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Stolen Honor

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Posted by Jack Heslin on 19:58:33 06/09/22

Most of us understand the concept of stolen valor when someone claims heroic acts and military awards they do not deserve. There has been much written about this to include Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History by B.G Burkett and Glenna Whitley. There have been public cases revealed of men who have made false claims and there have been legal efforts to hold these men responsible for their actions.

There is however, a different way that false assertions or lies can damage the very soul of a soldier. That is his honor can be taken from him by the malicious, deceitful acts of others. I call this stolen honor.

General Ly Tong Ba was an extraordinary man by any measure. A true hero of the people of South Vietnam and a very accomplished, brave soldier who often faced death in his long and illustrious career. He was the Commander of the 23rd ARVN Infantry Division in 1972 during the Battle of Kontum where I became aware of who he was. He fought with honor throughout the war until he was captured in 1975 as he was fighting to save the city of Saigon. After his capture he was imprisoned for a period of thirteen years enduring great pain and suffering that almost took his life many times. After he was finally released from prison, he finally made his way to America where he was able to join his family who had come to America as refugees in 1975. They had been boat people.

I became close friends with General Ba in 2005 after he joined me for a presentation in Washington DC at the annual reunion of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association. Over the years, our friendship grew and we had a number of visits together one of which was at my home. Throughout my years of friendship, I have been very aware of the pain he has carried from the war. One of the sources of that pain was the false narrative about his performance as a young captain in January 1963 during the battle of Ap Bac. One of the worst indictments you can make about a soldier is that he showed cowardice in the face of the enemy. General Ba lived with that for most of his adult life because of lies that were told about his actions during the Battle of Ap Bac, January 2 -3 1963. Those lies were told by an American adviser who was with Ba in the battle and by LTC John Paul Vann who was the Senior Advisor to the 7th ARVN Infantry Division. Those lies of cowardice and incompetence were believed by the American Press at the time who then reported on the perceived failures of the ARVN soldiers and Ly Tong Ba. Those lies fit the narrative that the communist Viet Cong wanted told to advance their agenda of defeating the ARVN and overthrowing the government of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. Those lies perpetrated a false narrative that drove a wedge between the US government leadership and that of President Diem. Those lies stole the honor of Ly Tong Ba.

In 1972 General Ba as the 23rd ARVN commander in Kontum worked with John Paul Vann. Vann was the American Senior Adviser for II Corps and the most senior American during the battle. General Ba told me during one of our visits that John Vann apologized to him for what Vann had said about Ba after the Battle of Ap Bac. That meant a great deal to General Ba because it was an acknowledgement by Vann of the lie and telling the truth brought about a reconciliation of the truth for the two men and a healing.

Others have not faced that truth and the false narrative persist to this day. I think it is amazing that Ba called out Neil Sheehan for what he wrote about the battle of Ap Bac, and Ba s performance in Sheehan s book A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam.

It is important to remember that at the time of the battle of Ap Bac one of the prime sources of information for the reporters was Pham Xuan An, a Vietnamese reporter working for the American Press and at the same time a super spy as a communist Colonel in the army of North Vietnam. The false narrative perpetrated on the American Press met the agenda of the communist enemy of the United States and South Vietnam. The false narrative stole the honor of General Ly Tong Ba. The false narrative about the Vietnam War persist to this day and has stolen the honor of America s Vietnam Veterans.

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