Paul "Buddy"Bucha, VVA's
keynote speaker, is a true hero of the Vietnam War. A West
Point graduate, he arrived in Vietnam in November 1967 in took
command of D Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry, 3rd
Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. Four months later, in March
1968, he and his men were inserted into a suspected enemy
stronghold near Phuoc Vinh in Binh Duong Province. That force
turned out to be a battalion. Days of heavy fighting ensued.
Despite being seriously wounded, Bucha crawled through heavy
fire to destroy a machine gun bunker that had his company
pinned down. He directed the medical evacuation of three
helicopters full of seriously wounded troops and led a rescue
party to recover the dead and wounded members of his company.
For his actions, Paul Bucha received the nation's highest
military honor, the Medal of Honor.
He went into private business in 1972 and became an active
member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, first as a
fundraiser, then as its president. He serves today on the
board of Veterans Advantage, Fisher House Foundation, and
Intrepid Museum. He is also a member of VVA Chapter 49 in
Westchester County, New York.
What follows is the speech, slightly edited, that Bucha
delivered July 30 at the VVA National Convention.
Thank you very much. I accept your applause on behalf of my
men. The medal I wear, I wear for them and for those of you
who did not receive proper recognition. It is not mine.
I have a lot of things on my mind because I'm not exactly a
happy camper. I don't believe that if you question a war or
you question the government's policies on things that you care
deeply about that you should be accused of being unpatriotic.
Because of what I'm going to say today, I think it's
inappropriate that I wear this.
[At this point, Bucha takes off his Medal of Honor.]
If I asked the Medal of Honor recipients, 136 of them, to come
up front and stand before you, you'd see some are tall, some
are short. Some are black, some are white, some are yellow,
and most of us are a bit fat. Almost all of us are old, and
right now there isn't a woman among us. But, other than
that, you'd say, "Damn, they look like us." And we are.
There is no difference whatsoever except that mysterious time
where the confluence of events and circumstances came
together, and a person was asked to challenge the hand that
destiny had dealt. Then someone gives them a medal. Why?
Because at that time they reached down and said, "No,"and
reached for the potential that exists in every single person.
Think about it. An old man is crossing the street with his
walker, and we're revving the engine to get to the next red
light so we can stop, and we're frustrated with him. He turns
around and he's wearing that blue ribbon with a little medal,
and we say, "That's okay, take your time." And that kid
packing our bags in the grocery store, he puts the bananas in
it and drops the cans on top. We say,"Jeez," then he turns
around and he's wearing a blue ribbon with a little medal. We
say, "That's okay."But he's no different than the person he
was before he received that medal.
Throughout history we find people like you and like me in
circumstances where they had to challenge the hand that
destiny had dealt. My personal hero is a little lady. She gets
up in the morning, puts on her dress and her pearl white
gloves, goes to a bus stop, gets on a bus, and sits in the
seventh row. Some big guys get on the bus and say, "Go to the
back." That lady reached down inside of herself, overcame all
the fear in the world, and just said, "No." Rosa Parks changed
this world, and nobody gave her a medal.
So when we say, "Don't forget," we have to remember what we're
talking about. We're talking about people who are like you and
me before they wear that uniform. They are entitled to the
respect that that potential within them deserves. They wear
that uniform and offer to go forward for a nation and look for
that circumstance and reach down and change the hand that
destiny has dealt. And 99 times out of 100 it's to save those
on their left and right. They deserve our respect whether they
have that medal or not.
Someone stands up with one hand on the Bible and one hand on
the gun and we can't tell which way he is going and which side
he is on, and he says, "Because you don't agree with me, you
are unpatriotic. You don't support our troops.'' We - those
that have been there - have to stand up to that person and
say, "e fought for the right to question. Our comrades died
for the right to question."
We took an oath when we came back. No other generation of
veterans did. We not only said we won't leave veterans behind,
we said, "Never again." Never again would we allow this nation
to send its young men into combat without first knowing what
the mission is. So that when they accomplished that mission,
they could say, "Mission done," and they'd come home.
The last President to do that was George Bush the first, and I
was opposed to that war, I'll admit it. I was afraid no one
would define a mission. And he said, "When they're out of
Kuwait, come home.'' When they said the gate is closed. They
came home, they walked in the parades, and everybody said,
"Fine.'' But then the second guessers said, "Hey, we could
have gone to Baghdad. It was pretty damn easy.'' They were
advocating mission creep. They were advocating that which we
said we would never allow because it happened to us.
Since that day, George Bush the first has been vilified. And
what has happened? Has any leader stepped forward and said,
"The mission is specific''? We are doing search-and-destroy
missions in Afghanistan. Yes, we wanted retribution. Yes, we
wanted to smack somebody. But what are we seeing in Operation
Anaconda? As my RTO said to me, "Sir, I feel like I'm back
over there." We're counting bodies and counting ammo. Pretty
soon we're going to be counting Coke cans because in this war,
as in our war, the RTOs realize what's going on.
How many of you were RTOs? You were sitting in the jungle, and
they're saying, "How many did you kill?''
"Well, 40 got away.''
"Well, that's no so hot.''
"Well, we captured some rice.''
"How about three tons?''
And then the RTO says, "Hell, and I found a Mrs. Paul's fish
sticks box,'' knowing damn well in the Pentagon someone
wearing four stars will say, "Damn. Mrs. Paul's made it to
Who was that? One of you and one of me. The guys that go in,
in the face of hell, and smile, but the guys who have to have
the courage today to stand up and say, "No, not without a
mission,'' not this nonsense of an exit strategy. The exit
strategy is: Mission accomplished, I'm coming home. And the
kids in Iraq today, listen to what they're saying. They sound
like you. They sound like me: "I'll go into the mouth of hell
for you. Just tell me when I can come home and why.''
And why is that? It's simple. We serve this country because we
trust in its integrity, we trust in its wisdom. We have a
right to be sure that it is wise and it is honest. And if it
is, we go to the gates of hell again and again and again as
we've done throughout the history of this great land.
And in spite of the way our war ended, 98 percent of us said,
"I'd do it again.''
You are going to hear a lot of talk about our great success.
I'm here because the Chapter 49 guys said, "You get your butt
to St. Louis.'' I entered the service from St. Louis as a
17-year-old kid, so it's a special place to me. But I'm
worried. I don't see seven guys who want to be President here.
I don't see a President and a Vice President who want to get
reelected. I don't see Congressmen and Senators, all running
to be reelected. I don't see them here.
They went to the gay rights group two weeks ago. All but three
went to the NAACP. All of them went to the United Jewish
Appeal. But they are not here. Why aren't they here? It's not
their fault, it's ours. We wave that flag, and that flag means
a lot to me. That flag is not just our national symbol. It's
so, so much more. That flag is our conscience. It's our soul.
It's the shroud that covers those caskets. And that parade of
flag-draped caskets, that's the only parade that counts in
How many of us went to Dover to welcome them home? How many?
This government has decided one flag officer is all they want.
I called up a bunch of my friends, and we said, "We want to be
I was told, "What happens if others want to come?''
"What,'' I said, "are you talking about?''
She said, "There could be 500 people.''
I said, "How about 500,000 people?''
She said, "We couldn't handle it.''
I said, "I think the families of those returning young men and
women can handle it.''
That's our parade. But we've allowed that parade to be shut
down, shut down at the gate. And there's another parade that
you and I canceled. We canceled it because we are too busy. We
canceled it because we don't have time. As a result, nobody
comes to talk to us. Nobody cares what we think because we
canceled that parade. And that's the parade of voters to the
Eleven percent of American voters show up on primary day.
Think about it. Six percent voting on one side, 6 percent on
the other, and that's giving them a bonus of one. Split in
half, three percent picks the candidate. If we showed up, if
we showed up en masse, if we showed up because we care, they'd
all be here. They'd all be standing here saying, "Please, vote
for me. What do you need?" The most powerful secretary
in the Cabinet would be the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. And
they wouldn't put their hand on the Bible and hold the gun and
then cut our benefits.
So I'm here to challenge you to one thing. When you leave
here, go back home and don't say, "I tried to get the voters
out.'' When was "I tried'' good enough for us? When was "I
tried'' good enough for us when nobody gave us a parade? When
was "I tried'' good enough when the government said, "We don't
have it in the budget to give you a damn memorial?'' We don't
owe them anything. We built our own memorial. We gave our own
parade. Now, we're going to lead that parade to the ballot
I don't care if you're liberal, conservative, Protestant,
Jewish, anything. I don't care where you come from. I want you
to vote. I want you to take your wives, your sons, your
daughters, your mothers, your fathers, and you have them vote.
It doesn't matter what they do. But if we could just get 20
percent of the eligible voters, every pundit would be wrong.
They would be wrong, except to say, "Damn, what happened?
Those Vietnam vets did it again.''
Just before we went into Iraq, I was privileged to talk to
101st Airborne, NCOs and officers. I didn't find any of those
men saying, "Hey, let's go to war.'' Every one of them said,
"Why are we going? You tell me why we're going, and we'll kick
ass, take names, and we'll be home. But I don't want to go
until someone else makes up their mind. I want this nation
committed. I want the world committed. And then turn us
About a week later, I had the privilege to sit and listen to
Secretary Wolfowitz at a dinner honoring Medal of Honor
recipients. I was sitting next to him and I said, "Mr.
Secretary, I have three requests. First, before you send
anybody into Iraq, take the time to create a finite mission.''
"We learned in Vietnam a meaningful objective is specific,
it's finite, it has a tool of
measurement, and it has a suggestion of a course of action
that you can succeed. Do that.''
He said, "Too tough.''
I thought, "What - to think or to die?''
I said, "I have a second request for you.''
He said, "What's that?''
I said, "It's simple. $1.3 million was not enough for a New
York City fireman or a policeman who gave his life on
September 11th. And $6,000 and an opportunity to buy $250,000
of your own damn insurance is totally inadequate for a man or
a woman in the uniform of the United States who gives their
life for their country. How about self-insuring and giving
every person who dies in the uniform a half-million dollars so
their family lives well?''
He said, "That's too expensive.''
I said, "Then I'm going to live up to another vow I gave some
guys. It's not very expensive. It's pretty simple. Every night
120 Americans go to sleep surrounded by 100,000 bad guys. It's
a place called the Monastery on the Korean DMZ. They don't get
hazardous duty pay, only $147.50 a month--120 guys. It can't
be that much. But it explains to their families why they are
there, why their families can't visit, why when you want to go
see them you go from checkpoint after checkpoint after
checkpoint, why it's too dangerous for a USO show. Just
He said, "Too difficult.'''
I said, "I wish you luck on your speech.''
The next night I had the privilege of seeing Secretary
Rumsfeld. He was giving a speech during Intrepid Fleet Week.
Arnold Fisher was trying desperately to raise enough money to
give $10,000 to each wife or child left behind, the family
left behind for a killed in action. The day they are notified,
a check arrives, certified, no questions asked. Just, here's
$10,000 to pay the rent and do what you've got to do. He put
half a million of his own money in there. Had his cousin put
another half million and we raised another $350,000. We are
trying to raise $3 million. But we can't do it.
"Support the troops'' is fine, but how about giving us some
money to give their families? Just a few shekels so they don't
worry. "Sorry, I'm busy, I gave at the office.'' You want to
help somebody? Help Arnold Fisher raise that money so these
kids left behind have something. So Arnold stands up in the
middle of the dinner, and he says, "As the Gold Star mother
said, Mr. Secretary, 'Great speech.' But I remember listening
to some veterans--Vietnam men--when they had the parade in New
York. They said, 'We're looking for the day there is no more
war.' We're not looking for war.''
I thought, "My God, in a room with two thousand people, the
host asked the Secretary of Defense who's been bragging about
all his wars, 'How about backing off and how about letting the
kids defend this land? Let's not look for fights. Let's look
for peace.' '' I thought, "What a courageous man it takes to
do that.'' And he was a corporal--Korean War--and until about
five years ago, didn't tell anybody because no one cared.
So I saw Secretary Rumsfeld that night. I said, "Mr.
Secretary, I'm Paul Bucha.''
He said, "I know. You have three questions.''
"And what did Wolfowitz do with my request for $147.50?''
"We're pulling off the DMZ.''
So, seriously, I really appeal to you. We are building Fisher
Houses. Why? Because we think people at veterans hospitals and
military hospitals should be able to be with their loved
ones--not if they can afford it, but because they should be,
period. We're building them all over. We're building another
one in Tripler in Hawaii. We've got two in Landstuhl in
Germany. The reason for that is, in the old days they had
hospitals everywhere. Now, by God, you're killed or wounded
east of India, you're going to Tripler; west of India, you're
going to Landstuhl. So you need homes there where the families
We're building them at the VA hospitals as fast as we can
raise the money. We also are raising the Falling Heroes Fund.
We're trying. Try to help us on that. But do not leave this
hall accepting and tolerating the indifference shown toward
this gathering. Leave here angry. Leave here insulted and
committed to make a difference. Get those Legion halls, VFW
halls, Amvet halls, DAV halls, and VVA centers buzzing for the
next primary day. Have those phones buzzing. Give up the drink
on that day. Don't have a party. Work your asses off as if
it's an ambush and get the people out. Let's get Americans out
exercising the franchise we thought we were fighting for.
And if we do that, that's when they'll deliver on their
commitments. They don't deliver because we beg: They give you
a slap on the back. When you leave the door, they slash the
budget. And if you say anything, they reply, "You're not
supporting our troops.'' So when you leave here today, leave
inspired, leave angry, leave committed. It's a difficult task.
You've tried, but it hasn't work. But nobody told us they'd
build us a monument, and nobody told us they'd give us a
We did it once. We can do it again.
I have ten men whose names are carved on the black wall in
Washington. Ten guys that there isn't a day that goes by in my
life when I don't wonder what I could have done to bring them
back. Delta Company was formed at the 101st. I was the first
man in it. I was given the clerks and the jerks from the
stockades in all the headquarters companies.
I had a few very smart guys and a whole lot of mean guys. I
remember thinking, "My God, what a group to go to war with.''
They, unfortunately, had me as company commander, Stanford
Business School background. They got the short stick; I got
the long one. The only thing I had to do was to bring them
back, and I failed. So when I think things are tough, and I
think, "God, I can't do it,'' I think what those men would do
to have my problems.
What would they give to have problems paying the mortgage?
What would they give to say, "Jeez, I've lost my job''? Just
to have a second chance at life. So I'm begging: Leave here
committed to make a difference, not content with what we've
got, committed and demanding what we're entitled to and more.
Those kids in the back of this auditorium, they were medevac
people in the Gulf. They flew from Iraq to Kuwait, brought the
bodies out, brought out the injured who in other wars would be
dead. They bring home the wounded, and then we don't report
the wounded. They brought them back.
We must commit ourselves so that those kids know as they fly
their adrenaline-pumping missions in service to us, that if
something happens, their families will be taken care of. And
no duplicitous politicians of any party standing up and waving
a damn flag will cut the budget for those who make that flag
I thank you for the privilege of being with you. I thank you
for what you're doing for my men. I'm alive today because of
Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Chinamen, most of them draftees, dumb
enough to jump out of an airplane for a lousy $55. They are
entitled to what we promised them, and you're all that they've
got. I'm humbled to be near you. I'm proud to be able to claim
to be one of you. On behalf of my men, thank you for what you
do for this country.
[Shouts from the hall: Put your medal back on.]