At the Wall in Washington
The Vietnam Wall is where the dead
Greet the living eye to eye—
Face it, your eyes
Staring back from the black marble
Framing a soldier’s name—
Your soul and his startlingly entwined
Jan Barry
US Army Vietnam 1962-63

As a Viet Nam Era Army Veteran, I have experienced the horror and pain of war only second hand.  Dean Nicholas and Tim Stickle were fellow Mentor High School(Ohio) graduates who “served” our country in Viet Nam.  Dean graduated a year before me in 1966 and Tim in my Class of 1967.  They came home in body bags.  I was a conflicted male bodied female, not even able to verbalize this at the time.


After “friends” told me I did not have the right to have a “2S” deferment from the military(although I was a Senior Army R.O.T.C. cadet in my Junior year in 1969 at Ohio State University), I dropped out of O.S.U.   With a low lottery number, I was promptly drafted.  In Basic Training in spite of a long family heritage of U.S. military “service” & a “mother, home, apple pie – America right or wrong – do or die” mentality, I “snapped” when among other things a picture on my Battalion Commander’s desk showed him with his M16 rifle folded in his arms with one of his feet on the head of a Viet Cong he had killed.  He looked proud as I recall – as if he had just killed a lion for a trophy.  I asked to apply for Conscientious Objector (C.O.) status.  My Drill Sgt. Collins advised, “if you think you know what hell is, you don’t.  Wait until you get to your Advanced Individual Training Assignment & then apply.  I took his advice.  At Fort Sill’s trainee 105-millimeter howitzer battery I applied for C.O. and was assigned as an assistant Battery Clerk to Sgt. Joseph Bender.  Most of the time I scrubbed cigarette but marks off the enlisted men’s club floors while awaiting a reply from the myriad of papers that had to be filed with the application.  After a few long weeks, I was told you’ll be trained as a medic and sent to Viet Nam.  My reply was, “I will die for my country, I won’t to the best of my ability kill for it or for anything or anyone else.  The latter part caused a divorce from my first wife along with my declaration, “I AM A WOMAN” to my wife at the time.  I was sent to Fort Sam Houston in Texas for Medic Training(91B20) but was assigned (luckily) to the Dermatology Clinic at Fort Sam.  Felix Sandlin a GS9 was my direct person over me and Colonel Skipworth ran the entire Dermatology operation.  I did gram stains to look for disease and injections for cures and assisted in a few spinal taps.  I wound up being honorably discharged in spite of my attempting to cut off my penis which landed me in “Chambers” psychiatric ward for a time to both heal and prove I wasn’t trying to commit suicide.  After my reserve commitment finished & much therapy and another marriage “trying to fit the mold of society” ending in another divorce, I had sex reassignment surgery, a vaginoplasty.  That was 40 years ago.  With countless encounters of fellow men’s & women’s traumas from wartime military “service” including my loved pastor who committed suicide three years ago(a Colonel Chaplain, retired) – I see the pain of living veterans, many suffering from physical and mental scars and the families & friends of those killed as well as everyone touched by those who have “seen” the cost of war.  I am truly lucky, at this point, I’ve remarried to another woman veteran who served for 22 years in the Air Force.


May all the pain of those reading these letters be recognized as shared among all of us under differing situations.  May the pain be lessened as goals to progress peacefully through nonviolent means are continually strived for.


Love Forever With Each Passing Day’s Ongoing Progression In Our Higher Power,

Cara Ava Bissell

formerly Craig Albert Bissell