The life of a man named Gerry Gitell is an eloquent response to Nixon's slur against the Jews (Nixon caught himself on tape saying that he "didn't notice many Jewish names coming back from Vietnam..."), just as the heroism of Jack Jacobs is an eloquent response to Nixon's slur.
Gerry Gitell, the father of a friend of mine named Seth Gitell, died last month in Nevada at the age of 69. He served as a captain of the Green Berets; he lived the mission of the Green Berets even after he arrived home from Vietnam, and even as he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Gerry Gitell is best-known in Special Forces circles not for his work as a combat adviser in Vietnam, but as the man who, in essence, discovered Sgt. Barry Sadler's song, "The Ballad of the Green Beret." The story is fascinating:
Before he left Fort Bragg, N.C., for Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group in 1965, he befriended Sadler, who wrote the ballad with author Robin Moore. As a public information officer, Gerry Gitell was the one who saw the song's promotional value at a time when the anti-war movement was budding.
He obtained recording equipment from the Special Warfare Center and persuaded their commander, Brig. Gen. William Yarborough to support them in recording and selling the song. For his effort, he received 25 percent of the royalties from the hit that topped the charts for five weeks, surpassing "We Can Work It Out" by the Beatles and "Paint it Black" by the Rolling Stones.
Veteran Special Forces officer Sully de Fontaine, who was among the Green Berets at the funeral, described Gitell as "a soldier's soldier."
Here is a video created by the Las Vegas Review-Journal about his life and death.
I asked Seth by e-mail what it meant to his father to be a Jewish soldier in Vietnam. Here is what he wrote back:
After my father moved to Las Vegas in 2000, he ultimately became active in the Special Forces Association, Chapter 51, the local branch of the national alumni group. The group sent a contingent of members to serve as an honor guard at his funeral at the Southern Nevada Veterans Cemetery and to lead the gathering in the singing of "The Ballad of the Green Berets." They also served as many of the pallbearers, who accompanied the coffin to the hearse, which took him to his final resting spot. While we waited, the oldest of them -- a veteran of the anti-Nazi partisans in Belgium, the Israeli Army in the War of Independence and Vietnam -- motioned to the coffin, and then to two of his comrades and said "four Jewish boys." It was a point never lost on my father that while often forgotten, Jewish soldiers fought and died in Vietnam just as they had in World War II and other conflicts.