Guest Writer – Keith Nightingale; Vietnam, My Opinion


Keith Nightingale serving in the Vietnam War

My current guest article has been written by Keith Nightingale. Keith is a former member of the U.S. Army, having retired as a Colonel, following a long and distinguished military career.


Keith cut his teeth as a young officer serving one tour with the Vietnamese Rangers, and a 2nd tour with the 101st Airborne, during the Vietnam War. A link to a full bio for Keith is provided at the end of the article. A link to the books he has written is also provided.


With articulate writing, and insight gained through the complex range of his duties, Keith shares his thoughts on the war that left a multitude of people clamoring for an explanation, on just what happened over there…and why.




I am honored and grateful that Keith has allowed me to share his written piece. It is something that will be read and re-read, many times-over.





                        VIETNAM-MY OPINION,

                              Keith Nightingale


I am occasionally asked to describe my experience and opinions regarding my time in Vietnam.


Over time, I have developed distilled thoughts on both. My time was my service as it was for the almost 3 million other people that served there. Like most, I have very mixed feelings. I am proud of my two-tour service, sickened by the senior leadership that sent us and kept us going there in a knowingly lost cause-known to them, not to us. As hogs in the processing plant, we climbed the chartered aircraft and flew west to do the Nation’s bidding.


But ultimately, I am proud and satisfied with my time spent. How many Vietnamese and American lives were spent to maintain our leader’s deception?


LBJ; another casualty of the war











I would designate a special place in hell for LBJ, Robert McNamara and several of the Generals and admirals who knew we were throwing good lives against great lives-afraid to reveal the truth and unable to answer the basic moral call of ethical leadership. Generals Westmoreland and Depuy who refused to recognize the war for what it was and insisted on throwing good soldiers and Marines toward their vision of the conflict that existed only in their minds. To us that went, we saw the truth in our own microcosms of reality.


I know of few other instances where the leaders were so consistently unworthy of the led.


The people of Vietnam were and are a strong resilient people with much of our values-their lives squandered by venal toadies and our disinterest in influencing quality rather than loyalty in positions of national responsibility.


Despite that, we went, generally positively initially, and later in resigned loyalty. Our lodestone was always the people we were with and the shared experiences.


Experience writ large was different for each of us and yet much universally the same.


Vietnam was highly personal for each of us and grossly impersonal for us all. It was a war.


Overall, I think Vietnam, writ large, was and is a highly personal experience and largely determined by the makeup and attitude of each of us that went there and came home, still retaining some form of cognitive processing capability.


Experience and perception-as reality, depended upon the time, location and unit of assignment. Experience differed by mere days or physical location. Some generally rested in a year of boredom while others would be routinely torn asunder.


Life was truly luck and timing.


We arrived, were processed with studied practice, issued generally common equipment and sent to our fates.


We learned the intricacies of reading a {one over fifty-thousand} map with check points and impossible contour lines. Maps became our compass and sweat the fuel of progress.


The company street became our resort living-clean fatigues, semi-shined boots and mess hall chow. Hootch maids giggling over laundry tubs. Thoughts of home and those behind.



Honorable service

The firebase, piss tubes, incoming, outgoing, swarms of rats, antenna farms over conex containers, emplacing fougasse and claymores, the shit burners and tornados of dust kicked up by sling loaded chinooks and inbound Hueys shaking and vibrating to take us elsewhere.




The lifers with starched fatigues, shined boots, soft hats and soothing words………unless you were 3,000 feet below and not moving fast enough.



The calendar was our common denominator-12 months for Army and 13 for Marines-unless wounded or killed sooner.



We saw and tasted our own dictated geographical and situational environment as well as the deep green, open deltas and rugged green mountains and blasted hills of the land.




We saw the effect of our various technologies in application and thanked God we were not on the other end. Occasionally, they had better.


Tough and dedicated foes











We gained a great respect for the small, dirty, half-starved and fully competent enemy we met-as worthy as we.









Tough and dedicated tribesmen, fought side by side with many U.S. troops

Some of us, operating with the indigenous population, uniformed and otherwise, saw the extent of human nature on the population, the venal, the sublime and those most worthy of our trust. It was an experience and exposure that most sequestered in their camps, would not see. For that, I am most grateful. I gained immense respect for those of a different color but with the same shared values. They became our refugees and greatly enhanced our population and National character.


Regardless of time and place, we, the Infantry, the Grunts, Marine and Army, generally rucked up with incredible loads, mounted the UH1H helicopter steed, shook and shuddered our way to a place we did not know but would always remember. We experienced heat, thirst, cold, wet, hunger and a myriad of uncivilized events and personal insults. We slogged and climbed and slid and saw all of the green and none of the green. We just did it.


We explored the wonders and degradations of C rats and 20-year-old cigarettes. Warm beer made worse by the lowest procurement bid.


We learned to make do in a million different ways and eagerly learned the vets’ tips on alternate uses for mosquito repellent, toilet paper and peanut butter.


Swiss Miss and C-rat coffee would be our ambrosia in the deep green or the creosote reeking bunkers.


We felt the sudden cacophony of fire at the initial contact, the discordant explosions of both side’s weaponry and the deep fear and demands on self-control.


Boots under the ponchos, parts scattered in trees and craters and lumps of flesh, cotton and swarming flies.


The immensely satisfying Crump of friendly artillery and the showers of leaves, bark and mud. A warm blanket for the soul.


The face once seen for a nano second of combat time to be remembered forever from a deep long-retired sleep.


The knowledge that race, religion and social standing is 100% irrelevant in the corpus of combat.


Even at war, the spirit can shine through

The ville with its exotic mysteries, ao dais flowing behind the vespa’s, grasping hands from the recesses of thatch bars with booming music accented our time.


The smokey warm broth of pho in the early morning and the exotic accompaniments so foreign to the Western soul.


Picking out the baked in weevils from the morning ben my and enjoying the crunch of the crusty cover


Cold 33 Beer served in a large glass with a chunk of ice-ambrosia.


The blue sick smell of rotting straw, fish parts and the detritus of life on the edge greeted us at every rural ville. (village)


Water buffalo, deadly to men, docile to children, ploughed dank heated paddies.


Some heard the screams of nurses to get help in staunching the flows of a dozen deep penetrations and to fight the deepening shadow of life within the eye of the teenager on the canvas.


Others saw the doctors just point to the hall for some and the operating room for others-The Medevac takes all sorts.


We learned the sound of the small red bubble hiss of the sucking chest wound and the sudden clack of the claymore before it detonated.


We understood the time between the clunk of the VC mortar and the impact was less than the time it usually took to hit the ground.


Bravery and dedication, the Red Cross Donut Dollies

We learned that the Red Cross donut dollies and the AFVN weather girls were more rumor than confirmed fact. Ditto the USO shows.


R&R was a treasured seven days that seemed to take less than 24 hours. Usually, two of them would be on a plane-wishing and hoping.


We experienced both the exhilaration and the fear of contact and wondered in our deepest souls-Will I fail them? Will I do my part? Respect of the small band of brothers became the lodestone of our lives.


We felt exquisite loneliness in the crowded company of others.


Above all else, we learned to cope. Some did it with drugs and ill-discipline, liquor binges and disruption. Others turned inward and found solace in quality companions or contemplative outlets.


Drugs provided a momentary fog but with potential future consequences.


The war enshrouded all of its participants with a potential future of bad dreams, bad behavior and helpless management. Coping would be forever.




The human toll and emotions of the tour were not dependent upon the location-the enemy was the same everywhere. Only the numbers differed and the manner of encounter. Regardless, mortality was always a momentary thing and then it passed………for the moment.


The Delta was flat, wet and incredibly hot with only the occasional snatch of village shade or deep swamp canopy. The air reeked with primordial mud hidden by chocolate grey waters enriched with a thousand years of organic deposit.


III Corps was a mix of heavily urbanized and the grossly primordial. Civilization coalesced with all its smells, colors and exotica-so foreign to the western experience. The jungle was deep, obscure and decidedly deadly with an arsenal of human, animal and insect predation.


II Corps was rolling grass and tree covered hills and plains. Coastal villages reeking of nouc mam and salt air. Mountains in the west bordering the unpromising land and sanctuaries beyond. The Kraken’s lurking in their caves occasionally to come forward and feast on our remains.


I Corps was the conventionalists paradise-unless you were there. Big units and big guns-mostly theirs and not ours. Not a fun place unless you were a senior with ice cream, air conditioning and an office at 3,000 feet.


Universal to all was the red laterite dust and dense humid tendrils seeping from the ground. The pounding rain of the monsoon and the incredibly dancing vermillions and gold of a sunset.



We all awaited the dawn-that meant life. And dreaded the coming dark-the color of potential death.


In sum, Vietnam was an experience and each participant held his or her own unique thoughts on the subject-often in simultaneous conflict.


Through the progress of time, I have reached some clarity in my ambivalence.



I now detest those that sent us-shrouding their knowledge with the untruths of purpose foisted upon us.


I am immensely proud of those that served with me-from the dedicated professional to the unwilling dodgeless draftee-they gave 100% when they had to and understood that each was a crucial part of their very small whole. For whatever was their future life, they served us well then.


I am equally proud of the service of the hundreds of Vietnamese troops that served with me as a junior officer. Through a disastrous event in the jungle to the grinding urban combat of Tet, they were consistently stellar soldiers and led by a man of amazing professional quality that became the model for my future service. Quality knows no ethnicity.


And I am forever grateful that I had the experience of Service and performed reasonably well in a land that could have been much more honored by our presence than it was.












Most of all, and I believe speaking for most us, we did it for the people we were with.






Keith’s full bio:


Keith’s books:






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About the Author

Joe Campolo Jr.

Joe Campolo, Jr. is an award winning author, poet and public speaker. A Vietnam War Veteran, Joe writes and speaks about the war and many other topics. See the "Author Page" of this website for more information on Joe. Guest writers on Joe's blogs will have a short bio with each article. Select blogs by category and enjoy the many other articles available here. Joe's popular books are available thru Amazon, this website, and many other on-line book stores.


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