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By Barry Romo
VVAW member Dennis Boyer was going through an old footlocker and found a bag of old VVAW patches. He couldn't remember their origin but knew they were from the old days. He sent them to the VVAW National Office. After sending long-time VVAW leader Barry Romo one, these were his reflections.
Wow! In the '70s, VVAW expanded gigantically in Vietnam. I mean 10,000 of our members were there or flying in and out of there. Sometime in the '70s, I was speaking someplace. A local member came up afterward. I don't remember who or when or where. But he gave me the patch I just got in the mail. The one our friend found. He said that he had bought it at a kiosk outside of Saigon. I don't know if it was Chinatown or what section. But it wasn't right in Saigon. He saw them and bought a bunch of them.
Part of the war plan was to get thousands of Korean troops to Vietnam. Part of the deal was they had to allow an equal number of small business people to come as well. So, South Koreans showed up to do everything at these kiosks, from sewing to washing Army vehicles, to being prostitutes and running whorehouses.
In fact, when I was in I Corps, I went to one of those, not for any bad things. I had my poncho liner made into an insert for when we were out at night; it would get quite cold there. I went to a Korean place. I knew what he was talking about. But not where.
He said that he asked the woman there how many they had made. She told him 30,000, which is incredible. The Vietnamese, after Dewey Canyon III in 1971, issued a public statement that anybody who didn't hurt the Vietnamese and wore the upside-down helmet on a rifle; the universal symbol of the Soldiers who were killed in combat, that they wouldn't shoot them. They would have peace with them. So, it's possible.
People likely sewed these on their uniforms. I think probably just put it on their chest or maybe on their side, by their combat patch. One side, of course, is the unit you are with and the other side is the unit you were in combat with.
We, for the most part, thought that our members in Vietnam probably wore buttons with the VVAW symbol on it, which could easily be removed. But those had VVAW's name, as well as the symbol. The patches, while more permanent, were more subtle.
At the Winter Soldier Investigation, one of the guys testified that his unit made a deal, through the prostitutes; that they wouldn't shoot Vietnamese. I guess the officer went along with it or the guy in charge did. He said they went a number of months without taking any casualties; not shooting anybody. Then they got a new commander. He had them shoot up Vietnamese; that very night or the next day the Viet Cong attacked them and shot a bunch of their men.
That's great Dennis thought about us. Hopefully, other people will as well when cleaning out old footlockers or the basement or garage.
Barry Romo has been a member of VVAW since 1971.