Last August I had the opportunity to speak at a Hitachi CIO Conference that was held in Danang, Vietnam. Since this was the area of operations during my tour in Vietnam, I took a few days to visit some of the battle sites from 50 years ago. Pratyush Kare, my friend from Singapore, accompanied me on this visit to give me support.
We went to Tinh Binh near Quang Nhai to visit the site of Operation Utah where my Battalion engaged 2 Regiments of the North Vietnamese Army. After a day-long battle we were over run and had to call air strikes down on our position to survive. I found a villager that lived in the area who was a 16 years old Viet Cong at the time. He did not participate in the fighting but he helped the North Vietnamese Army dig their fortifications. He later became an officer and he and his wife were honored by Ho Chi Minh and General Giap. We walked the battlefield together using my old military map and later he invited me to his home for tea where he and his wife showed me their many citations from Ho Chi Minh.
My best friend in the Marine Corps was the executive officer of G Company when he was shot through the chest on the first day of Operation Utah. He and his wife and my wife and I met when we were newlyweds and we enjoyed doing things together in the year before we shipped out to Vietnam. He survived and he and I joined IBM after we left the Marine Corps. Over the past 50 years he sends me a Christmas card every year, and encloses a picture of his family. I have seen his family grow with kids, and marriages, and grand kids and now their wives and husbands. All this would not exist if the bullet had hit him a few millimeters either way or the helicopter had not evacuated him in time.
Operation Utah was a success for the Marines in the way they kept score in that war. There were 98 Marines killed in action versus an estimated 600 North Vietnamese. If you visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, you will see names of the 98 Marines listed on the wall in the time period, March 4 to 6, 1966. When I visited the area of Operation Utah this August, there was a large military cemetery where hundreds of Vietnamese soldiers were interred. These were North Vietnamese soldiers who had travelled from their homes in North Vietnam to fight and die and be buried in this area so far from their family homes. I said a prayer for them as I prayed also for our Marines. So many young lives that ended too soon.
Now 50 years after that war, I wonder at the loss that we all suffered and the senseless waste. I work with my Vietnamese colleagues in HDS whose fathers and grandfathers fought in the same war and there is no hatred or distrust, only a shared sense of vision and cooperation in our work. Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM made many speeches on “World Peace Through World Trade.” I am hopeful for that vision. Brian Householder our HDS President gave a speech in October at our Strategy Summit in which he said that we must work to a “double bottom line”, one bottom line for our business and another bottom line for Social Innovation. I am hopeful that Social Innovation will also lead to world peace.