Newsweek described them as “a youthful, long-haired army, almost as large as the U.S. force in Vietnam.” One of the promoters saw what happened near Bethel (nearly 40 miles from Woodstock), N.Y., as an opportunity to “showcase” the drug culture as a “beautiful phenomenon.” The newsmagazine wrote of “wounded hippies” sent to impromptu hospital tents. Some 400,000 of the “nation’s affluent white young” attended the “electric pot dream.” One sympathetic chronicler recently described them as “a veritable army of hippies and freaks.”
Time gushed with admiration for the tribal gathering, declaring: “It may well rank as one of the significant political and sociological events of the age.” It deplored the three deaths there—“one from an overdose of drugs [heroin], and hundreds of youths freaked out on bad trips caused by low-grade LSD.” Yet attendees exhibited a “mystical feeling for themselves as a special group,” according to the magazine’s glowing essay.
That same tribute mentioned the “meaningless war in the jungles of Southeast Asia” and quoted a commentator who said the young need “more opportunities for authentic service.” Meanwhile, 8,429 miles around the other side of the world, 514,000 mostly young Americans were authentically serving the country that had raised them to place society over self. The casualties they sustained over those four days were genuine, yet none of the elite media outlets were praising their selflessness. So 40 years later, let’s finally look at those 109 Americans who sacrificed their lives in Vietnam on Aug. 15, 16, 17 and 18, 1969.
An American Profile
They mirrored the population of the time. A full 92% were white (seven of whom had Spanish surnames) and 8% black. Some 67% were Protestants; 28% Catholic. A disproportionate number—more than one-third—hailed from the South. More than two-thirds were single; nearly one-third married. Not surprisingly, the vast majority (91%) were under the age of 30, with 78% between the ages of 18 and 22.
Overwhelmingly (87%), they were in the Army. Marines and airmen accounted for 8% and 4% of the deaths respectively, with sailors sustaining 1%. Again, not unexpectedly, two-thirds were infantrymen. That same proportion was lower-ranking enlisted men. Enemy action claimed 84% of their lives; non-hostile causes, 16%. The preponderance (56%) had volunteered while 43% had been drafted. One was in the National Guard.
Of the four days, Aug. 18—the last day of “peace and love” in the Catskills when the 50,000 diehards departed after the final act—was the worst for the men in Vietnam. Thirty-five of them died on that one miserable day. Many perished in the Battle of Hiep Duc (see VFW Au gust 2008) fighting with the hard-luck Americal Division in the Que Son Mountains. In fact, 37% of all the GIs lost in this period came from this one unit.
So when you hear talk of the glories of Woodstock—the so-called “defining event of a generation”—keep in mind those 109 GIs who served nobly yet are never lauded by the illustrious spokesmen for the “Sixties Generation.”
Reprinted with permission from the August 2009 issue of the Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine.