out that you did not! It's about "Duty, Honor and Country". And there is no middle ground in this short, eloquent sentence.

The people who are pushing to keep these secrets are the same people who have been the most verbose about a Marine Private First Class named Robert Garwood, a man most never met or heard of in the prison camps of Vietnam. Rights and laws are for all people, including Marine Privates. After all, I did not hear Robert Garwood on the Communist's radio every day in my jungle hole - I heard the others! I was not handed writings and interviews given to Communist publications by Robert Garwood - but I was handed theirs! These people were not being tortured in Hanoi when I was in my little hole. They were whining to go home. Shun them! They are lesser men than you will ever be. And do not allow them to hide what they really were and what many remain to this day!

Never forget that some asked to remain in Vietnam but Bobby Garwood got himself out! Some described themselves as Marxists upon their return. Bobby Garwood never did! Who are these people? We are not allowed to know because under the guise of protecting us (while misinforming us) this new law allows these people to hide. Shun them and ignore their vile utterings.

Today in Southeast Asia, what our fellow soldiers bought with their lives and you with your sweat and blood is finally coming to fruition. From China through Laos, Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam, brave men and women are jailed, tortured and murdered but they have not given up the fight. Our Government seems satisfied with capitalism supporting "communism with a human face" - though it mouths concerns over human rights. Refusing to come to terms with the murderous dictatorships they helped into office, those who marched against us, even some of our fellow veterans - made over into Vietnam war "heroes" in the politics of the nineties - once again support the left wing dictators of Southeast Asia! Do not let them get away with it.

Those Asian people demand and in many cases voted to be free and no American investment or pipeline for oil is more important than that is. The candle of freedom, lit by your service in Southeast Asia, is burning bright in the minds of those in Asia who truly knew you. Their sons and their daughters demand what you fought for. Do not allow that flame to be squelched in the halls of the power brokers in Washington D.C. for expedience of business. There is no amount of oil or board feet of tropical hardwoods or tons of gold worth the freedom and liberty of one person on this earth. A job with Union Oil in Burma does not equate in any way to freedom and democracy. Money is not freedom and those who preach that line must be shunned - for they are un-American - even if those preaching this line are former prisoners of war such as Sen. John McCain, or former Naval Officers and anti-war protesters such as Sen. John Kerry. For it would appear that even self-styled Vietnam war "heroes" can be un-American when it suits their own purposes!

The hands are still out, for the money some require, to get the POWs home. There is no need for you to fill their coffers. There is no need for you to send those who dabble in POWs on "another trip". The job is being done and if someone cannot afford their own ticket to get there, they have no chance of influencing the action. Public awareness is fine, but it is not required in Southeast Asia. Asian people know we left some of our own behind. Support no one who claims that helping identify graves of Communist soldiers will bring reciprocation from the Communist side. It is baloney. Today, in Vietnam, the graves of your Lao, Vietnamese and Cambodian allies are routinely plowed under by the Communist Governments. Families are denied access to honor their dead in the established cemeteries and they are overgrown with weeds. Shun them and those in this country who advocate the collection of money for such silliness. These Governments know where their soldiers fell and they do not give a damn and your kindness will not make them give a damn!

Do not go back and apologize to your enemy. Go to his prisons and apologize to the Catholic Priests and Buddhist Monks who suffer there because our Government and private businesses do not give a damn.

You have nothing to apologize for and nobody knows that better than the people of Southeast Asia. They hold you in high esteem. It is the attitude of your government toward their freedom that they cannot understand.

Various refugee groups in this country and in Europe regularly collect money to rescue POWs or to support resistance forces. Very little if any of this money ever goes to the places it was intended. I have been down the road with all the big name leaders, but they have left the soldiers to starve and run out of ammunition. If you are approached to support by word, deed or money, any of them - call me. I can tell you exactly whether they truly support those fighting for freedom in their home countries. I can also tell if they have the contacts to do anything about our POWs. Make the call - it will save you money in the long run.

Finally, I feel compelled to say something more about Marine Private Robert Garwood. Down through the years, the POWs returned from Vietnam, various veterans groups and the media have been split over the issue of a Marine PFC being the only person tried for any of the crimes and misdeeds of American POWs in Southeast Asia. It is time to put all this to rest, once and for all. There is only one way to do that - and the way is a true and open trial with the background of those who speak against him open to public scrutiny!

Most who knew Garwood were of a higher rank. Some came home early and some, including officers, lobbied the Communists for that privilege - even though they were expressly forbidden to do so by the Code of Conduct and Military Law - and furthermore, they damn well knew it! Others from the camps asked to remain in Vietnam and declared themselves Marxists. We are Americans. The days of one law for one group or race and another for the rest of us are over - and that's as it should be.

I was trained as Marine LTC Tom McKenny was trained; to lead and take care of the Privates of the rear rank. Who took care of Private Garwood? Who provided the moral leadership? The highest ranking officer - Army Capt., Floyd Kushner? No. He refused to fulfill his obligation as an American Army Officer. The strongest enlisted soldier? No. He took early release from the enemy. Perhaps those who were with him longest and truly knew him? No. They are all dead - though the living, some of whom never met them, quote the dead at will. They do not have the right. They never knew them! It's a time for truth and justice. That is the American Way. No one can collaborate a little bit. You either did or you did not. If you did, you forfeited your right to condemn others - especially lower ranking personnel - to cover your own behinds.

Most American POWs did the best they could under terrible conditions. Recently, I have heard it was only some Army enlisted men who did not. This is incorrect. For example: Though never tortured in the North, Army Officers and the so-called "Peace Committee" were the only POWs in the "Plantation Gardens" who received ice cream. That does not sound like much, here in Washington, today. But it was the ultimate betrayal to those, in Vietnam, who had not had so much as a drink of cold water in years.

They say what was done to Garwood on his return was "a Marine thing". Why is it then, that one of the most famous collaborators in North Vietnam, Marine LTC Edison Miller, received only a letter from the Secretary of the Navy - a letter which could only hurt him if he rolled it up into a point and stuck it in his own eye as he was trying to endorse his rather substantial Marine Corps retirement check? His fellow broadcaster on the "Bob and Ed Show" over Radio Hanoi was a Navy Senior Officer who crossed-back shortly before his return and now has the gall to walk the streets of this nation as an "honorable" POW. The other most notorious collaborator was Captain Wilbur, United States Navy. Like the Marine LTC, he also received a letter from the Secretary of the Navy. They received this "terrible punishment" because, unlike the other Naval collaborator, they refused to cross-back until the very end.

Thus, Garwood's Court Martial was not "a Marine thing". It was a political thing. If it is not a political thing, where did those two Officers, Floyd Kushner and Frank Anton get their ice cream in the middle of a prison camp in North Vietnam? And why did Captain Kushner's daily propaganda radio broadcast go unpunished? And how was it that these two "war heroes" both wrote anti-war propaganda letters from the camps and received not even a slap on the wrist? And, why were these two Army Officers deemed credible to testify against Bobby Garwood at his Courts Martial? The only example set by these two individuals was one of supreme hypocrisy without an ounce of shame. They now author books and try to defend an honor that neither possesses, in my professional opinion.

So, there were a few who disgraced our nation and our military and they were not all Army enlisted men as some have suggested. Some, through their actions, even caused the terrible torture inflicted on the brave and beloved Colonel Ted Guy. Not one of these people was a United States Marine Corps Private First Class named Robert Garwood. In my book, it is they who go by the names traitor, collaborator, weakling, wimp, liar and arrogant ass!

So I ask you and this nation: do you wish truth or must you maintain your preconceived opinions? I am not asking for Garwood to have an amnesty or a pardon or even to replace his punishment with the same letter the Marine Lieutenant Colonel and Navy Captain got. I, Major Mark A. Smith, United States Army Retired, a man who has never broadcast, written, or eaten ice cream in Vietnamese prisons, respectfully ask that this Private be given a new trial by Courts Martial. It would be a trial where all witnesses and the defendant are open to challenge on who they really were. We ask for no amnesty or pardon like those who fled to Canada or those who deserted the military and hid for years. What I ask you to support, with your voices and, frankly with your wallets, is simple justice. The same justice, blind as she is, who sees no difference between a Private and a Lieutenant Colonel.

There are people you trust; Buzz Parish, Artie Mueller, Danny Belcher, Lieutenant Colonel Tom McKenney - a Marine Lieutenant Colonel you never heard making propaganda on Radio Hanoi - who are coordinating this thing. If honor is not worth ten, five or even one dollar to each of you, then we have become what we claimed we always hated; just a bunch of drunken old boys getting together to tell war stories down at the local VFW or Legion Post.

Freedom of all POW/MIAs is being pursued by a small but determined group of men and women in Southeast Asia. They work for me and I speak for them when I say give anything you ever planned to send to us to this cause. Every time I have been in a bind, when guerrillas were wounded, when I had malaria, when I was in Cambodia during the coup, without my asking, you sent the funds to get us through. Now, I am asking you - I am asking you to stand and deliver as you did in war - to see justice done in the case of Private First Class Robert Garwood. There is no need for one man to pay for all the others, including Officers, so we can all be heroes and write books and protect our reputations - such as they are.

It is my honest belief there are those who regularly adorn themselves with the cloak of "Vietnam War Hero" for personal and political advantage; who are lesser men than you or Robert Garwood. You come here every year as the good Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines that you were in war. Most of those I spoke of today would not show their faces here. There is a good reason for that. But, if you are here, I invite you to come forward and rebut one word I have said.


Copyright 1999, by Mark A. Smith, Major, USA, Retired

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