Vietnam and Me

Approaching Gibralter
Approaching Gibralter

I saw a post a little while ago referring to Jane Fonda as “Hanoi Jane” and which characterized her as a traitor. It reminded me of my one and only involvement with the Vietnam war.

I was once a fully paid up member of the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR). Military duties involved weekly training at HMS Eaglet moored or rather cemented to Salthouse Dock, just around the corner from the Pier Head in Liverpool. We had our very own mine sweeper (HMS Mersey) which we used to invade the Isle of Man from time to time, on weekends only as is befitting for weekend warriors. The Royal Marines did the actual invading of course, our role was to provide the transport, hot kai and covering fire. Covering fire was fairly minimal because the locals objected to naval gunfire in the middle of the night.

Once each year we got to play with the grown ups in the regular RN in exotic places within the last remnants of the British Empire.

On one such outing in the late 60s, during a break in exercises with the US sixth fleet, I was on shore leave in Gibraltar with the rest of the crew. We were drinking with some US Marines in one of the many bars on Main Street when one of the Marines asked one of my shipmates “why ain’t you guys in Vietnam?” My mate, a fellow Scouser, injudiciously replied that “the Vietcong seemed to be doing just fine without us”. Naturally a bit of an altercation ensued. Glass went flying everywhere and much furniture was converted to firewood.

No one was seriously hurt but the incident inspired a Hornblower inspired commando raid the following night. Some intrepid souls swam out to a US destroyer and painted “Liverpool FC” in Liverpool’s signature red along its side. The graffiti wasn’t noticed until the following morning as the fleet was leaving harbour and the US destroyer was hastily recalled by an outraged american admiral. The entire crew of HMS Mersey were  obvious suspects and so the ship was thoroughly searched and the entire crew interrogated but no incriminating evidence was ever found, nobody confessed and nobody snitched. Strangely, HMS Mersey was the only vessel that had no red paint on board.

My country of birth did not get involved in Vietnam while my adopted country did. The Vietnam war, its causes and its aftermath will continue to be debated endlessly. I happen to be on the side that thinks the US invasion of Vietnam was a mistake but honest people can honestly disagree and dissent is not disloyalty. Political criticism of a war in no way impugns the bravery of those who fought in it.