|Me at Baghdad's Camp Victory in early 2004|
You see, I remember what it felt like to sit in my living room in April, 1975, staring at the television while enemy tanks rolled into Saigon. Only then did I have the painful realization that my fellow soldiers and I had fought and bled for a lost cause.
I'm not ashamed to say I cried that day. I remembered the hardships of my own months in Vietnam's jungles, and I saw the faces of my lost friends in the dark corners of my mind. To be honest, I still see them almost every day. You know - those couple of hours in the middle of the night when sleep won't come and the mind refuses to rest. Such is the legacy of Vietnam.
Although the losses are just as painful, the story in Iraq is a different one. When our last soldiers arrive home before Christmas and Iraq's security rests in its own hands, we can honestly say we have been victorious.
There are now over thirty million people living in Iraq. Because of the sacrifice of America and its coalition partners, there is a democratic government elected by the people. Is everything perfect? Of course not. But the problems that remain can only be solved by Iraqis. Whether it is sectarian differences or problems caused by foreign terrorists, it is time for Iraq to take care of itself.
What do I fear most now that we have pulled our soldiers out of Iraq? I fear the influence of Iran, a Shiite country that provides training and equipment to radical Shiites in Iraq like Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army.
But Americans cannot stay in Iraq forever. The truth is that wherever we go, we become a lightning rod for those with ancient reasons for hating foreign intervention. It was this way in Vietnam, in Iraq, and it is also the same in Afghanistan.
We must welcome our troops home from Iraq as the victorious warriors they are. We shall help them recover both physically and mentally, and they should be proud of all they accomplished.
We shall also continue to extend the hand of friendship to the Iraqi people. While many fundamentalist Iraqis will always hate us, there are a lot of Iraqis who will never forget the generosity of America or our sacrifices on their behalf. We have done all we can to give them a chance for a free and prosperous future.
The rest is up to them...
Charles M. Grist
Author of the award-winning book My Last War: A Vietnam Veteran's Tour in Iraq