My Memorial Day Letter to “The Wall”
by Gerry Condon
How many friends, and friends of friends have your names engraved on this impressive memorial wall? You are my generation. I grew up with you. And then we were called to “our war” – the Vietnam War. Many of us were drafted – some of us jumped before we were pushed. We were reluctant warriors – and gung-ho too. We were young, ignorant and confused.
For some reason I have been thinking lately about one guy I met in the Army at Fort Ord, California when we were both testing to train for the Special Forces. Erik was 6 ft. tall, broad shouldered, barrel-chested, square-jawed and red-haired. He looked like a Viking warrior, or the quintessential Green Beret.
Erik was driven too. He was pushing, always pushing his sergeants to promote him to the next higher rank. While we were barely out of basic training, he somehow managed to get promoted to Specialist E-4. We went to Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Next time I saw Erik, he had Sergeant’s stripes. Then he went to Ranger school, and suddenly he was an E-6! I was still a Private E-something.
The next stop for Erik was Vietnam. The word filtered back to Fort Bragg pretty quickly. Erik was killed in his first week in Vietnam. Being a Viking warrior, a Green Beret and a Ranger, with all that rank, apparently did not stop the bullets from an AK-47. Erik’s name is one of more than 58,000 on The Wall.
Not sure why I told that story. I guess it just needed to be told. Now here is another.
Larry was one of my best buddies in Green Beret medic training, a year-long course. He was smart, funny, rode a motorcycle, and ridiculed all the Army “b.s.” After returning from OJT at an Army hospital, Larry rebelled against the strict regimen at Fort Bragg. He was booted out of Special Forces and given orders for Vietnam. A few weeks later, our group of friends received a letter from Larry. He seemed to be enjoying himself in Vietnam. I was shocked when he described in detail the mutilation of dead Vietnamese soldiers. That was not the Larry I knew.
I began to hear stories of atrocities against Vietnamese civilians from soldiers returning from the war. Some, like Larry, bragged about it. Others were heartbroken. But they were all telling the same stories. That was it for me – I knew then that I could not be part of that war. Thus began my long saga as a “war resister,” which continues to this day.
If it were not for my year-long training as a Green Beret medic, I would not have had time to sort out my feelings about the Vietnam War. I would have gone to Vietnam. I would have been shot at and I would have shot back. I would have killed. And I would have been wounded – at least psychologically.
Now twenty-two active duty soldiers and veterans kill themselves every day. Rather than learning the “lessons of Vietnam,” the U.S. government and military are engaged in “permanent war” in multiple countries – in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East and Africa. Now they are threatening to start a war in South America. None of these wars have anything to do with self-defense. Like the Vietnam War, they are illegal, immoral and based on lies. They are about control of oil and other natural resources. They are about domination and exploitation.
Soldiers are still joining, fighting, killing and dying. “When will they ever learn?” Resistance is also ever present. Both outside and inside the military, there are those who question, who seek the truth, who speak out and who resist.
I am proud to be part of an organization, Veterans For Peace, that is all about “exposing the true causes and costs of war,” and “restraining our governments from intervening, overtly and covertly, into the internal affairs of other nations.” We also seek “justice for veterans and victims of war.” We seek to abolish nuclear weapons and eventually to abolish war itself.
I like to think that the 58,000 fallen troops represented on this wall would approve. That you would see our work for peace as an appropriate legacy to your lives cut so very short in an unjust and unwinnable war. That you would also care about two to three million Vietnamese who were killed defending their country from foreign aggression. That veterans – those of us who survived – should take a lead in ending endless wars. That you would want to join Veterans For Peace. In fact, I invite you to do so.
I invite you to join Veterans For Peace. We need your strength, your outrage, your compassion, your voices, your stories. We will hold you in our hearts and minds as we continue to demand peace. Not just the absence of war, but the presence of justice. Peace at home and peace abroad. Only then will we all rest well.
Memorial Day, 2019: Confederate Cemetery, Elmira, NY
Imagine the resolve with which the young men, whose graves lie around us here, marching to the consolidating cadence of beating drums, were carried away and thrust into a terrifying landscape of destruction, disillusionment and death.
Imagine as well the innumerable widely dispersed graves of comrades in arms, parents, wives, children and other friends and relatives traumatized by the deaths of these young men so far from home.
War is the great deceiver of the naïve and over confident. Hidden behind a veil of righteousness, lurks a morass of unrelenting destruction and killing of such ghastly and excruciating horror that men are driven out of their wits.
If such is the evil of war, why has human kind not put an end to it?
War is profitable; some soldiers eager, all expendable. In an astounding declaration of manifest hubris, Henry Kissinger reportedly referred to military men as “dumb, stupid animals to be used” as pawns for foreign policy. p. 194.
War proponents are able to coax the citizenry into war only with its consent.
Henry Thoreau lamented: “There are thousands hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
So I encourage you to strike a terminal blow at the root of war by diligently seeking almighty truth and with it smother the seductive but delusional clamoring for war that so devastates lives and brings penury and ruin to the land. Herbert Hoover warned: “As war sanctifies murder, so it sanctifies the lesser immoralities of lies.” p. liv
“We can never herd the world onto the paths of righteousness with the dogs of war.” p. xxii
Wendell Berry shall have the last word:
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
Henry Kissinger: The Final Days by Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein
Henry Thoreau: Walden
Herbert Hoover: Freedom Betrayed edited by George H. Nash
Wendell Berry: Standing by Words
James Christner: email@example.com
I have been thinking quite a bit these last days on what I would write I was very young during the time of our involvement in the US involvement in Vietnam. I was caught up in the Anti-War movement of the late sixties and seventies. I opposed the war in every way possible and believed in no way did we belong or should have troops involved in a war that could only bring grief and death I still believe those things The only difference is that I am older and hope wiser. I have come to have great respect for Veterans for Peace and the work they do The plight of the vets from Vietnam and what these mostly very young and those mainly of color and what they went through and still do. We as a country have never cared for those who have fought and died in the service of this country I am involved in immigration now and many vets from Veterans for Peace have joined with us. My respect and admiration for their unwavering support to never have this country involved in a war where we lose so many young lives for political gain I have a photo in my living room with a picture of a fallen soldier and every day it reminds me of what you have given to this country and how much we need to give back.
Peace and Solidarity