In an interview for Voices in Wartime, David Connolly speaks candidly of his time in Vietnam, his experiences of enlisting for the war, and his “home-coming.” Below is an excerpt from his interview in which he talks about his experience of going to war, just as his father and grandfather before him did.
When I left, I was hot-to-trot to go. My grandfather fought with the IRA [Irish Republican Army] and my father was in World War Two, and he lost the use of his arm. I grew up listening to these two men tell their stories about war, one of whom freed his country, the other one helped to free the world, and I had no idea that I was being led down the garden path. I had no idea that the country that I was going to fight for, the government that I was going to fight for in South Vietnam, wasn't a real government. It didn't represent the people. It was a force cobbled together by us in order to maintain our hold in that area of the world.
We had no political understanding of the war. We had no historical understanding of the people of Vietnam, the history of Vietnam; very cursory, if at all. I was the only man in my training platoon that even knew that the French had fought there before us. Nobody even knew about the first Indo-China war. And we were told that we were there to help the freedom-loving people of South Vietnam, the Democratic government of South Vietnam, the republic. The truth is that I couldn't find those people. The people that I met were all on the other side—or, didn't want to be on a side. They just wanted their rice bowl filled every day and to raise their kids and to live.
As to the Republic of Vietnam, I found out later they had to make up a word in Vietnamese for "Republic." The idea itself isn't contained in the language, it's so foreign to them to live in the type of government that we have, a republic.
When I first got there, the Tet Offensive was happening. There were literally Communists running all over the place and I was shocked at first. I remember thinking to myself, "We're going to lose this war. We're going to lose this war." Walter Cronkite was saying the same thing on national TV. I didn't know it at the time. And it got worse from there. Then Tet ended, the nature of the war changed and we went back out into the countryside, the American Army, the U.S. Marine Corps, and I contend that we were there to pay the people back for helping the Communists stage Tet through the villages.
And we began search-and-cordon and search-and-destroy missions. couldn't help but think of the stories my grandfather used to tell me of how the British army would come through towns on the western shore of Ireland and search them for arms or ammunition or foodstuff, and if they found any of those things, they burned your house; if they found it in a number of houses, they burned the village. That's what I did every day in Vietnam. I was only 18 and a dumb grunt, but I'm not stupid. It slapped me in the face that I, in light of my heritage, was on the wrong side, my country was on the wrong side.
And, it may sound simplistic that you can't kill for peace, but you can't kill for peace. If you're Vietcong and I kill you, your brother's not going to pick up your weapon and join me, you know? I see the same thing going on right now. We're not making friends with the people of Iraq. We're not winning their hearts and minds. It's going to end badly, like Vietnam did.