To the fallen soldiers of the American War on Viet Nam memorialized on The Wall:
Many, if not most of you, were as clueless as I was, I bet, when I was drafted back in October 1967. Like many of you, I went sheep-like into the Army, believing it was necessary to fight for my country to defeat godless communism and to preserve our American way of life.
Once in Viet Nam, I remained clueless, mainly because I was a REMF, unlike, I suspect most of you on The Wall; killed in combat, never knowing you were to die in an unnecessary, illegal, unjustified, and immoral war. I’m sorry, that you never knew. How could you, with the propaganda of the mainstream media and the hyper-patriotic news from the military. You probably never knew the lies, the deceit, and the betrayal by our government.
Sad to say, I never woke to these facts until years after I was out of the Army. You didn’t have the privilege and the opportunity that I did to come to realize how wrong it was for our government to lead us into that war that got you killed, along with millions of Vietnamese who only wanted their independence.
For a while after the war, I told myself: You didn’t kill anyone. In fact, being a medic, I was providing medical care for my battalion. And we also treated civilians who worked on the Long Bien Base. Furthermore, I went with our doctor on MEDCAPS to different villages and hamlets to bring modern medicine to those who had little in the way of health care and illness prevention. Hell, I even played the organ for our chapel! What more good deeds could I have done, I asked myself, to feel good about my role in the military? I was one of the “good” soldiers.
These were lies I told myself. We all had our justifications.
I soon realized there was no excuse. I didn’t resist in the face of evil. I didn’t speak up as the killing continued. I was there; I participated. I was a cog in the war machine. I was mute. I was complicit.
My anger and sorrow will never cease. I suffer with delayed moral injury for participating in that war. I continue to feel the weight of the sorrow that that war caused and have to adjust to the fact that it will never be lifted. I try, without much success, to forgive myself.
At least I hope you are resting in peace.
I have so much anger for our politicians and generals who cut your life short and for the needless slaughter of millions and millions of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians.
Decades later, I can’t believe I was so clueless. My religion and my schools failed me. Looking back, I wasn’t educated; I was indoctrinated, maybe like you.
You didn’t get to say goodbye to your loved ones. I got to come home. I got to have a family. All I can do now is try and educate others and try to mitigate the destructive legacy of that war. I’ve been able to do that by working with PeaceTress Vietnam, which is ridding the land in Viet Nam of unexploded ordnance that continues to kill and injure adults and kids in Viet Nam. And working with Veterans For Peace to expose the cost of war (physical, ecological, psychological) and to try to refrain our government from intervening in other countries. This work channels my anger and sorrow into something positive for me and for our society.
To my daughter, I hope to reduce my shame by sharing why I don’t say the pledge of allegiance or stand for the national anthem. I took her to Viet Nam with me so she could experience a shred of my pain and my hope for her living in a country that hasn’t learned the lessons of the American War in Vietnam. I wish I could tell her my generation has created a better government and society for her to grow up in. Vietnam defined my generation; endless wars appear to define hers. At least she knows that my honorable service is now working for peace, not anything I did “serving” in the military.
I live with the dread and guilt of that war. Sometimes it consumes me. This is not to say that you are better off; you were deprived of life and all the possibilities that life can bring. Words fail to capture the crime that was foisted on us; I know your families have had to cope with your loss for half of century now. I plan to make another pilgrimage to the wall before I pass on, to say goodbye, to see your names and to let you know you are not forgotten.
So to you on The Wall, you’ve made me stronger, you’ve made me want to keep fighting for a world without war and no more names on a wall. Thank you for the enlightenment and the hope you provide. On this Memorial Day 2018, I’ll remember and reflect on The Wall and the tens of thousands of names it contains. The Wall will help me carry on. I’ll also reflect and remember the millions and millions for Vietnamese not on any wall and the sacrifice they made.
May you on The Wall continue to rest in peace; I will never be totally at peace myself until I join you on The Wall.
28 April 2018
It’s that time again to write to The Wall, to you 58,000-plus U.S. soldiers who died fighting in Vietnam in a pointless, unwinnable war that was perpetrated by corrupt politicians (“decent people,” Ken Burns has told us) “who made some mistakes” — with your lives, unfortunately. As a friend of mine wrote about that Vietnam War series, “The series chronicles the war – first this happened, then this, then this… that is to say it tells “what happened.” What it doesn’t tell is “what was done.” What was done was done to the Vietnamese people and to you, American soldiers, who died there. I hesitate to say “you who gave their lives.” No one willingly “gives” their life. If you fought courageously, I think you did that to save the lives of others, your buddies.
It is hard as always to win back your trust. I was an anti-war activist from the mid-sixties on, and we tried hard to stop your war. Just recently I traveled to Vietnam with 38 Vietnam Veterans For Peace vets. I liked the Vietnamese so much and was mightily impressed by what they’ve been able to accomplish in the 42 years since the end of the war. We visited three different institutions that are somehow managing to care for the children with terrible birth defects as a result of our Agent Orange. We also visited with the Project RENEW team, who educate children about Unexploded Ordnance in case they should come upon them. We watched a specially trained team blow one up that was discovered when they were leveling a field for soccer play. Poor Vietnam. Forty thousand deaths have been attributed to UXOs, but the numbers are going down as people learn how to handle the situation.
There is so much more to do there. Please know that there are thousands of us making contributions of all kinds to support the Vietnamese. Also, please know that the Vietnamese have totally forgiven the U.S. for the war. I don’t know how they do this after 10 years of torture, but they have done it. People say it’s their Buddhist nature to live in the present, not the past. It’s a remarkable thing to witness – I thought you would want to know.
Rest easy if you can, and trust that we are doing our best to make things better.
My best, Jill Godmilow
I am not a Vietnam veteran. I am a veteran, Army 1970-1972, during the Vietnam era. But I never would have gone to Vietnam. I don’t know what I would have done, jail maybe or Canada. But Vietnam would not have been in my future at the time.
My story begins in high school, in New Rochelle, NY. I turned against the war then. Some of my friends went to a big antiwar demonstration in New York City, but I didn’t go. My activism against the war really started at Harvard in 1968, when I was a sophomore. I got involved with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and we organized against the war and against Harvard’s expansion into Cambridge. We demanded the end of ROTC and a halt to Harvard’s expansion. On April 9, 1969 we took over University Hall and several hundred students were involved. The iconic picture below appeared the next day on the front page of the New York Times, and later in Life Magazine and many other places. I am the last student on the top, in front of the photographer as four of us escorted Dean Archie Epps out of University Hall.
I was not a leader of SDS, but this picture got me kicked out of Harvard. I worked for SDS and then in 1970 I got drafted, with a low number of 87 in the draft lottery. I did not do things to resist the draft, but went into the army to organize against the war, which horrified me. At the time I was working with the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), a Marxist organization. Nixon had just started reducing numbers in Vietnam by attrition, and even though I was in the infantry I was sent to Germany and spent most of my time there. We organized a GI newspaper called Fight Back, with the help of German antiwar activists.
This wall would be 60 times longer and stretch for miles if the names of all the 3 million Vietnamese who died were on it. They are unseen here. The many millions of lives that the US took in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and other places are unseen. Where are the names? Will the United States ever acknowledge that it is a brutal, militaristic, warlike society? We cheer for war, we accept it. We waste vast amounts of money on it. It is in imagery, movies, jet flyovers over athletic events, etc. War primarily affects civilians, and they are the ones dying — the men, women, and children. This must stop and we all need to work for that. I continue to do that as a member of Veterans For Peace. We all need to stand up and stop it.
Veterans For Peace
My husband’s name should be included on the Vietnam Memorial. He died there in 1969 even though his body didn’t catch up till 2013. He saw his friend’s name on the memorial and felt unworthy.
He had been a golden boy, cheerful, hard-working and achieving despite growing up very poor. He was president of the student body of Miami Dade Community College, and when he was elected student vice president at University of Florida, he was one of the few there who spoke up for the right of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) to speak on campus. He was really active in his religion’s youth group, locally and as a state representative. He was in Florida Blue Key and fought its members when they blackballed Bill Sidosky. He fillibustered them into backing down. Bill became a high-ranking assistant to Florida’s governor. Died in a plane crash.
Boy, was he shattered when he came back! Vietnam and alcoholism kept company with him for the next few decades. He was able to work and contribute, but always, always, always with Vietnam and alcohol on his mind.
When he first returned, he wanted to lock the doors of any church and bomb its Sunday School class so Americans could see what it looks and feels like when war kills your kids. He was so angry at what he was expected to do there. He couldn’t reconcile teaching the commandment not to kill with the church’s lack of action in its congregations, or with his own desire to wage violent revenge. He eventually stopped thinking this way.
He wanted to die many times. I couldn’t find any support group where he could talk to anybody and I searched ceaselessly because I had to hear his laments ceaselessly and watch him turn into an alcoholic wretch every evening.
He immediately joined Vietnam Veterans against the War.
Despite the fatal wound to his soul, he worked to be a good person. He marched in Liberty City on MLK anniversaries, visited Haitians at the Krome Detention Center, was on board of directors of Lutheran Retirement Home, worked for Christian Community Service Agency to settle Central American refugees and poor people in Miami, and for Health Crisis Network that helped people living with Aids. He sent all Florida legislators a tape he made with scientists describing what pollution was doing to the Miami River and the Everglades. He was appointed by governor to a committee to evaluate current mental health laws for children, but got too close to exposing abuse of children, including our daughter, at Montanari Residential Treatment Center. He was arrested on bogus charges and received a sentence of seven lifetimes, one more than the sentence given Son of Sam.
Many people spoke up for him at his trial. One father of a resident at Montanari sent a detailed and verified report to the state’s attorney documenting many of the same abuses his daughter had suffered at Montanari. Her teenage roommate bled to death in the bathroom and it was officially recorded as a natural death. The North Carolina National Guard flew down and evacuated its residents from Montanari!
He died May 30, 2013. An ambulance arrived at the prison to take him to the hospital, and he died in the ambulance. He died free, not in prison.
He never stopped fighting the powers that constructed the Vietnam war, which he came to recognize were also architects of poverty and racism. I’m going to carve his name into that wall.
Thank you for letting me tell this, at last.
LETTER TO MY BROTHER, PAUL GORMAN
I write with a heavy heart to let you know we have lost another member of our family to war. Your Marine nephew Mike died of alcohol poisoning. His PTSD demons appear to have driven him to this end. We will never know. But we do know too many young marines and soldiers die too soon from the never-ending wounds of war.
He leaves a wife and 4 children who are in utter despair over the loss. They are a wonderful family and I wish you could have know them. They have moved up from Camp Lejuene NC. They are putting their lives back together in CT now in the arms of their families. The twins are 11, Matt 15 & Josh 18. The children are resettled in CT schools and the family is trying to sort out the nightmare. We are committed to supporting them throughout their lifetime. I only wish the our government would care enough to do the same. It takes young military families a lifetime to recover from the wounds of war. Keep them all in your prayers!
I think of you often. As a Navy Nurse in the VietNam Med Evac Hospital Network (ICU, Med Evac, VietNam Medic Training program), we shared your pain as we cared for too many dying and disabled teens who ultimately died in vain. We had tragic losses for both U.S. and Vietnamese families that last a lifetime.
I can do some good by sharing our family story. You were Killed in Action along the DMZ on July 30,1968, just in time to celebrate your 20th birthday. Not may teenagers lived to make it home that year or many other years, as we have now moved to a state of never-ending war here. You death was followed by mom’s massive heart attack and total disability until her death. Like so many Gold Star Mothers, she too died of a broken heart.
I did finally get back to VietNam to honor your ghost and the spirits of all the victims of that horrific war. I visited DMZ, Khe Sanh and Camp Carroll among others. I tried to locate Hill 606 where you died but that trek was not successful. I have been supporting an orphanage in Hue in your honor. I also support other Agent Orange orphanages throughout Vietnam via Vets for Peace. It was therapeutic to see the positive changes in VietNam. I left with a sense of hope for VietNam.
I continue to be active in peace and justice work over these 50 years through VietNam Vets Against the War, Veterans for Peace, Gold Star Families for Peace, Gold Star Families Speak Out and Mass. Peace Action, among others. We carry on the pledge to you to make sure you did not die in vain and will be remembered eternally for helping to bring an end to war.
Your loving sister,
Bonnie (Mary) Gorman RN