Letter to the Wall, May 2018
Dear men and women who sacrificed your lives on our motherland named Vietnam,
I would like to share with you a little more about our motherland Vietnam where you made the ultimate sacrifice. I understand it may be too late, but I want you to know of her. Because you were young when you were there, you may or may not know much of her and her beauty! “Mẹ Việt Nam” as we call her (mother Vietnam) is a unique, ancient and beautiful land. It is so easy to fall in love with her and her children in her warm paradise on earth!
We are very proud and praiseful of our motherland for her intimate beauty. She brings us honor and courage, she gives us strength and tenacity so we are willing and ready to face and endure anything that comes our way. Therefore, we respect her with gratitude. Unfortunately, the land is too abundant and too strategically located for others to ignore, so she has been invaded and occupied many times. Throughout all the death and devastation caused by these incursions, the Vietnamese have maintained their spirit and love of their motherland.
When many of you as Americans came and tried so hard to occupy her, some of you fell in love with her while others came to hate her name, but that is part of human life on Earth! The ancient Vietnamese always referred to life as “âm” and “dương,” complementary opposites of each other like man and woman, light and darkness, hard and soft, love and hate, war and peace, etc. That dualism in those symbolic characters exists in each of us. Positive actions will bring great harmony and spirit to the land no matter where you are coming from or where you are going or where you are laid to rest.
This year being the fiftieth anniversary (1968-2018) of the Tet offensive of 1968, many groups and individuals, myself included, have traveled from around the world to Vietnam to remember and honor the Vietnamese dead. There were ceremonies at the massacre sites in Son My village in Quang Ngai province, where the My Lai massacre of March 16, 1968 occurred in central Vietnam and where the memory lingers of one of the darkest chapters of the war. While I was there I listened to the voices from the graves of the fallen soldiers and war victims from all over the country Mẹ Việt Nam.
Some still think of Vietnam as a country at war or remember images of people scrambling out of Danang and Saigon streets, of helicopters evacuating U.S. embassy personnel and Vietnamese allies out of Vietnam in April 1975. From that day forward, many Americans have thought of Vietnam as representing refugees, boat people, a communist regime, VC or Charlie, MIA, POW, NVA, Hamburger Hill, death camps and much more. All that is true and has been recorded in history books, documentaries and movies. But how many have stopped to wonder why? Or how did Vietnam, a small, beautiful country, gain such a horrible legacy? And how many have stopped to wonder if that was all there is to this land? Is it only a place of death, devastation and destruction?
We Vietnamese think of our country differently. We call her “Đất Mẹ.” “Mẹ” is mother and “Đất” is land, or “Motherland Vietnam.” She appears as a tall, elegant woman and is adorned with both outer and inner beauty. “Mẹ Việt Nam” is part of the universal romantic attraction of a green planet Earth. She makes all landscapes more productive and gives birth to many wonderful lives, embracing all people of the world and all species of life. She is loyal to her incurably friendly children and reliable to her men.
Like you, she always stands up strong and tall to the world. Her ample beaches, deep seas and tall mountains welcome everyone with open arms to come and enjoy. As a mother, she helps our Earth to bloom with many kinds of beautiful flowers to communicate between her and our Heavenly Father (“Cha Trời” and “Mẹ Đất,” we say) with each breath we take. She creates wealth and bountiful landscapes by her true nature— re-cycling, conserving and protecting all so that nothing is lost in all regions of Vietnam. She creates conditions year-round with good weather so that farmers can produce rice, green vegetables, sweet and delicious fruits. She gives birth to many varieties of plants with leaves for us to use as herb teas as well as the freshwater fish, shellfish and all types of seafood. She is a richly verdant region of the globe that nourishes us all on planet Earth.
Mẹ Việt Nam possesses breathtaking and stunning beauty reflecting the patience and equanimity that the landscape inspires in her people. She provides hidden caves and forested mountains for our adventure, and endless seashores for our relaxation. She offers gemstones and crystals that provide healing. She yields minerals, coal, gold, lead, oils and other goods for everyday life. High in the mountains, in the lowland plains, along the seashore, she nourishes us.
As a result of her extraordinary beauty and bounty, many countries have sent men like you to her shores in order to gain control over and exploit her resources. Before you arrived, she was occupied by the French for nearly a hundred years. And before the French she was dominated by the Chinese for over a thousand years. The Japanese coveted her in World War II. And the Chinese invaded Vietnam again in 1979. When other peoples set foot on our motherland they had no idea how sacred our land was to us.
For there to be a Vietnam, first the Vietnamese had to defeat the Hindu Kingdom of Cham or Chiem Thanh. The Cham spirits became angry and turned against those living on their lands. Perhaps Mẹ Việt Nam has experienced such turmoil because the anger of that ancient violence still haunts this land. We Vietnamese believe that when men come and die on our land, their souls will remain at the same place until their family holds ceremonies to Mr. Thổ Công (land god) if they died on the land, or to Mr. Ha Ba (water god) if they died on the water. We ask them to release the soul so it may return home. As we treasure and nurture our land, ancestral spirits and our people, perhaps we can put your spirits to rest and regain our peace and prosperity both in Vietnam and here at this wall in your own motherland of the United States, which you called home.
Through the educational documentaries of Ken Burns and Oliver Stone, I have learned so much more about what tremendous suffering and anguish all of you and the Vietnamese lived through on our motherland. From March to May of this year I visited and spent quiet times in many military cemeteries in Vietnam trying to understand the reason for so many cruel deaths. To remember the Tet offensive of 1968, I revisited such places as My Lai, Hue, Khe Sanh, Dong Ha, Quang Tri, DMZ, Quang Ngai, Quang Nam, Sai Gon, Da Nang, etc., praying for the souls of the dead and paying homage at the graveyards.
So many headstones are marked as “unknown soldier.” That reminded me of a poem I saw engraved on a monolith at the entrance to a Vietnamese military cemetery near the Vietnam-Laos border. “Please Don’t Call Me an Unknown Soldier” struck me as very sad when I saw so many “unknown soldiers.” I would like to translate and share it with all of you here, so you know how fortunate you are to have a name on this beautiful black memorial wall so that family and others can visit daily and bring you their love, write letters, place flowers with messages, touch your name and take its impression as a keepsake, and communicate directly with you, and you can call it your home. Here is the poem for the Vietnamese soldiers who sacrificed their lives on our motherland named Vietnam.
Please Don’t Call Me an Unknown Solider
Please don’t call me an unknown soldier.
I have a name and face just like everybody else.
My mother gave birth to me in full term!
My father chose a good name for me to go with my face in that season.
I learned how to use all the farm tools.
I helped harvest the rice under the hot sun and pouring rain.
Please don’t call me an unknown soldier.
I have a name and face just like every one of you.
The grains of rice mixed with sweet tomatoes helped me grow.
My strong legs walked under the August sun and heavy monsoon as I became a man.
Please don’t call me an unknown soldier.
I have a name and face like any other man.
The day I joined the army we journeyed with heavy loads on our backs,
my salty tears mingling with salty sweat as we moved relentlessly forward.
Please don’t call me an unknown soldier.
I have a name and face like all of you.
I fought in battlefields near and far chasing from village to village,
and all their names ran with me.
After the war my village became very peaceful,
and I returned without a name or age,
among rows and rows of white gravestones in the cemetery.
The stars on the markers say nothing.
Only the grass grows tall under the visitors’ feet.
Please don’t call me an unknown soldier.
I used to have a name just like every face on this earth.
The country didn’t lose my name,
only kept it in lonely silence and recognized my suffering.
Gratitude to all of you, that you may find peace and harmony,
Le Ly Hayslip
Hi Butts, Brother
Thank you for being there for me. I can’t believe that in 2-1/2 months you became my mentor, saved my life, and still remain the person guiding me along. I regret with all my being that I could not be with you when you needed me most. It’s been 51 years, you and Jolivette, two great senior aidmen, gone just 2 weeks apart. Doc Layne and I worked on Jolivette, did our best, I think?
In ’98 I visited your mom. She welcomed me into her life. I was so afraid. Now I try to visit Mary Jo Frankie and Tony once a year. In 2007 Layne connected up with family of Jolivette. Love you.
In ’70 after a failed attempt at suicide (“sorry”), I was fortunate enough somewhere to hear MLK’s speech he gave April ’67. He was assassinated April ’68 before I got home. That speech saved my life. He described what I witnessed. I’m no pacifist, but I know we have to stop these wars. They do not accomplish anything other than death and destruction for profit. I believe we must work to do this and we will succeed—for you and our brothers and sisters, and this planet.
Stay out there and I will check in when in need.
Dear Brother and Sister victims of the amerikan war staged in Vietnam,
I don’t care what the reason was that you were in uniform during the period of the Vietnam war, and I don’t care about the circumstances of your service and passing. I care that you were there serving as hit men and accessories to mass murder, serving at the behest of our criminal government and the corporation for which it stands, and with little control over any aspect of the war effort, and knowing that a simple complaint could be used against you as a club to ruin your lives.
I was in the air farce from November 18th, 1966 to May 5th, 1970 because I OD’d on ignorance and bought into the big lie that since I wasn’t going to college I could either wait to be drafted and get sent to Vietnam, or enlist and not get sent there. That was a lie! Enlisting meant 4 years instead of 2 and you were sent to Vietnam if they had need of your field of service and you the appropriately deemed warm body. In the service I found out everything I needed to know about the military and our country, and slowly (but very surely) began to adopt a belief system and lifestyle that provided a foundation for my life of creativity and working for peace and justice in a variety of areas in the years since.
I never wanted to go to a war zone, am delighted that I wasn’t chosen for such a role, and am most empathetic with those who’ve suffered in so many ways and for so long since then, as well as grieving the untimely passing of all of you and whoever else gave their life during the conflict and remain unknown. I also understand that though government propaganda described you as heroes, you were actually victims of a mean-spirited and greed-driven conflict against a country that was in no way a danger to ours (or any other for that matter), and that we lost many of our finest for absolutely no good reason in a land that should have been our friend. The real heroes of the Vietnam conflict were the young men who stood up for human decency, love among the nations, compassion and understand, and refused to be conscripted as contribute to the insanity that is war. But all of you on the wall are also very important because you gave your all for whatever reason and deserve to be acknowledged for your sacrifice. Thank you all for being my brothers and sisters and may those of us still walking the earth be moved to create a world where we won’t be needing any more monuments to the dead!
Seattle: VFP, #92
Attn: JOHN ALEXANDER HOUSE II
CAPT – O3 – Marine Corps – Regular
Vietnam Memorial Wall Panel/Line: 22,87
Length of service 4 years
His tour began on Jun 30, 1967
Casualty was on Jun 30, 1967
In THUA THIEN, SOUTH VIETNAM
HOSTILE, HELICOPTER – PILOT
AIR LOSS, CRASH ON LAND
Body was not recovered
Classified MIA/POW until:
The coordinates of the crash-site were repeatedly excavated and searched over the past 50 years. The remains were finally located and recovered on June 25, 2012. They were identified on December 22, 2015 and officially accounted for on March 6th and 9th 2017. In April 2017, the Defense Department concluded its report that Captain House’s remains were finally found and will now come home to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Dear John Alexander:
I only met you once. As I recall it, I was still in grade school and you were in college. Our families were never close, because we were only second cousins and your branch of the family lived in New York and our branch had grown on over into Michigan. My dad, John Justin, had taken my mother and I on a one-time pilgrimage to visit his relatives in Buffalo and then Pelham, NY. My older brother, John Francis, was attending college back home.
As a “John House,” you would have good company here in Michigan. My son is John Robert. His son is John Wesley. We’ll have to wait to see about the next generation.
I was impressed meeting you. You were bright and clever and good-looking and friendly. I still have a picture of you with a crow you stuffed and mounted as a taxidermy project. In my mind, when I thought of relatives in New York, you were my mind’s avatar of them.
We never met again, but I heard you had joined the Marines and were training to be a helicopter pilot. I had no such aspirations and was quite conflicted about the Vietnam War and what it meant to my own future as the war dragged on and my college graduation date in June of 1968 drew nearer. Several of my mother’s Canadian relatives were willing to take me in, if I should choose that option.
In that swirl of growing anti-war sentiment and political upheaval, your own death in June of 1967 was largely unnoticed. John Justin had died in 1964, and with his death that tenuous family connection was abruptly severed. I vaguely recall a phone call or letter to my mother, but it was a mere blip on my personal radar at that time, and was mentally filed away far back in some dusty corner of my cerebral filing system.
After my college graduation, I received my expected draft notice and was inducted into the Army at Ft. Wayne in Detroit, MI on December 17th of 1968. I was 22 years old and had decided to “roll the dice,” as there was no clear-conscience decision I could embrace at that confusing point in history. In the next year I completed basic training at Ft. Knox, advanced infantry training at Ft. Polk, and was sent to the NCO Academy at Ft. Benning, GA. After I completed that training I was selected to remain there as a platoon tactical NCO within the program as my OJT.
This essentially took up my first year of military service and placed me, literally and figuratively, landing in the dark at Long Bien airfield on Dec. 16, 1969 with exactly one year left to serve as an 11B40 in the 25th Infantry Division.
Between then and my return in the fall of 1970, lots of things happened. Some good, some bad, some horrific — but I emerged physically in one piece and I like to think emotionally and mentally stable to return home to family and my now wife, Jackie (also named after her father who was a John but went by Jack).
Last year the “Moving Vietnam Wall” came to Grayling, Michigan. I decided to visit it to find your name, which I knew would be on it. In preparation I did some online research and it was then I discovered the whole story about your death and consequent MIA status for 50 years. I was deeply moved and felt guilty for not knowing the whole of the story sooner.
And so, I am writing to thank you for your service, as abrupt and untimely and unfulfilled as it may seem to some. I spent several hours riding around in H-1s and once in a while an LOH or CH-47 for special occasions. I’ve outlined my own military experience here to give you a frame of reference for what I have to say to you. My own experiences showed me the exceptional courage and dedication helicopter pilots needed to provide supplies, transportation, security, and medical assistance whenever and wherever any member of my unit needed it . . . and at great personal risk, and as in your case, personal loss and sacrifice.
Thank you, John Alexander, for your service . . . from a cousin who understands and truly and deeply and personally appreciates it.
I wish you eternal peace…
In fact, I wish us all eternal peace.
Daniel Allen House
Letter for the Wall
The sorrows of war have preoccupied and sometimes haunted me for decades going back to the American war in Vietnam when the evening news, for the first time, carried realistic war footage. All that I learned since – from testimony and autobiography of war victims, from realistic (non-embedded) coverage of war, from broken war veterans, from the sexual horrors visited upon women and girls by soldiers, from permanent poisoning of the environment have convinced me that war is not the answer.
In the smallest of ways, I want to convey my contrition and restorative justice for my country’s aggression against the people and environment of Vietnam through two projects in which I engaged over the past 5 years:
A scholarship program for the 3rd generation of Agent Orange Victims and 10,000 Trees for Vietnam.
For peace and justice
Pace e bene,
Traprock Center for Peace and Justice
March 13, 2018