Memorial Day, 2006: May 29 and the 8th of November

By May 29, 2006General

Any of you who watched the Memorial Day Concert from the National Mall last night on PBS saw the duo Big & Rich sing their new song, “The 8th of November” a heart-rending story of one Niles Harris. Harris befriended the musicians a few year ago and told them the story of his unit — 30 men of the 173rd Airborne — being ambushed by 1200 Vietcong on November 8, 1965. Harris, from Deadwood, South Dakota, has a story similar to so many vets, but Vietnam Vets hold a special place in history. They were the only vets in modern times who were met on their arrival back home not with adulation but with revulsion and ridicule by far too many. It was a disgrace, and one that time has not erased.

Butler, NJ was one of those mill towns that supplied manpower to the Vietnam war. As their draft numbers were called, they dutifully reported to the draft board and became part of the war effort. Some made their way to Southeast Asia. Not all returned. But Butler, like so many towns, was not a place where you’d find an anti-war rally. You were more likely to find flags flying outside the homes and — if asked — support for the boys who were there, just doing their duty. They all had “8th of November” moments and, as in Niles Harris’ case, some weren’t known until many years later, after they felt comfortable speaking about it in public, unafraid of a public backlash.

As a new war rages in Iraq, young men and women are taking up the cause once again, doing their duty. Once again anti-war ire is prevalent. Let’s hope we never again confuse the soldiers with the war and besmirch the men and women who are doing their duty with the mud being kicked up by those who are busy second-guessing and scoring political points.

This Memorial Day we remember the fallen as we do every year, the men and women who gave their lives in defense of liberty and freedom, men and women who understood that a threat to freedom anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere. Here’s a link to our Memorial Day post from last year, with a bit of Memorial Day history.

We would also remind you of National Moment of Remembrance, a moment of silence to be observed at 3 p.m. (local time) today. We hope you will take this moment to pause and reflect on the sacrifice of those who gave all.

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • duncan says:

    i think that song is a sad song(8th of november by:big and rich). i just saw the music video for it.

  • Julie Betts says:

    I am also trying to find a way to contact Mr. Harris. While watching the video 8th of November, my husband and I saw a soldier in one of the clips that looks just like his father. His father was in the 173rd Airborne in 1965. He doesn’t like to talk much about Vietnam but we did get him to watch the clip of the video and he’s pretty sure that it is him. We luckily taped the video and have played it back several times. We are almost 100% sure that it is father in the video. My father in law’s name is Richard H. Betts Jr. and is still living. I really want to talk to Mr. Harris and see if he remembers my father in law. I would really like to find out for sure if my husbands dad was in fact in the video. If anyone can help me please contact me.

    Thanks,

    Julie Betts

  • Mike Wilson says:

    I grew up during the Vietnam War. I remember my father and mother reading the newspaper reports on the war, and watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news as he reported the latest news out of Vietnam. I remember watching the interviews of our troops in combat. I remember the flag draped coffins that carried some of our troops home. I remember the POW bracelet that my older brother wore, and the day that the first POW’s returned home and stepped off the plane. I also remember some of the unfriendly greetings that our rotating troops returned home to. I am embarassed to say that the unfriendly greetings were given by fellow Americans. Those Americans should all be ashamed of themselves to this day. I’m glad that the troops, both male and female who fought and died in Vietnam are finally being honored as they should have been many years ago. Songs like “The 8th of November” are striking chords in the hearts of Americans…many of whom weren’t even alive during the Vietnam War. I’m hoping that they will cause those young Americans to look into that era and appreciate the sacrifice that the men and ladies who served in Viet Nam made for their country. God Bless those heroes.

  • monica harvey says:

    please send my email address to Bonnie Snider who posted on Sept 14, 2006…….I have a healing heart medal for her husband. I give these bandaids for the heart medals to each Vietnam Vet I greet at traveling walls in the central states.
    http://www.veteransmusicministry.com
    http://www.veteransmemorilhighway83.com outgoing NE pres
    MOnica Harvey
    the Vietnam Vets’ little sis (their idea)

  • Bonnie Snider says:

    I went looking for some way to contact Mr. Harris, but I guess this will have to suffice.

    When my husband and I watched Big & Rich perform the song, 8th of November on the CMA, we were both reduced to tears. My husband only last year told me the shocking news that he was in Cambodia on January 15, 1971. He was with the 82nd Airborne…a unit NOT assigned to Viet Nam. I have known and loved this man for 40 years, have been married to him for 33 and never knew he had set foot on Southeast Asia soil.

    His story was one of such horror that I honestly don’t know how he survived to even be here today, let alone be the incredibly kind and gentle man that I know and love with every ounce and fiber of my being. He and 5 others were dropped into Cambodia fresh out of jump school on a covert mission to find POWs. They found them, and what happened will bring on the nightmares that he still has today, and about which I now finally understand. To get out, he and his tiny band of brothers had to fight hand to hand with Khmer Rhouge assassins to take their weapons, because my husband’s and his brothers’ were used up. He crawled for 6 weeks on his belly in blood and sweat to get out of there. He had no air support. He had no ground support.

    And when he got home, he had no support from the Army or the government. He was told to forget it ever happened. It almost destroyed him, but he is made of such strong stuff that he refused to allow it. He was a “good soldier” and did what he was told and never said a word, until the pain and the agony came rushing to the surface and exploded out like the nightmares he has suffered from the time we got married.

    Every time we listen to that song, which is often, we both cry. I cry for the man that I love who never even got to claim that he endured combat and felt unworthy of claiming it, since the Army told him he was a bad man for what he did and America told all Vietnam vets that they were horrible. He cries for the POWs he couldn’t save.

    We ride a Harley and we have made that bike a rolling tribute to those POWs. I wore the bracelet of a POW who did, thank God, come home. I had special chrome covers engraved with the POW/MIA logos for our bike, and we ride with pride for those who never made it back and for whose families there will be no peace.

    I thank Niles Harris for his time in service and I bow my head in prayer for God to bless him for what he had to do. It’s too bad he is so famous now. I know that when my husband “orders a tall one” on each January 15th, he feels the same pain and remembers the same horrors that Niles did. I know that as Airborne brothers, they would be friends today.

    Our nation has yet to overcome the shame of how we treated our Vietnam veterans. Even more shameful are the thousands who were sent on missions during the Cambodian Incursion of 1970 and 1971, who can never claim to have even been there and for whom there are no purple hearts or even acknowledgement of combat whatsoever. My husband has to pay for his treatment at the VA, since his DD214 shows no combat. But pay it we do, because as our private physician has said, only a VA psychiatrist can possibly know how to handle the PTSD that a veteran suffers.

    My husband has 2 cousins who did get to claim combat and both of whom still suffer today. They were in the Marines. One lost his leg and his mind and the other got “stuck” in that war and never came out of it. His entire life has been defined by that 12 months he spent in Vietnam. At least they get their treatment and they get disability benefits. My husband can’t get either. We do pay for his treatment, because he HAS to have it or it will kill him at some point.

    God bless Big & Rich for this song. God bless Niles Harris for what he endured and for inspiring the song. And God bless each and every veteran, regardless of when they served. God bless “the forgotten” veterans like my husband. I would like very much to hear from Mr. Harris and to communicate to him my husband’s story. Like his, few men were left standing when all was said and done. If he reads this or if anyone knows how to email him or snail mail him, I would appreciate getting that information. Not for publicity……but for peace for my husband so he can talk to someone who just might understand the kind of odds he faced and lived to remember.

  • AF Blued says:

    I ran across this site while researching Niles Harris and would first like to say THANK YOU to all the Vietnam Vets and all other Veterans. I am a disabled vet myself and can greatly appreciate the feelings related by Ms Hoffman in her comments. I am a Gulf War vet and have seen combat myself, and when I hear of these Hollywood types slamming our country and our troops I loose all respect for them. Of my fire team I am the only one still alive and hearing these idiots talk bad about our troops hurts. I know that my “brothers” died allowing them to have the right to speak their mind. I would love for them to go to Iran and speak out against their Government and see what happens. Everyone has the right to say what they want, but if you don’t like this country then leave. For the Hollywood types, stop trying to sell your movies, music and whatever else here. Otherwise remember that you live in a country that defends itself by an all volunteer force. We ask not for any thanks or praise, but merely the respect we have earned. Nothing More, nothing less. I am proud of all of my “brothers and sisters” in arms past, present and future. This includes my 17 year old son that is on his way to his own career in the AF. God Bless America and those who serve it. G, C, F, C!

  • Ellen Hoffman says:

    I JUST PULLED THIS SITE UP, MY BROTHER DIED TWO YEARS AGO FROM AGENT ORANGE. I HAVE VERY BITTER FEELINGS TOWARD SOME AMERICANS FOR THE FEELING ABOUT THESE YOUNG MEN THAT FOUGHT IN THIS WAR. HE LIVED A TERRIBLE LIFE AFTER COMING HOME FROM VIETNAM. ARE SON SERVED IN OPERATION DESSERT STORM, AND I HAVE SERVERAL RELATIVES THAT HAVE SERVED THEIR COUNTRY. NO WAR WAS AS IGNORED AS THE VIETNAM WAR, LET US NEVER LET THAT HAPPEN AGAIN TO ANY MAN ARE WOMAN. MY BROTHER,SISTER AND I WERE RAISED IN A SMALL FARMING, AND OIL TOWN ALL HE EVER SHOT WAS A RABBIT ARE MAYBE A RATTLE SNAKE. WHEN HE DIED HE TOLD ME AND MY SISTER HIS PURPOSE HAD BEEN FULFILLED. WE FOUGHT AND HE FOUGHT FOR HIS AGENT ORANGE SETTLEMENT AND RECEIVED IT ABOUT TWO YEARS BEFORE HE DIED THANKS TO SEN MCCAIN OF AZ. AGAIN THANKS FOR LETTING ME MAKE MY COMMENTS, THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THESE MEN AND ALL MEN THAT HAVE FOUGHT FOR ARE FREEDOM. I LOVE AMERICA. ELLEN HOFFMAN