To: Sp4 William John Hammer
Panel O4W, Line 44
We came in-country together. I was with a group of guys I went thru AIT with, and you hooked up with us at the Replacement Center in Cam Rahn Bay. We were all assigned to infantry units in the 101st Airborne, up near the DMZ.
We all went thru in-country training at Camp Evans, and then got stuck there for awhile waiting assignment. There was about 30 of us in a barracks. Every day we were detailed to do all the bullshit chores that none of the permanent party wanted to do; we were the free labor pool. Guard duty, KP, bunker guard, cleaning officers quarters, you name it.
As time passed, and more replacements shipped out, our group became responsible for an increasing share of these details, and we felt unappreciated. There were a lot of empty barracks around, and one day we collected all our gear and moved to another building, leaving no forwarding address. We got a few days of peace until they found us, and we all felt good about that. Shortly thereafter, we all shipped to our final assignments, and I didnt see any more of you.
On the morning of March 13, my company mounted a helicopter assault into an area of low rolling hills. It was quiet, and we formed up and moved out after the choppers left. We were maybe a quarter mile away when another unit was placed on the LZ we had just moved off of. As they formed up, several rockets slammed into thier midst. I later learned that you had been killed in that attack.
I think about you now; seeing your name on the wall, 47 years later. Like all of us poor dumb draftees in ’71, we just wanted to go home, and considered it heigth of cosmic bad luck that we found ourselves in the most dangerous place in the world for a 21 Y.O.guy to be in. I’m pretty sure you just wanted to go home, smoke a joint, drink a beer, listen to some music, talk to a girl. I’m pretty sure you didnt want to die that day. It could have been any of us.
Thank You, Bill. Thank you for your sacrifice. I’m sorry you didnt get the chance to live your life.
Vets For Peace
(Sp4., 2/327 Infantry, 101st Abn)
My Letter to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (the Wall) in 2017
For my letter to the Wall in May 2015, I addressed my “letter to soldiers who died in Vietnam.” I addressed my letter not only to those soldiers who died tragically in Vietnam during the Vietnam/Indochina War, but also to many times that number who later died from suicide and war-related physical and psychological devastation and should also be listed as our Vietnam War deaths. Finally, I noted the approximately 3,000,000 Vietnamese deaths and perhaps 4,000,000 total Indochinese deaths and the countless others who continue to suffer and die to this day.
In words that are more true in 2017 than ever before, I concluded my letter as follows: In 2015, we find renewed efforts by the disgraced Vietnam War planners, the Pentagon, the aggressive “patriotic” militarists and military contractors, what Fulbright called the military-industrial-academic complex, and the corporate media to rewrite “official” history and undo the real lessons of the Vietnam War. We, who learned the painful and tragic lessons of the Vietnam War must resist this mythic false rewriting of history, set the record straight, and work for a world of greater nonviolence, compassion, peace, and justice.
One significant development that shapes writing a letter to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in May 2017 is coming to terms with the era of Trump. It is not as if the lessons of the Vietnam War are significantly different than, say, they were earlier this century in the era of Bush and the era of Obama. However, what is different and fraught with danger, is Trump’s ignorance of history and lack of intellectual curiosity; his dismissal of “facts” and knowledge and obsession with “winning” at any cost; his flawed, ego-driven, immature, demagogic, sexist, racist, lying, violent, ruthless personality and values. What are most significant and dangerous are how such personality characteristics and values are expressed through U.S. priorities and policies expressing aggressive global and domestic militarism and reactionary populism. In many ways, these are angry aggressive reactions that ignore and attempt to undo the lessons of the Vietnam/Indochina War.
Full disclosure on the lessons of the Vietnam War means for me focusing on two major concerns: Truth and Violence. For years, Presidents and key policymakers embraced mythic fictions about U.S. exceptionalism, the best-intentioned moral superiority of U.S. policies at home and abroad, and the distortion and outright lies about Vietnam’s history and culture, U.S. interventionism, winning the war, and the devastating results of so much death and suffering. In an untruthful and ego-attached immature way, President Lyndon Johnson was driven by the obsession that he would not be the first American President to lose a war. Donald Trump, in the most transparent way, takes this untruthful and ego-attached immature obsession with winning to a new level. He will make America great again (whatever that means) and the U.S. will get used to winning again (whatever that means) with complete ignorance of the truths painfully learned in the lessons of the Vietnam War.
In addition, for years, Presidents and key policymakers glorified or completely ignored and falsified a U.S. history of the violent genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of African American, militaristic foreign interventions, and other examples of extreme violence. This culminates in the lessons of the Vietnam War in which we understood how millions of human beings suffered and died as a result of political, economic, militaristic, cultural, and religious values, priorities, and policies. In his impulsiveness, language, sexism, racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant values, Islamophobia, violent corporatism, militarism, anti-environmentalism, etc., Trump and his administration of policymakers have taken extreme U.S. violence to a new transparent level.
We, who learned the lessons of the Vietnam War, must use these to resist the untruths and violence in 2017 and to creative alternative priorities, values, policies, and ways of relating that express greater truth, empathy and mutual respect, and nonviolence, compassion, loving kindness, peace, and justice for all.
Professor of Philosophy
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469 U.S.A.
Being an Illinois farmer, I don’t get to visit the wall very often. When I do, I try and do so around 4am so that I can be alone. More importantly, the silence at this hour enables me to better hear the messages from the dead.
One of those killed by the war who speaks to me is John Kellett-panel W56, line 13. John was a boyhood friend who grew up on a nearby farm. We had fun times on play dates on our respective farms and in high school ran cross country together. I get to converse with John more often on top of a small hill 4 miles east of my farm where he lies between his parents Frances and Robert in the shade of a maple tree. It is always quiet in this isolated rural cemetery and has good surface drainage, so is never swampy like where John last walked.
In his last letter home to his parents, John wrote of his longing to get away from the noise of war. His mother granted John this wish and had a silent funeral for her only child with no gun salutes, taps, or speeches. This prohibited anyone from imposing sounds and voices to use his death for any agenda. Attendees at the service were forced to listen to the dead, as they can be at the Wall.
John’s grave site has further significance for me, since the year of his mother’s death engraved on the tombstone is 1968-the same as John. Frances loved her only child dearly and rushed to be with him as soon as she could. War takes many more lives than are on the official list.
Paul Appell Viet Nam 70-71
Letter to Those of the Vietnam Memorial Wall on Memorial Day 2017,
I have never visited you except the virtual version available online. Yeah, turns out those computers weren’t just a flash-in-the-pan, vehicle for accelerating snafu production after all.
Pretty sure you knew all about bureaucratic rules and regulations first hand. So it’s probably no surprise that some of the people you served with who died around the same time as you – did not get included on The Wall with you because they died at a time or place outside the defined parameters for The Wall.
Although I started my project to remember lives lost in a later war, I have included those from your era who did not meet the criteria for The Wall, on my project as I have learned of them.
So far, there are around 1500 Vietnam Era persons so included.
Please continue to help the information for those you feel deserve equivalent recognition come my way so I can do the same for them.
Memorial Day 2017, Letter to be placed at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
Fifty eight thousand of my generation died as a result of the American Vietnam War. More than two million Vietnamese perished in this war. This was a great tragedy as we now know this was an unnecessary war.
The Vietnamese people have moved on. We Americans must confront our history, realize the mistakes we made and also move on with the resolve to never again engage in war. Our track record is not good given our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. People I know who have traveled to Vietnam talk of how friendly the Vietnamese are to Americans and how the Vietnamese incredibly hold no grudge against us even though that tragic war killed more than two million of their people. The killing continues to this day. More than 100,000 Vietnamese have been killed or wounded by unexploded ordinance we left behind when we pulled out of Vietnam. Many of these casualties have been children.
Third and fourth generation birth defects due to our use of Agent Orange are still creating tragedies in Vietnam as well as with our veterans who were exposed to this chemical. People I know who have traveled to Vietnam and visited information centers that show the extent of the birth defects caused by Agent Orange said they came out of the centers feeling great remorse.
At least Robert McNamara apologized for our involvement in that tragic war. I urge everyone to watch Errol Morris’s academy Award winning film, the Fog of War.
On this Memorial Day, let us not memorialize war but reflect on the tragedy of war. We can do better and we must. Today, we must mourn the dead, heal the wounded, but most importantly, abolish war as an instrument of our foreign policy.
Norman R. Aulabaugh, LTJG, USNR
2541 S. Tollefson Road
Orfordville, WI 53576-9443