As I was thinking of what to write, I thought back to what James Baldwin wrote in his novel “Just Above My Head”. In Baldwin’s novel a Korean War veteran spoke of his feelings after returning from the war. Baldwin wrote, “It was bitter to see that you were part of a country that didn’t give a fuck about you or anybody else.”
It is tempting to lie to you whose names are on the Wall and to myself about the war. I was so tempted to lie to a mother when I told her that her only son had been killed in Viet Nam. To truly respect his sacrifice, I could not lie to the mother to provide a justification for his death. I still feel every blow to the chest that she gave me. When one of my men was killed in Viet Nam, the blows intensified. The thump, thump, thump to the chest still say the same thing, “waste, waste, waste”.
Ernest Hemingway wrote about his similar feelings after he returned from war. “There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the name of places had dignity. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene.”
So I will remember the places in Viet Nam that I served alongside US, South Vietnamese, and Korean soldiers. Places that you likely spent time at also. I wish I could give you those words that Hemingway mentioned. I am sure many who visit the Wall do. My experience in Viet Nam and respect for all of you do not allow me to lie by saying those words-that makes me bitter as hell.
Viet Nam 70-71