Peace Corps Writers
War and Peace Corps — The Commander Wore Civies (page 4)
War and Peace Corps — The Commander Wore Civies
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     Then came the night I went with a team from my unit to accompany the Vietnamese provincial and district militia on their search of a rocky hill for Viet Cong. We found some along with some army deserters and other desperadoes. But I didn’t have to get my weapon out for the task. In fact I never carried it with me and never fired it the whole time I was in the country.

What do I think of Vietnam and the war there? I saw it then, as I do now, being part of the long campaign following the Second World War to “contain Communism.” Vietnam stood at the end of a train of conflicts between those for and those against a Communist regime — Greece, China, Korea, Cuba and then Vietnam.Communism had not gained power in any country without blood being spilled and in copious quantity, as seen in China and Russia. Vietnam was no different. Should we have been there? Well, should we have entered into the Greek conflict or the one in Korea? To me it was the same, and if one saw the merit in stopping Communism in those other places there was merit in doing it in Vietnam.
     Did I understand the reasons for defeat in Vietnam in contrast to stopping Communism in say Korea? Our Achilles heel became obvious to me one afternoon in Thanh Hai while I was in a planning session with the district civilian, military and police officials focused on rooting out the Viet Cong underground.On the table in the middle of the room was a map of a village in which each home was represented by a square. Some of the squares were outlined and tinged in red. I asked what did that mean. I was told that the red tinged homes were homes with members of, or connections to, the Viet Cong. I asked, “Why are they still there in the village and not removed to another part of the country where they would be cut off from their support?”
     The reply I got said all I needed to know, “But this is their home.” It was an epiphany for me. Suddenly all became clear; we were out in front of the Vietnamese, instead of standing behind or shoulder to shoulder with them, as in Greece or Korea. They were not prepared to do the things required to remove the menace, for whatever reason — family ties, lack of conviction, fear, and greed. I concluded the session by saying they could continue this course of action but, when the Viet Cong took over, they would be there and I would be in the USA.

  

Leo Cecchini was in the first group of PCVs to Ethiopia and taught geography and coached the soccer team at Haile Selassie I High School in Asmara, Eritrea. He is remembered by that generation of students in Asmara for having led the soccer team to two straight league championships. While in Asmara, he also taught English at the Greek Community School, and during the summer worked at the hospital for mentally deficient children.
     Following his Peace Corps experience he went into the Foreign Service and has worked for the government and in international business ever since. His full resume is at his web site: www.cecchini.org.
     Leo is also on the Board of Directors of the NPCA and active with the very active Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCVs, an affiliate of the National Peace Corps Association.

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