At the NYPL panel discussion I moderated the other night, Earl Jacobson recalled being asked if he had killed babies while serving abroad. (He actually served in Thailand.) This was an accusation frequently — but not invariably — heard by returning Vietnam veterans. It is hard to describe the shock and pain caused by remarks such as this.
Veteran Ron Jensen, who served with Marine Corps unit Kilo 3/26 in Vietnam, and author of the book Tail End Charlie, a memoir that recounts his experiences, told me the following story when I interviewed him in 2004.
They put the platoons into villages that we had worked in near Hill 190 and they put us in the village and now we had to live in the village and then they put an ARVN Platoon in there with us. Now this is my real first contact working with them. And they put us in the village and then I really got to live with the people.
I got to live in the village and it was interesting. I liked the kids. The kids used to come and sit with me to eat and I used to give them my crackers and my candy and stuff like that.
And there was one little girl–she always had–I don’t know what they call it–peasant dress–plain little dress, you know like American clothing, with bangs, and she–she never said too much but she’d always sit right next to me and it used to puzzle me now. Here I am loaded with you know rounds, magazines all across me, and a rifle in my hand and I said, “You know if I was that kid’s age and I sat down next to somebody that was loaded down with all that ammunition–rifle, I’d be scared.” This kid wasn’t scared; it was just like normal and then she’d wait for me to take out my c-rations and the regular routine; she knew exactly what I liked and what I didn’t like. [Laughs] and–and she’d take it and I lived with them. And I got to deliver a baby.
After returning from Vietnam, he eventually found work as a New York City corrections officer. One night he and a number of fellow officers were sitting at a large table—discussing the politics of the day in the aftermath of president Carter’s amnesty for a Vietnam-era draft evaders.
We were sitting at a table all talking–a bunch of Officers about current-day event stuff. And one guy said, “Hey yeah, Jensen; you were over there, right?” And I said, “Yeah.” “How many babies did you kill?” And I just sat there stunned. I was just stunned that I actually heard it. You know all the other Officers were just sitting there you know and then everything went quiet at the table. I didn’t answer it.
Now that I think of it I should have said, “I delivered one.”
Ron Jensen passed away in 2010.