Charles Whitman, a former Marine who became known as the Texas Tower Sniper, was the poster boy for Viet madness. In August 1966 he stabbed his mother and wife to death, then shot and killed 14 people and wounded 31 others from the observation deck of the 32-story administration building at the University of Texas.
As it happened, Whitman had never served in Vietnam. Not that it mattered. His exploits bled into a cultural stew that included an academia awash in antiwar sentiments and movies such as Platoon , Apocalypse Now , and Born on the Fourth of July that cemented the image of the Vietnam veteran in the minds of much of the American public as the last person you wanted to date your daughter. Easily as pernicious, serving in the military came to be viewed as the preserve of remorseless killers and the dumbest of knuckle-draggers.
Not everyone subscribed to this view, least of all the vast number of young men and women who had served in the combat zone. These veterans went about putting their lives back together and moving on. Within a decade or so, many had attained positions of prominence in such fields as business, banking, journalism, radio and television, and government.
Did the rest of America ever catch on, ever come to realize that most of the men and women who emerged from the rice paddies, mountain redoubts, booby-trapped jungle trails, and shattered villes of Vietnam had found their way home, made their peace with a bad war, and put it behind them?
At this point, the question may be academic. The Republican Party is on the verge of nominating one of the nation's most famous Vietnam veterans, John McCain, as its 2008 presidential nominee.
Even so, we think it's time to put those old images to rest once and for all, and explore the positive effect that military service—not just in Vietnam—has had on generations of men and women whose time in the armed forces laid the groundwork for success later on as civilians. Thus, "Answering the Call," which we launch with a marvelous reflection by Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller on what his Navy service in World War II meant to him.
In an 18-year career with the Cleveland Indians (not counting four years out for the war), Bob Feller won 266 games, had 2,581 strikeouts, led the American League in strikeouts seven times, and pitched three no-hitters. At age 17, he struck out 17 batters in one game. That following year, 1937, the teenage phenom made the cover of Time magazine.
But Bob Feller's life was more than baseball, as you will see when you read his piece on page 14. It makes you wonder if he thinks of himself as a ballplayer or a Sailor.
So does this. In 2006, Bob was asked at a Capitol Hill reception to name his biggest win. His answer: "The only win I wanted was to win World War II."
This issue, as always in June, includes a special section on submarines, ASW, and mine warfare. Rear Admiral Jerry Holland reminds us of the unmatched role the U.S. submarine force plays in our national defense. And the skipper of the USS Bainbridge (DDG-96), Commander Steve Coughlin, tells us about a new system that allows destroyers to hunt mines from beyond the horizon.
Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine Reserve major general and highly regarded military analyst, weighs in with a powerful call for "thorough, fundamental reform" of the National Guard and Reserve system. Moreover, he writes, "there is no reasonable alternative to continuing an increased reliance on the reserves for a wide range of missions at home and abroad." He knows what he's talking about; he spent the past two years as chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.