Congressional Medal of Honor winner Paul Bucha shared lessons learned while fighting in Vietnam and stressed the importance of student activism and the upcoming election during a Branford College Master’s Tea Tuesday.
Bucha, a retired U.S. Army captain from Company D, 3rd Battalion, is one of the 129 living recipients of the highest military award for valor. In his talk, Bucha discussed what he said was the distorted U.S. perspective of war, the importance of having finite goals in war in order to achieve victory, and the damage war has inflicted on veterans and their families. Bucha also applied his experiences in Vietnam to the current situation in Iraq.
He began his talk by criticizing what he said is the United States’ “solipsistic” perspective. American leadership believes that the rest of the world holds the same values and beliefs as the United States, he said.
“[We think] we can raze countries and a phoenix will rise up in our image,” Bucha said.
During the years following his service, Bucha said he also realized how much war has a lasting harmful effect on those involved and their families. Vietnam veterans have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the government currently mistreats and neglects war widows, he said.
“We have learned to place a burden on people,” he said, “and as long as it’s out of sight and out of mind, we don’t care.”
Bucha said that Americans, particularly students and young people, should become involved in educating others about the injustices of war, especially today.
“The students were the ones who saved [the country] during [the Vietnam War],” Bucha said. “But the students are quiet now.”
One way Bucha suggested young people could become more active was by campaigning for Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry. Bucha, a personal friend of Kerry, said Kerry would make a strong wartime president because of his integrity and honesty.
During the talk, Bucha laid out his concrete solution for leaving Iraq within 18 months, a plan which he said he has passed along to Kerry. Bucha said the U.S. Army should recruit 600,000 regional units from around Iraq and, with the help of allied nations, train them to maintain the peace.
From his service in Vietnam, Bucha said he learned integrity, compassion and humility. Ten people in his battalion died under his command, he said.
“The one thing that comes out of combat is to appreciate what we’re given, because people give up everything they might have become for us,” Bucha said.
Audience members said they were moved by Bucha’s speech and wished more students had been present. About 15 students and Yale community members attended the tea.
“As an intelligent guy and a veteran, he didn’t so much say things I had never heard before, but I realized the truth of his analysis of the current political situation and was genuinely touched by his conviction,” Spencer Sherman ’08 said.
Bucha was recruited to Yale for swimming, but he attended West Point instead. After attending Stanford Business School, he fought in Vietnam. Bucha now works in real estate development in Connecticut.