I don’t know when my opinion about war changed, there’s no date, time or place certain, it just happened. It didn’t happen suddenly like some epiphany, it was little by little, more like it revealed itself from something deep inside, something that was always there, but silent in its ignorance not knowing how to express itself.
It was more like an ember placed there by a mother’s love and embrace. Whispered cliches of “Love thy Neighbor as Thyself” and “Tho shalt not kill” tenets of Bibles, Torahs, Korans and plain common sense.
These motherly pronouncements were part of a moral fiber that kept this internal spark fueled just enough for it to smolder.
Whispers fade as children grow older, play is loud with laughter and screaming, then comes the concentration of radios, movies and television voices telling you how lucky you are to live in this great nation and the noise of the world like a mighty storm drowns out that now faint lesson of love.
Teachers teach American Exceptionalism, Eurocentric history, our Country Right or Wrong while we stand at attention reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Parents like my own were living the American Dream, struggling from poor working class renters to owning a home, a car and credit at the local grocery store.
I was the oldest of six kids, three boys & three girls. We lived in a two bedroom house and by the time I started high school we outgrew it. We were like the Jeffersons (for those of you too young to know, it is a reference to a Black Family television series) moving on up from the hood to better neighborhood.
“Better” is relative, our house was bigger with room for all of us, but the schools were not much better. The high school had its bullies and was self segregated by class and race. Teachers were mediocre and school bored me, so I dropped out and went to work.
The Vietnam War was raging on, the draft was licking at my heels. Work was hard labor and I saw no future on the horizon, the American Dream was in decline, so with abandonment I join the United States Marines.
You want to know what Fascism is like, join the marines, bootcamp will kick the Democratic shit out of you. I witnessed enough corruption, cruelty and racism while at Camp Pendleton.
Then came Vietnam. The war was a backdrop to firefights, snipers, mortar rounds and boobytraps, close calls with death, of which others – names long forgotten- were not so fortunate.
I often expected to see my own name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall as evidence that I too had been kissed by a sniper’s bullet, or planted in the ground by a boobytrap, now just a lost soul walking the earth dreaming up a surreal life refusing to accept my own end.
October 1969 I returned home to a civilian life, in short order fell in love and by June of 1972 was married. Vietnam was a distant shadow flickering in some deep cavern of my subconscious far from my reality. I had left the war, but the war never left me and on December 16th of 1977 it came rushing back into my life to wound my son with birth anomalies related to Agent Orange/Dioxin.
I was given three good years with Casey before the war ghosts of the past wrestled him from my arms, as he took his last breath, leaving me, his mother Arlene and his little sister Harmony to cling to each other as we cried out “WHY?”
Shouldn’t Casey’s name be inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall along with my own, because a part of me ended when he died and that ember almost blewout.
Not right away but something was growing inside of me, I began to get beyond my own grief, to see that of the Vietnamese and the grief that all wars cause.
Mother’s early ember of wisdom now began to catch fire, no longer flickering in the shadows but a sun shining a light, turning night into day and chasing the lies that sent me and so many others to a monstrous war that should never have been.
So for every name on that Dark Wall and all the names missing, my son’s, the Vietnamese, the 22 veterans suicides a day, the Agent Orange victims and all the families who flood of tears, like mine ask WHY? Why Vietnam? Why Afghanistan? Why Iraq?
I say No More!
Let these pearls of wisdom burn bright in your hearts and its roar, silence drums that beat for war.
I saw three wars today.
My first veteran was from remote Maine,
a small community that survived on fishing and fresh air.
He worked hard for his family more than 40 years.
Retired only to have his days filled with nightmares of VietNam.
Another, a Marine, came from a Bangor suburb.
He made the evening news when he took his 11-year-old son to Walmart,
bought a knife and threatened to kill himself and his blood.
He was stained from Agent Orange and his wife had found another.
The third knocked on our locked door.
Only 30 years old, his mind was bent from the horrors of his tour.
He had a shaved head, full beard, tattoed upper arms.
He was angry, full of rage, ready to fight. Still.
VietNam. Afghanistan. Iraq.
Pick a war. Only difference is the order in which they happened.
Seroquel, Zyprexa, Haldol.
Pick a medication. None will take away the pain, anxiety, stress.
I saw three wars today.
Psychiatric RN at a VA Maine Hospital
Written for Memorial Day 2016 for all the veterans that I have been privileged to have in my care.. Thank you.
Viet Nam Wall, Panel 43 East
SONG BE’, PHUOC LONG Province, Viet Nam
Dedicated to the Five A/1st-506th Parachute Infantry Regiment Currahees who were killed in our Song Be’ battle:
Staff Sgt Chas Sanders (Squad Leader) Panel 43 East, Line #10, Name #3
Sp4/E/4 Thomas Pryor, Panel 43 East, Line #10, Name #2
Sgt Bobby McMillian, Panel 43 East, Line #9, Name #4
Pfc Juan DeMara, Panel 43 East, Line #5, Name #2
Platoon Sgt Jazreal “Jazz” Haywood, Panel 43 East, Line #6, Name #4
and to our four Rakkasans who were also killed when C Co, 3rd BN, 187th came to the aid of us Currahees.
Shortly after sunrise, about 0645, on 5 March 1968, our 29 person Platoon was beginning to “Fall In”, to go outside the wire on yet another Counter TET “Search & Destroy” (S&D) Mission.
Dennis Lahiff and I were passing the pipe, while waiting on the other 27 guys from our Platoon to assemble for the S&D mission, when Platoon Sgt Haywood walked up on us, and for the umpteenth time, busted us for smoking the Hanoi Gold, and, some what miffed, but not surprised, he “punished “ us by saying “Perry, you’re walking Point (again), and Lahiff, you bring up the rear”. Both “Point” & “Tail” are very dangerous, for very different reasons.
4 Star General William (Westy) Westmoreland, after his WW II heroics, served with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (RAKKASANS), in the Korea War, and later, commanded the 101st Airborne Division, in the late 50’s. He was running the whole show, in Viet Nam, and he used our 101st Airborne Grunts as BAIT, in small unit actions, to get the Viet Cong to tip their hand, (location wise) by ambushing us. Westy’s theory was to use massive Air Power, and Artillery, to punish the elusive VC Guerillas, and PAVN troops, when we could draw them into making “contact” with us, so we could call in Air Strikes & Artillery.
Talk about being used as expendable PAWNS.
While most of the American public, and ALL of the U.S. Military all thought Westmoreland was a genius, we bush pounding Grunts hated being moving parts in the profit driven Military Industrial game of Chess. But most of us were 19, 20, or 21 years old, and we felt we were invincible and invulnerable.
Airborne Infantry TO&E calls for a 5 yard space between each man, so that a 60mm or 81mm mortar round, or a hand grenade will only kill 1, or maybe 2 men. With 29 of us on this mission, our single file line was about 140 yards (1.4 football fields) long, weaving thru jungle thicket.
We left the perimeter wire, went down hill for a half mile, or so, crossed a small stream, then started up hill, thru really thick bamboo, for about 1,000 yards, then I came out by myself, on a clearing, with an abandoned & heavily overgrown Michelin Rubber Plantation to my left, and a row of Hootches, about 35 yards in front of me, that were strung along a dirt road.
Emerging by myself from the thick bamboo on the steep incline, I entered a relatively flat and sun bathed area. A young Woman that I knew, rather well, from the far end of our BaseCamp Perimeter, thought that I was by myself, and she ran out of her Hootch, towards me, signaling me in the Viet way to “come here quickly”, then grabbed my arm, saying: “Beaucoup VC, maybe 90 or 100~ go back, you die”.
(see the Pacific Stars & Stripes story, on the last page)
I always liked her, but I couldn’t really trust her, so rather than go back, I grabbed her hand and we ran to her hootch. By the time we got to her door, 5 more of our Riflemen were out of the bamboo, and into the clearing, while the other 23 Troopers were still working their way up the slope.
On a 29 man Patrol, the VC Forward Observers would watch us, and count us, as we leave the Base Camp perimeter, and tell their Ambush team to let at least the first 7 or 8 men go thru, then, to look for the Radio Man’s whip antenna, because he’d be assigned to the highest ranking NCO in the single file line. Kill the Communications capability & kill the brains of the Platoon, and then it’s easy pickings. (NCO’s, Machine Gunners and M-79 Grenade Launchers were the next in line walking deadmen).
Once inside the Hootch, the uncontrolled trembling & tears of my Lady Friend, and her Sister, who was the Mom of the adorable little girl clinging to her, made me realize that this wasn’t just another walk in the woods adventure.
Altho she was telling me the Ambush force was in the abandoned, overgrown plantation, to our left, the azimuth of my point man compass was telling me to keep going straight ahead. By now, about 15 or 16 of the other 28 members of my Platoon had emerged from the bamboo, and they gathered in a knot, drinking from their canteens and making quite a target of themselves.
As I went to the front door of her Hootch, an incredible wall of small arms fire, from the dirt road, all the way back to the bamboo jungle, erupted.
I dropped into a prone position, and turned to my left, just as 4 VC were charging out of the plantations’ thick overgrowth, straight at me, but they were looking to their right, down where the bulk of my Platoon was. I shot those 4 Freedom Fighters with 2 bursts, the first, about 14 rounds, the 2nd burst, about 5 rounds. It seemed like the first 10 rounds went through all 4 of them, instantaneously.
I rationalize those deaths, to this day.
There were zero graceful, dramatic, chest grasping deaths, among those four men. The AR 15 M-16 is rated at over 800 rounds per minute, which is 14 rounds per second. The horrible, unnatural contortions, the flailing arms and legs, and the tremendous momentum changing power of those first fourteen .223mm rounds that those four farmers caught, in the one second burst of my weapon, will never leave me. Then, there is the added guilt of my training, when my second burst pumped the final 5 rounds in that magazine into them, as they lay in a heap, ONE HALF of a SECOND, later.
I don’t care who you are, “Thou shalt not kill” will forever weigh upon you.
My Lady Friend seemed frozen, but still trembling, as she stayed by my side, unlike her Sister, and her Niece, who stayed in their tunnel/bomb shelter. Although I could hear really intense fire, on my “7 o’clock” , I had to level my fire, at 12 o’clock on the Hootch across the road, to keep the pressure on. The front of her Hootch gave She & I the advantage of hiding my rifle flashes, so the peeps across the road couldn’t see where my rounds were coming from, because we had 12” high vegetation, but the incoming 7.62mm rounds eventually found both she and me. The rounds that killed her entered the top of her head, and her left shoulder, and the Viet Farmer only had to traverse about 18 inches to kill me.
I had a hollow, empty feeling when I felt her go limp, and saw where her head wound was, but a second or two later, I was pumped when I saw 2 M-79 “Willy Peter” rounds (white phosphorous incendiary) explode, bursting the Hootch into flames.
The 187th Parachute Infantry Regiment RAKKASANS, from our Brigade, were closing in on the road side of the Plantation, and they had suffered 4 KIA.
I was nearly out of my 24 magazines of ammo, so I stuck my head into the bomb shelter, and admonished the Mama and the Little Girl NOT to come out, again, until I came back for them.
I crawled up to Pfc Juan DeMara. Our Medic was trying to rinse off Juan’s intestines, as he stuffed them back into his stomach. I took Juan’s Grenades, and about 10 magazines.
Further down the berm, my Squad Leader, Sgt Chic Sanders, was already dead, from shrapnel & small arms. I took about 8 of his magazines. He must have thrown all his grenades, because they were gone.
I was about 20 yards down the slope, from the Hootch, when I saw Platoon Sgt Haywood, trying to rally the Troopers who fell back into the bamboo slope, to come back out, and carry the fight, when he got hit, and hit hard.
I knew Sgt Haywood was dead, too.
I ran & low crawled back to the Hootch, and covered my Lady Friend’s body with mats, because I knew that her Sister and her Little Girl would be coming out of the bomb shelter, as the noise died down.
We had called for Air Strikes, hopefully with F-104 Phantoms, but we only got A-1 Skyraiders.
As with most ambushes, the actual FireFight only lasted 6 or 7 minutes, but the U.S. Artillery and Air Strikes pounded away, for over 2 hours. As tho the ordnance exploding would make our survivors feel better. Such BULLSHIT.
I went back into the Hootch, to break the news of the one Sister’s death, to the Little Girl’s Mama. NOBODY wails, cries, and carries on more than Vietnamese folks, when they lose loved ones. I tried my best to calm & quite her, so her daughter wouldn’t come out of the bomb shelter, but she attracted the attention of a few of our troops who stayed all the way down at the bottom of the clearing, for the whole FireFight, by the bamboo forest. None of them knew what was happening up on my front end, of our position.
She was holding my left arm, and sobbing, hard, when SGT “REDACTED” kicked open the corrugated tin back door to her Hootch. He emptied a full 20 round magazine into the Little Girl’s Mama, and while I still had her arms wrapped tightly, around my arm, her whole 90 pound body flew back, and her fingers lost their grip on my arm, her body was virtually cut in half, and her other arm was hanging by a bit of skin, because her bones were shattered.
It was all I could do to keep from shooting Sgt “Redacted”.
He claimed that he thought this tiny woman was VC, and she was holding me prisoner. Our shouting brought more folks, (reinforcements) into the Hootch, and, at that time orders came over the radio to place canisters of “Willy Peter” (white phosphorous incendiary, that would burn & asphyxiate anybody still in the bomb shelters). Folks in the bomb shelters are almost always NON combatants, including old folks & children.
I had to persuade the reinforcing Brass that I was 100% sure that a Little Girl was in “my” bomb shelter. One Officer even said that if the tunnel “is booby trapped, you’ll deserve it”, for sympathizing with the enemy.
(This is the first time I have tried to write about this 48 year old battle, and I’m up against a deadline to submit this essay, for Memorial Day, 2016, and I know I’d take at least 10 pages to write about going into the tunnel, and bringing out the Little Girl, because it was (and I’m finding, as I type) so incredibly emotional so I’m just going to cut & paste from the Pacific Stars & Stripes article, at the end of this essay.)
“During mopping-up and pursuit operations late in the afternoon, Perry remained near the home of the dead woman”. (our “minders” wouldn’t let the truth be told about Mama)
“Some of the houses still occupied by the Viet Cong were being destroyed and I was afraid they might get this one by mistake,” he said.
He was sure the little girl was still in the tunnel. He did not know whether she had been hurt. He took off his gear and entered the hole carrying a candle.
“When I came around the last corner — there were three of them — I saw her sitting against the back wall crying and in shock,” Perry said. “She recognized me immediately and ran over and threw her arms around my neck.”
“He took the child back into the middle of the tunnel where there were a few belongings — a small transistor radio, three bowls and 25 packs of “PARK LANE” cigarettes”. ( Park Lane was a garbage brand of filter cigarettes that cost about 8 cents, per pack, and a small, innocent hustle, by many Vietnamese was to shake the tobacco out of the Park Lane, and re-pack all 20 in the pack with about 75 cents worth of high grade marijuana in each, hence, each pack would bring the hustler about $1.12 over cost, and the “loaded” packs sold for $2.00, each, a $1.17 profit, because Officers and rear echelon folks couldn’t carry quarter pound baggies of reefer, like us Grunts could. In a country where $2 per day was a decent living, it was a very honorable hustle.
I kept 10 packs for myself, because I had no idea what, or who, would take care of the Little Girl, and I put the remaining 15 packs and $20 “MPC” into a cloth bag, with her other meager possessions, and I brought her up, and out of the tunnel, and away from the Momma & Aunt’s bodies.
All the gawkers, at the tunnel entrance all started clapping & cheering, and chipping in C-Rat stuff, and chump change, as I brought her up, and out, but I felt incredibly dirty, and totally ashamed of our U.S. policy of Search & Destroy, because DESTROY (culture, family, relationships, keepsakes, etc., et al,) was truly the operative word.
A Lieutenant from the RAKKASANS came out, in a Jeep, and we drove the Little Girl to the Province Orphanage. A sad ending to a very sad day.
The Pacific Stars and Stripes article failed to note the 9 Currahees and Rakkasans KIA, nor the (very inflated) 56 Viet Cong bodies, 20 blood trails, + 2 POW’s recorded in 506th and 3rd Bde “After Action” reports. May the ULTIMATE SACRIFICES of our BROTHERS never be forgotten.
Unfortunately, the sacrifices, horrors, and War Crimes that the people of Viet Nam suffered, at our hands, have apparently been forgotten, by the people, as the 1% Viet Nam RULING CLASS, reaches for riches, going by Barak Obama’s whirlwind tour of Viet Nam, touting potential gains
Me? I forget NOTHING!
PACIFIC STARS & STRIPES story
Scroll down the page until you see:
“Viet Mom Warns G.I., … and Dies” (about ¾ way down the page)
PACIFIC STARS & STRIPES couldn’t do ANY interviews, without a MACV “minder”, and at least 2 officers “correcting” anything (and most everything) I said, that went outside the accepted Military Narrative for our War.
The typical “BODY COUNT” bull shit, throughout our war had to follow the minimum math ratio of 4 to 1 , or, better yet, 6 to 1 , or 8 to 1.
Our After Action Reports claimed 56 VC dead. Other than my FOUR kills, there were only 5 other VC bodies found.
We had 9 total deaths, the VC had 9 total deaths, BUT, the U.S. Military Rule of thumb was NEVER to admit to a numerical stand off. Always use the Military KILL ratios, in our case, 9 VC deaths, vs. 9 U.S. deaths ~ a stand off~ called for multiplying by the 6 to 1 ratio = 9 US deaths at 6 to 1 equals 54 “enemy KIA”, then they always added a couple so the ratios wouldn’t be too easy to figure out. Hence, the “56 VC deaths, as reported”, in the STARS & STRIPES news accounts.
These daily LIES would start in Platoon & Company level reports, and, often get jacked up, even more, at Battalion, Brigade, Division, and Command levels. Hence, the high number of idiots in the Military Academies, and IVY LEAGUE schools, as well as Think Tanks, and NGO’s, continually spouting BULLSHIT, even as I type.
I have spent the past 48 years opposing WAR & fighting for Equal Justice & Peace
I’m a certified Veterans Advocate, always trying to help kids suckered into the Military-Industrial-Political profit driven complex, as they battle the V.A. & DoD for EVERYTHING they are entitled to.
bp (Bill Perry)
If you managed to read all the above, (Viet Nam Wall, Panel 43, EAST) then check out my other Memorial Day essay, called: (Viet Nam Wall Panel 32 East) Below.
Thanks for attempting to understand.
~VIET NAM WALL, Panel 32 East
Phuoc Vinh, Binh Duong Province, Viet Nam
10 Killed on our Platoon’s 15th Day in Viet Nam
I was fooling around, outside the fence, with the 2 teenage daughters from our Laundry Hootch, when I could see our Platoon of Company A, 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st AIRBORNE Division moving out, towards the flight line, 10 minutes before we were actually scheduled. By the time I caught up to our Platoon, my Squad & Fire Team took up all of Choppers #6 & #7, and I wound up in UH1B Huey #8, on the “stick”, rather than UH1B Huey #6, where you guys were.
When our 10 Chopper “stick” took off, at 0800, it was a beautiful, mid seventy degree, sun shiney day. We were flying much higher than normal “tree top” altitude, maybe 400 feet high, and banking “right”, when, from my perch by the door, I grasped my seat as we leaned way into our pitch & roll, and I could clearly see you guys in #6, as well as Choppers #1 thru #7.
Suddenly, there was a huge orange, yellow, and black fire ball, and your ship went down.
I don’t know whether the Aviation group flying the choppers that day were the “Kingsmen”, the “Copperheads”, or a 101st Aviation group, but ship #7 was unsteady, from the blasts’ concussion, so our #8 Chopper “corkscrewed” down to evaluate what happened. It was pretty obvious.
Among ALL my PTSD triggers, “Survivors’ Guilt” has me thinking about you guys, ALWAYS.
Staff Sgt Walter Brown Panel 32 East, Line #020, name #4
Pfc Jimmy Lee Woolfolk Panel 32 East, Line #028, name #5
Pfc Eugene Miley Panel 32 East, Line #025, name #3
Pfc Charles Carpenter Panel 32 East, Line #021, name #2
Pfc Steven Nicholas Radu Panel 32 East, Line #026, name # 5
Staff Sgt Leroy Everett Panel 32 East, Line #021, name #5
Sgt “San Antone” Brown knew TO & E inside out, and was quite capable of keeping us out of trouble. Jimmy Lee Woolfolk was “Brownie’s” RTO (Radio) man, and they were a great salt n pepper team. Brownie did a mean Sam Cooke Born by the River
Gene Miley was the first (wannabe) Black Muslim most of us ever hung out with. His logic was really hard to dispute.
“Old Man” Charley Carpenter (29 yrs) was from Oakland, California, and he regaled us with stories of these brave Oakland Home Boys of his, called the BLACK PANTHER PARTY. I was Lumpen Proletarian, and their ideas & ideals really appealed to me.
Steven Radu was the youngest of the crew, and back in Ft Benning’s Parachute School, some NCO tagged him with “Dummy Radu”, and it stuck. He was a Doors, Airplane, Joplin, & Beatles freak, and, like the rest of us, loved to party.
Leroy Everett sang Gospel tunes, 24/7, and was sort of an anchor when we’d get out of hand.
As with all Paratroopers, we had an amazing bond, from jumping out of perfectly good airplanes & jets, and partying in Hopkinsville, KY, Clarksville, Tenn, and all over Ft Cambell, KY.
The 2 Pilots, and 2 Door Gunners who also died on 19 DEC 1967 are also remembered, by me, but nowhere near as intensely as the six Brothers that I had trained with, jumped with, ate & slept with, and flew , together, to ‘Nam with.
Exploring the wonders of Phuoc Vinh, Ba Moi Ba, Cambodian Red, and “the field” created an incredible bond. A bond that is still there.
At our 1st Company “A” reunion, around 2004, (37 years after the fact) we read what the DoD report calls “Casualty Type”, and here’s their quote: “Non-Hostile, Died while Missing, Air Loss, Crash Landing Helicopter- Non Crew”. We had always thought you guys were brought down by hostile indirect (mortar) fire. (“missing” denotes the time it took to recover you)
I went down to the National Archives, in College Park, Maryland, to see why a helicopter, downed in a “hot” war zone, was listed as NON Hostile. On my second day there, I cross referenced all communications from Division, Brigade, Div Arty, Alpha Company, & Battalion S-2, S-3, & S-4, and other sources, and it became very clear that it was our own 155mm Artillery that brought you guys down. I was stunned. It’s really cold, inside the Archives, and the blood drained out of my head, and I had to run out of the Building, into the hot midday sun, to gather my soaking wet self together again. I was devastated.
At the 2005 reunion, I only told Dennis Lahiff what I had learned, b/c we were the ONLY original 1967, 1968 “Airlift” Currahees at the reunion, and we didn’t want the others to contact the families, and throw them into turmoil, but, now, 49 years later, it just MAY get out there.
Picturing you six brothers, as if you were sitting here, having a beer with me, it just dawned on me that 4 of you are African American, which is a high lighted ‘Nam fact among historians, but as we used to say “it don’t mean nuttin’”, b/c that’s the way it is, with EM, in AIRBORNE units.
You wouldn’t believe how our country has so damn many know nothing book freaks who have us involved in 7 “hot” wars, as they frighten the taxpayers into buying more and more weapons systems in their unholy drive for Global Hegemony.
I wish you guys could somehow influence them to stop lying, and start caring for LIFE.
Please know that I Love you, miss you, and will never forget you. Wild Bill (Bill Perry)
To: Barry Vorath Hopper, January 25, 1970, Montrose, PA
It has been 46 years since we lost you. My two children know your name, your childhood pranks (lots of material there) and that you died in a useless war that was wrong. Yes, I have children: Ari who is 12 and a redheaded baseball slugger. He shoots a 22 and loves the woods like you. He loves the story about you getting an 8-point buck with a bow and arrow just before you were shipped out for Nam. I have a daughter, Ella, who works with Doctors Without Borders in Africa. She was on the cover of Time Magazine as an Ebola fighter. Yes, I am a prideful mother. My missing you emerged when they were born and for every achievement since. I think, “Uncle Barry would have loved this.”
As I keep your memory alive through my kids I feel that I am teaching them to “question authority.” I want you to know that I spent my 4 college years fighting against the Viet Nam war. They told us we were just stupid kids and did not understand international affairs. We pushed back and that pushing, to some degree, probably helped to end the war. That loud and vociferous pushing did end the draft.
So many of you were used as pawns by selfish old men. Many of you that have survived are now on the street, living a hopeless existence. Do we honor our veterans? Only in the newspapers, but elsewhere your comrades are forgotten and swept under the social rug. Years later the folks behind this ugly moment in US history wrote books admitting that the protesters were correct. Little comfort that is for us now.
I am writing this letter to you to be left at The Wall. Silly perhaps, but what else can I do? We have all gone on without you. We were just kids then. Suzanne became a nurse; Patty a journalist; and I reached my goal of becoming a PhD sociologist and college professor. You were a medic when you died and we were all betting on you becoming a doctor. Your goals were cut short in 4 lousy months in Viet Nam and I am still totally pissed about it. I cherish my anger and keep it burning way down deep in my core because that is what they left me after taking you.
I have just retired from 40 years of teaching at the university level. I want you to know that I have consistently put peace and respect out there as an option. Good college professors do not preach, as our job is not to tell them what to think, but to teach them how to think. But I do ask them to think through peace and non-aggression as a viable option. I do this for you and our entire generation. I worked hard to fight against the war and the draft when in college and I want you to know that I never stopped. My protests changed as I have moved through life, but I have never stopped and this is fueled by missing you.
Now you are a name on a big black wall for all future generations to see. You are also in our hearts and minds. Going to my 50th high school reunion in September where some are sure to say, “Remember Barry?” The tears still flow.
Betsy Watson, PhD
I graduated high school in 1968, and turned 18 in the fall. I was already absolutely against the ridiculous war in Vietnam and had marched against it. I remember turning 18 and thinking about what I would have done if I had been a male and faced the draft. How horrible it was for young men of my generation. The war was wrong and purposeless, and now looking back more than fifty years later, I am saddened still by the tremendous loss of both military and civilian lives to no purpose and the continuing consequences for the many who were wounded in the war, or suffered PTSD as a result of the war. And now in 2016, we still persist in sending young people to fight and kill primarily to benefit the corrupt and wealthy corporations and politicians. Did we learn nothing from the horrible devastation of the Vietnam War?
To All Who Visit This Wall of Remembrance:
When I visit this memorial, and others like it, the individual names draw me immediately. I look at one name and spontaneously imagine one person — a body, young and healthy, a face smiling, someone who is loved. I think of the tenderness of that body’s flesh, and the tenderness of the relationships that surround him, or sometimes her. And I feel the irreparable rupturing of that body, those relationships, that life by an old dispute that is also dead. The dispute ends, one way or the other, but the ruptured lives remain irreparable.
Then I see the next name, and next, and next. Then I see hundreds. Then I am silenced by the weight of the completely senseless, useless waste. One precious body, facing an equally precious body, trying to kill each other?
At this wall, I turn to imagine the companion wall that should be out on the mall, six times as long, with the names of 3 million precious Vietnamese lives lost. This wall tells me all over again why we must never, never accept war. Who decides? How dare they? Never again.
I was in high school when opponents of the war took to the streets. Seeing them take action and make a difference defined my sense of the world I live in. I have tried to be faithful to their lesson and to the horrible price paid by all whose lives were touched by this one war.
Here is my share concerning both the Vietnam War and the Vietnam Era.
This share will look at things from the perspective of being a Disabled Veteran and also now being 65 years of age.
After being in USMC and then USAF between 1968 and 1976, it is imperative you understand the cultures and events of that timeframe, particularly 1969.
What I particularly want to share about that is that many of us went in at 17 as South Side Chicago high school dropouts, poor, with no skills nor hopes. We were not drafted.
We knew nothing of the ‘Military-Industrial Complex” and only were very dimly aware of the “Domino Theory.”
What I know, from personal experience, is that between a 1968 Thursday afternoon and the following Monday evening, I was in a terrorist training camp known as Recruit Depot MCRD San Diego California.
I clearly recall being told numerous times that the purpose of this was, in some versions, that the purpose of this camp was to drain me of everything I knew, had learned, and kept inside my head, so that I could be rebuilt as a United States Marine “thoroughly indoctrinated in love of God, Country and Corps.”
I held back ever so slightly and kept a tiny journal listing the many times I heard “KILL!” in things like the chow hall line or marching in formation and such. Every class started with variations of its “kill THEM before they kill YOU!”
One would not DARE to ask ‘Why?’ Physical assault and psychological warfare and ostracism would be heaped on your head for hours and days for asking that simple question.
I also recall a Major with close-cropped gray hair pulling me alone out of a formation and wrapping his arm around my head and shoulders walking me away a piece and saying ‘private, you do understand that what we are trying to do here is make sure you understand that we have to kill them there before they kill us here, right?’ I answered, loud and clear, “Sir! Yes Sir! “You wouldn’t want your Sister or your Mother molested by them in anyway, would you?’ Sir, No Sir!” “Well, get with the program and square yourself away.” Aye, Aye, SIR!”
And off to Vietnam I did fly. There, I was a FAC/TACP 1-4 radio operator. Forward Air Controller/Tactical Air Control Party, 1st Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division. A ‘Blood and Mud’-Marine with a radio link that all of Marine Aviation relied on for the good of the Marines on the ground.
3 years to the date and hour that I signed the papers in 1968, I was handed my DD214 indicating an Honorable Discharge at noon of June 1971 at Quantico MCB in Virginia. I was still only 20 years old. That very night I had acquired a job on Southside Chicago driving a tow truck in my Class A summer-tan uniform. It was the beginning of trying to ‘untuck’ myself. It is amazing to me how greasy and black that honorable uniform got by midnight that night.
I could easily write a 300 page narrative-novel about the days in Vietnam and the subsequent days in the US Air Force. At the end of the Air Force days, I began to hear terms like schizophrenic, bi-polar, manic-depressive Survivor’s Guilt and some new thing called PTSD. In April of 1975, I spent an entire month of 12 on/12 off supporting aviation operations during the Fall of Saigon.
A second Honorable Discharge followed and I was helped in getting a job in the mailroom at VA Chicago. A chance event occurred: a fellow Vet asked what I was doing with my benefits; WHAT benefits I asked. He got me in contact with a Vocational Rehabilitation Program Officer (civilian) at VARO (Veterans Administration Regional Office) and they tested me every morning and afternoon for a week and more.
Turned out I should never have been allowed in the Marine Corps in the first place. And the Air Force could have been held responsible for re-enlisting me. After many hearings, it was decided by all that I should be rehabilitated.
2 Bachelor’s and 1 Masters degrees later, I was a Senior Professor for DeVry University for 32 years. My problem is not that I may be nuts, but that I fully and comprehensively understand just how much of our history is built on LIES and coercion. And the consequences (and the consequences avoided) thereof.
My Wife urged me to respond to you and ‘just write a note.’
I hope I’ve done just that and no more than that.
I hope this helps your endeavor.
21 May 2016
You were a wiry Navajo from somewhere off on the reservation in New Mexico or one of the adjacent states when I met you in Basic Training at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas in the late winter and spring of 1968. About a third of our company were Navajo and I was always a bit jealous of them for having their own private language that was inaccessible to the drill sergeants (as well as the rest of us). You were in a different patrol from me, so I didn’t really know you. The basic training regimen didn’t leave much time for socializing and I’m not sure I ever even spoke with you. You were a pretty quiet guy, and did whatever was asked of you quietly and proficiently without complaint. What I remember most about you is that you were really fast on your feet, and seemed capable of running forever. I considered myself somewhat of a runner, but at the tests at the end of Basic Training you ran the mile more than a minute faster than I did. A couple of days later, just a day or two before Martin Luther King was assassinated, our basic training session was over and you and just about everybody else went off to AIT. The Army seemed to be uncertain as to what to do with me, but I was eventually sent off to a backwater in Georgia and several months later found myself in Vietnam.
I had a pretty easy time of it in Vietnam. I was in the HQ company of an engineering battalion whose main assignment was to pave roads. We were at Phu Loi camp, a few miles out of Saigon, which was pretty secure during the year I was there. A couple of rockets came into camp, but no one from our battalion got hurt at that camp from enemy activity all year. However, a group of guys in a tent at an auxiliary camp at Lai Khe got hit by a rocket one night and several of them were seriously wounded. Another guy drove his truck over a mine and became the only fatality from our unit for the year that I was there. He was from Delta company, who I had no contact with, and now I don’t even know his name. I only know that he had joined the army with his brother and that he and his brother did everything together and got the same assignments together. On that particular day his brother hadn’t felt well and went to sick call, while he went to work and got blown up.
It wasn’t until recent years that I began to wonder about the fate of the people I had known in the Army, and started checking the Vietnam Memorial database for the few names that I was able to remember. It was there that I found your name, killed in Vietnam in May 1969, just over a year after proving yourself to be the fastest man in our basic training company. I wonder about your wife, parents, siblings, extended family and other loved ones left behind and how their lives were forever changed by your death. Then I think about all that grief and sorrow multiplied 50,000 times over, and wonder how the course of the Nation, the course of all our lives, would have been different if our policy makers had been more far-sighted and avoided escalating the war in Vietnam in the first place.
At the Wall ©
(It’s Not Enough)
I see you staring at my name,
on a wall we’ve built to lessen the pain
Of this fruit of man’s pride, and its primitive game…
Your tears streaming down, wondering who’s to blame
As sunlight fades, I hear you say…”Why’d they take my daddy away…
(and) just leave me this wall…..that will never pay
For the things I won’t have..…every day.”
“A piece of granite can’t toss me a ball, or teach me to love, or soften my fall…
A piece of granite doesn’t have arms, to pick me up, or keep me from harm…”
If we’d just find a way to stop killing each other…
I’d still be there to love your mother…
And play in the park with you and your brother.
If we’d just find a way to live in peace……
(and) stop treating our lives like some low-rent lease
I hate you, and you hate me…All because we disagree.
I hurt you, and you hurt me…we have to make our point, you see.
Our children stare as we raise the stakes…
Wondering who really pays for our mistakes.
Those who make it, and do come back…
have to learn to dig deep down…
To reach the feelings,,, the love… the will…
they had to shut off……so they could kill.
We tell them, “Go on,.. just live your life…
Get up in the morning.…ignore the strife
eroding your soul…..…… Don’t tell your wife”
This wall stands tall, as well it should be…
Proves what we’ve paid for a land of the free.
Still I keep hoping that someday we’ll see,
Instead of a wall, you should be looking at me.
I hate you and you hate me,
All because we disagree.
I hurt you and you hurt me…
We have to make our point, you see. (chorus)
Our children stare as we raise the stakes,
Wondering who really pays for our mistakes…….
My name is Amy Martin (nee Rider) and I live in Northern California. My father Donald Rider served in Vietnam during his 20 years of service to the USAF. I was not born until after my father’s retirement in the latter 1970’s. I only ever knew the scarred man he was. He bore the depression, the PTSD and the heavy weight of the memories made there. Medications, eventual therapy and good ol’ talkin with other service members eased some of the burdens. I loved him despite the temper which arose often and learned not to resent him because much of what he experienced was beyond his control. He was the most perfect father to me despite his imperfections. He wouldn’t speak much about the time he served in Vietnam to his family. One name was brought to our attention though and I think the loss of this young man affected my father’s future beyond what we will ever know. Roy Leo Lede – his name is here on the memorial. A 20 year old kid that worked beside my father. My dad never understood how someone with so much life ahead of him could be taken. My father wished he’d been taken instead, but then I wouldn’t be here writing this letter today. This letter in support of peace and honor. These veterans had to endure, sacrifice, fight, heal and serve so they are deserving of all of our respect.
My father passed nearly 4 years ago from health issues tied to his time in the service. Since he left I direct my thoughts and attentions to homeless vets in particular, I have a tender spot for their plight. I know the mountains my father climbed to maintain a “normal” life and I recognize that those living on the streets are still fighting to live. If all I can provide is a smile, I’ll do that. If I can do more, I will. I stay close to my father by helping out those he might have fought/worked beside.
I’d like peace, just so that those involved could breathe/live/sleep better. I can’t fathom why we let young people go destroy themselves and others in faraway lands. So much work is needed here in the USA, the energy put into war could be redirected into building up our people and our land.
How long will we fail to see all the offerings a peaceful world might provide for future generations?
Rest in peace Vietnam veterans and thank you for your service. I am sorry for any suffering put upon Vet’s alive or dead.
May 25, 2016
A new friend invited me to add my voice to the many letters delivered to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC on May 30, 2016. I keep trying and failing to put my thoughts and feelings into coherent expression – too intellectual, too abstracted, too angry, too despairing… What do I want to say and how can I possibly say it?
When I think of the Vietnam War and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, I’m often brought to a place of impotent despair and tears. I was a girl during the war (I turned eleven in 1969), growing up just outside of DC, and the social, political, and moral upheaval of the time left an indelible mark – both difficult and positive – as I struggled to develop personal standards of behavior and belief.
Two things have stayed with me, especially, from the Vietnam War era. The first is the imagery. Seeing those photographs – as a kid and still now – leaves me grief-stricken and disconsolate. Exhausted GI’s with “thousand yard stares”; a terrified girl running naked down the road; convulsive napalm explosions; a grimacing, flame-covered Buddhist monk; crying children, crying women, crying soldiers; dense, beautiful, confining jungle and scorched and defoliated countryside; the black, reflective face of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with its 58,000 names and then also the coincident, un-memorialized names of the thousands upon thousands of additional casualties of that fateful time. It was beyond my capacity to process or integrate as a child and I’ve not made much progress since. I deeply appreciate those images, as alarming and profoundly haunting as they are – we should be horrified and frightened and angry and acutely provoked by them as well as by the on-going specter of America at war.
The second thing that has stayed with me is the ubiquitous unrest and deep-seated conflict of that time. Assassinations, civil rights demonstrations and violence, anti-war demonstrations and violence, the feminist revolution, hallucinogenic drug use – all forms of social and personal disruption and reorganization. Growing up close to DC amplified that experience. And not only was the turmoil in the streets of our neighboring city, but the unrest came flooding into my own living room as my mom and dad and older brother argued and fought and shouted and cried over the war with its terrible and unimaginable possibilities. My parents were ordinarily mild-mannered people but the war and the widespread social upheaval and my brother’s appropriate rebellion all conspired to make it a time of intense family conflict, hostility and aggressiveness. It created in me a consequential and long-lasting sense of fear, confusion and anxiety.
I was a sensitive kid and regularly overwhelmed by the pervasive crisis and conflict – outside on the streets and inside my home. I was often frightened and a lot of that fear and unsettlement has stayed with me into my adulthood. My first political memory is JFK’s assassination. Then there were the dogs tags we wore in elementary school so that our bodies could be identified if DC were attacked with nuclear weapons. And then the sweeping cultural revolution. And more assassinations. And beautiful, artful, terrifying photographs of it all. And my family – embroiled, embittered, bewildered.
As part of my coming of age process, I developed strong ambivalence toward authority, employment, gender, politics, economics, medicine, even ancestry (looking to the past) and lineage (looking to the future). I believe that the tumultuousness and uncertainty of that time is part of the reason I chose not to have children. I don’t see the world as a particularly safe or sane place. There’s a way that I only have one foot planted in this world, even now, and I think that growing up during the 1960’s and the Vietnam war had a profound impact on my capacity and willingness to participate in the American collective.
I see the faces of some of the young men and women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and my heart breaks with sorrow. How have we not learned our lesson from Vietnam? How can we keep doing this – to our own children, to children throughout the world?
Trying to write this letter has been a painful exercise of falling back into the dark abyss of our unlearned lessons, our arrogance and our unconsciousness, and trying to climb back out to write, to reflect and remember, to search for some seed of hope, some point of re-commitment to justice and atonement and our shared future. Even now, this letter – in its umpteenth iteration – seems a wholly failed attempt to convey what I feel and remember and hold sacred from that time.
Finally, in the end, perhaps all I need to say is that I’m still so deeply sorry for all that terrible loss.
With sorrow and gratitude,
Elizabeth Ratliff Schecher
Please deliver to the panel where HM2 Larry Jo Goss’ name is found- Memorial Day 2016
I so wish I could be in DC today to deliver this letter in person. My husband, Eric is amazing. Oh how I wish you could know him. He offered to drive me 10 hours so that I could be at the wall this weekend and meet other adult children whose father’s also died in VN. I really want to meet them but feel it’s important to be home with our two youngest kids who still live at home during the summer.
I could go on and on about your grandchildren. Mom says she sees different parts of you in them. It’s such a blessing to know that parts of you still live on in them and in me. The biggest part of you I see in my mom though. She has never stopped loving you. What an impact you made on her life, dad in the short time you and she were together. Oh, how I wish you would have never had to leave. It’s been 48 years but the sadness remains. There is not a day that goes by that mom or I don’t think of you.
I’ve learned to be proud of your service but must admit that for many years I wished you would have fled to Canada so that you and mom and I could have been together. We would have been quite a team. You and I, so much alike- assertive, driven, and full of energy. Mom so sweet, calm, and loving. She would still, to this day, give away everything she had if she knew someone was in need. You are her would have been a great team!
The three times I have been to the wall, I wondered if you could see me. It’s such a mystery- on this earth- to know about Heaven. Are you already there? Are you “asleep” until the rapture? Do you “watch over me”? People say things like that but I don’t’ know if it’s true. I wish it was but I can’t tell. This whole idea of feeling your presence is also something foreign to me. I don’t know if that’s because I have no memory of you or if it’s because I’m not sure it works that way after someone dies. I’m a little bit stubborn and resist thinking something is true just because I want it to be. I have this really inquisitive mind that tried to figure things out. I want to know what is true. I operate much more on fact than feeling. When I was little I wished that you were still alive on every birthday cake. I think this continued (though to a lesser degree) even as I got older. It wasn’t until I found Dr. Behrens in 1995 that I knew for sure that you were really killed in action on Valentine’s Day of 1968. What a terrible day to die. What a terrible way to die. It makes me so sad to think of the way you died. Dr. Behrens identified your body by the wallet you had in your breast pocket. The one that had the picture of mom and I right by your heart. In one of your letters you said you always kept it there so we were always with you. Oh how true your statement was. Mom and I were with you that day in love and a part of both of us died when you took your last breath. Neither of us will ever be the same because we love you so much.
As I type this it sounds confusing to me to talk about loving someone I do not remember ever meeting. Love is something I take very seriously. I don’t say the words “I love you” lightly and never say them if I don’t really mean it. I know there are different types of love and that God calls us to love everyone. I try to be obedient to God in all I do. The way I’ve made sense of all of this is to think about there being different types of love. The love I feel for you dad is extremely powerful. It won’t go away even when my sadness at times wishes it would. If I could just tell myself that you weren’t that great of a guy or that you wouldn’t have been that great of a dad, I know I would be less sad. The truth is, though, you were that great of a guy and you would have been an incredible dad and husband to mom. My sadness even increases when I think about the kind of grandpa you would have been to your five grandchildren. This doesn’t even include the other child I know you and mom would have had and the grandchildren that may have come from that child.
I am such a positive person that I know I need to make a right shift before this letter comes to a close. Do you know the thing I am most thankful for when I think about you? It’s the genes you gave me. You and mom are both very positive people and you both have a great sense of humor. I know I’m talking about you in the present but the image I have in my head of you never dies. That image is of your smile.
Do you remember when Ray Felle captured video of you near Valentine’s Ridge five days before you were killed? Your personality was so evident in that 7 seconds of footage. You stopped and made eye contact with him. You said something to him, because you are so conversational and then you smiled and waved at the camera before quickly turning and walking quickly away. It was as if you knew you had a task to do and you were “on it”. Focused to get the job done but not without a smile on your face and a good attitude all along the way. What a gift you left us. A great example of how to live.
If I believed for one second that you would be able to see this letter being walked to the wall on Monday and delivered by your panel, I would be there whatever it took. I’m not sure it works that way so I will send the letter so it can be delivered and stay home and love on your grandbabies who are now 16 and 18 years old!!! I’ll tell you all about them someday.
I love you dad. Please know that on this Memorial Day and every day I remember YOU! You influence the way I live my life. You taught me to not waste a single minute because we have no idea how many we have left. You taught me to work hard, to set high goals and go after them with all of my heart.
Thank you for falling in love with mom. She was a wonderful nurturer who spent her life trying to be a mom and dad to me. She talked about you often and did her best to help me “know” you. She did a great job!
I’ve searched far and wide to attempt to find out exactly how you died. I know it won’t bring you back but something inside of me has felt a strong need to know. Lawrence Hoff send me an e-mail a few years ago. His story was difficult to hear. I wish I knew if it was true. I now have Hoff’s account and Marty Russell’s. The corpsman who helped you treat the wounds of Camron Carter. The pieces have not all fit together but I keep hoping there will be more to come to bring clarity to the story of how your final hours were spent. Something inside of me thinks Hoff’s story is true but no one else has confirmed it so I’ll do my best to keep my mind open. More importantly, I’ll live in the present, most of the time, because I know that is what you would want for me.
You are my hero dad. Not because you died saving the lives of wounded soldiers (Marines and Navy corpsmen) but because of who you were. Because of how you lived in the 21 short years you were given. Mom and I will carry you in our heart all the days we have left on this earth. At the end of our time, I pray that we are reunited with you in heaven. If you are already there, I know you know how amazing Colton will be when he gets his new body. If we all arrive at the same time (after the rapture) it is going to be one amazing day! Either way, I look forward to praising Jesus with you and spending eternity around God’s throne. We will be together. Oh how sweet that will be!
Thank you dad for everything. Your service and more importantly your love for mom, for me and for your country and for those you gave your life to protect and help.
Eric and I have a saying. It is that we love each other more today that yesterday and less than tomorrow. I know it doesn’t make any sense but it applies to the way I feel about you too. MTYLTT!
Your Darling Daughter (that’s what you called me J)
Lori Jo Reaves
Feeding the Beast
“Non-violence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hate is a beast that must be fed everyday to stay alive. I groom and feed the beast with my hateful words and actions. I groom and feed him when I let the homophobic joke slip by. I groom and feed him when I take the bait of racism and pass it on. I groom and feed him when I use silence, anger or threat to get my way. I groom and feed the beast of hate when I vilify those who are different from me. I groom and feed the beast of hate when I let others think for me or tell me what I “should” do to keep it all under control. I groom and feed the beast when I hide my shame and assume that I stand outside the human condition. I groom feed the beast of hate by my lack of self-examination or self reflection. I groom and feed the beast of hate when I harden my heart against forgiveness. As long as I keep the beast as a pet, my life will know violence. All war everywhere will be my own private war waged in the recesses of my heart and soul.
Patricia McConnell, May 23, 2016
On April 18th of 2016, the unit I served with in Vietnam, Alpha Battery 1st Battalion 11th Marines, had a reunion at the Wall.
On April 18 1966, my third week in Vietnam, our unit was attacked and overrun by Vietcong Sappers.
We had 5 men killed and 28 men wounded out of 90 of us.
That day changed who I was and who I would become. My first friend in the unit was Terry “Jake” Main – he was also from Florida. He was killed on April 18.
The morning after the attack, the dead Marines were laid next to a bunker and were covered with ponchos. I pulled back the ponchos from each man to see who they were. My friend Jake was one of them.
I realized that I was in a place where people were trying to kill me and my friends and that there was no do-overs; if I was killed that would be it.
I had believed that we were there to help the South Vietnamese protect themselves against the North Vietnamese. But the people who had just laid waste to my unit were South Vietnamese.
It became obvious to me that my real purpose was to keep me and my friends from being killed or injured. It was no longer about politics – it was about survival.
I ended up spending 20 months in Nam and received 2 Purple Hearts for being wounded twice.
Now 50 years later, I reflect. As I look at this Wall, I think about all of the sacrifices we made, the pain, the suffering, the loss of very special friends. I think of those of us that “survived”, with our broken bodies and searing memories.
My psychological wounds are much more intense than my physical wounds.
I wonder what did we buy with all of this sacrifice?
All I see is a Black Marble Wall.
This was a very expensive Wall.
If my country would have learned from Vietnam, to never repeat this again, then our sacrifices would have bought something invaluable.
My country did not learn anything from our sacrifices in Vietnam and this is what causes me the most pain.
We continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over. We continue to behave as if we can make the world better by killing those that disagree with us.
When we killed people in Nam or when one of our own was killed we would say, “The gooks Wasted him or we Wasted some Gooks”.
I never realized how profound the use of the word “Waste” was. Yes, it was all a tragic waste and that is what I see when I come to this Wall.
Sergeant, USMC – 1965-1969- Vietnam 3/66-11/6
FROM A VIETNAM VETERAN TO WHOEVER READS THIS
Thank you for coming here today and standing before this black marble plowshare
Where you stand is Holy Ground
If you can, find a quiet place, be still and be willing to simply listen and let this wall and the names written on it speak to your heart.
Take your time.
When I first stood before this wall it felt like a punch in the gut. I was one of the lucky ‘Vietnam Veterans’ who spent two years out of harms way. I had no family members or friends among the names on the wall. Still I felt at a loss facing all those 58,000 names and in the middle of them, my own reflection. There were no lofty words or heroic images to tell me how to feel.
Perhaps you feel, as I did, only inadequacy or emptiness or a vague sadness. It’s true that nothing we can say or do can restore these dead to life or take away the grief of their loved ones. What has helped me has been finding a sense of purpose and hope through working to promote peace through Veterans For Peace, an organization dedicated to exposing the folly of war so that we do not have to continue to build memorials with the names of our children and grandchildren inscribed upon them. I sincerely hope that your visit today will help to you to be a peacemaker in all that you do.
Memorial Day, 2016
To The Wall Memorializing The Names of Our Vietnam War Dead,
You must know this, as we all must be reminded… there are many, many names of our brothers and sisters who were ‘killed’ in or by Vietnam but who did not die until many years later, and who are still dying to this day.
I write to you about a good man named William Patrick Ferrie whom I came to know during our tour of duty in the First Gulf War, then known as Operation Desert Storm.
I was the XO of a medical company in the Colorado Army National Guard. Pat was a Staff Sergeant in the Army Reserve from Helena, Montana. Pat was augmented to our company as the chaplain’s assistant. He did so voluntarily; he was not ordered to active duty. Due to our company’s deployment to four far-flung locations in Saudi Arabia, Pat and I spent a lot of time together driving around the desert checking on the welfare of our folks.
I enjoyed your company and our work together very much. You impressed me as a caring husband to Kate, and father of two daughters. Your commitment to working in the marriage preparation ministry of your church also stands out in my memory of your character. You mentioned your time in Vietnam as a radio operator in an infantry platoon, but I did not detect the anguish I came to know you had as a result of your time there. What I did perceive was a desire to serve again in what we were led to believe was a just cause, and then have some kind of positive closure in contrast to what your Vietnam experience was like.
Who could have known that our encounter in the desert in March 1991, with the bedouin man maimed by some unexploded ordnance that detonated as he scavenged through a trash pile would have resulted in your being sent home before the rest of the company? Even though you were not a member of our unit before mobilization you had quickly befriended many and earned the respect of all through your service among us. Just before you left us there you mentioned having been diagnosed, again, with PTSD, which was the first I had known of that being a part of your life.
When I received the phone call from Kate in May 1992 letting me know that you had died she spoke next of your fondness for all of us and the time we spent together in Saudi Arabia. She told me of your disappointment that you could not come home with us, your continuing struggles with PTSD for all those years after Vietnam and especially so after Desert Storm, and the night that your life ended as a result of it all.
Pat, the Department of Defense is currently spending millions of dollars rewriting and publicizing their version of the history of the Vietnam War. The voices of those whose names are on The Wall cannot be heard in contradiction to what the Pentagon wants the American public to remember and think about that war, all the wars now being fought in our name, and to set the stage for wars yet to be waged. Your name is not, and the names of thousands like you are not, even on The Wall. But they should be. You all were killed there as surely as if you had died in an ambush.
It is my hope and prayer that your sacrifice to the Vietnam War as told by this letter will somehow make our nation come to our moral senses and cease the pursuit of empire and all the death and destruction we are causing in our world and to ourselves.
Rest in the peace that this world knows nothing of in this age.
Semper Fidelis et Pacificus,
Veterans For Peace
Chapter 099 – Asheville, NC
May 22, 2016, Letters to The Wall, Memorial Day, 2016.
In Remembrance of:
Sgt. Glenn Alan Lovett
Vietnam, KIA, March 7, 1970. The Wall, Panel W 13, Line 93.
It has been 46 years since Vietnam, when you were fatally taken from your family, wife, one year old daughter, your mom, dad, sister, brother, and from your friends, one was me. We were infantry. First the 82nd, then the 101st. We did not know why. War would be a lie.
So many years ago though it seems like yesterday. When we were in the same unit you would share the news from your family with me, and when at base camp, your cassette messages from your wife. Happy news of how they all were doing, how the love of your life one year old daughter “was growing like a weed”. You loved, missed them, looked forward to going home to them, to the farm in Ohio.
I received a letter from you after we transferred to the 101st, from your company to mine. My letter of reply to you was shortly returned to me at a fire base. An official letter from the Army, with mine to you, offered regrets and told me you had been killed. A week later I received letters from your family of the trauma and sadness of your loss, about the funeral, about their knowledge of our great friendship as brothers in war. They wrote to make sure I knew of your loss and with prayers for my safe return home. I wrote back of the wonderful person of Spirit you were, of how much you loved them all, how sorry I was, and I sent prayers for comfort for them and thankfulness that we were friends.
46 years it has been. Twice the years of the 23 that you were there in Ohio, at home in peace, a blessing to all who knew you on this earth. I went to your company when I was back at base camp to ask what had happened when you were killed. They told me that your company was in the mountains, the point man was shot and wounded, that you as slack man, next in line, ran forward to help him. You were killed in your effort of sacrifice to help him.
Those who return home always know the guilt of not being able to bring our buddies back. You gave again, as you had all your life, this time giving your life for that wounded soldier in front of you. Wars, needless wars, another war we now know as lies by those who sent us, wars which continue to kill through these many years. We have Nams still, in the middle east, subversive political war mongers of killings, torture, war crimes, suicides, sufferings that take innocent children and loved ones of sovereign nations, as you were taken. The peoples, the many more taken by the betrayals of our abused power policymakers of violence, of no conscience, of political and special interests’ atrocities.
Glenn, I’m sorry I have not written before, though I have visited you and those at The Wall many times. Know you are never forgotten but remembered in all hearts that knew you, Glenn, a brother for peace. I know you are in peace now. After The Wall was built, I wrote to your family again, then 25 years after your sacrifice. I met your loving mom, dad, wife, and that little one year old who had become a nurse, who has now blessed you with a beautiful granddaughter. What a family you were, are, and always will be.
Your mom, dad, and sister are with you again in the heavenly home of your faith. Know that we always shall remember, love you, and will one day all be blessed to see you all again. Bless you, my friend, my brother for peace. The power of truth and peace will bring us home to you, to our families, to brothers and sisters for peace, and that power of love, of humanity, will serve to see that wars end. Thank you, my friend, my brother. Til then and always… peace. Wade Fulmer
MEMORIAL DAY, MAY 30, 2016
PORTLAND, OREGON VIETNAM MEMORIAL, S. Brian Willson
Celebration of Memorial Day in the US, originally Decoration Day, commenced shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War. This is a national holiday to remember the people who died while serving in the armed forces. The day traditionally includes decorating graves of the fallen with flowers.
As a Viet Nam veteran, I know the kinds of pain and suffering incurred by over three million US soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen, 58,313 of whom paid the ultimate price, whose names are on The Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC. The Oregon Vietnam Memorial Wall alone, located here in Portland, contains 803 names on its walls.
The function of a memorial is to preserve memory. On this US Memorial Day, May 30, 2016, I want to preserve the memory of all aspects of the US war waged against the Southeast Asian people in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia – what we call the Viet Nam War – as well as the tragic impacts it had on our own people and culture. My own healing and recovery requires me to honestly describe the war and understand how it has impacted me psychically, spiritually, and politically.
Likewise, the same remembrance needs to be practiced for both our soldiers and the victims in all the other countries affected by US wars and aggression. For example, the US incurred nearly 7,000 soldier deaths while causing as many as one million in Afghanistan and Iraq alone, a ratio of 1:143.
It is important to identify very concretely the pain and suffering we caused the Vietnamese – a people who only wanted to be independent from foreign occupiers, whether Chinese, France, Japan, or the United States of America. As honorably, and in some cases heroically, as our military served and fought in Southeast Asia, we were nonetheless serving as cannon fodder, in effect mercenaries for reasons other than what we were told. When I came to understand the true nature of the war, I felt betrayed by my government, by my religion, by my cultural conditioning into “American Exceptionalism,” which did a terrible disservice to my own humanity, my own life’s journey. Thus, telling the truth as I uncover it is necessary for recovering my own dignity.
I am staggered by the amount of firepower the US used, and the incredible death and destruction it caused on an innocent people. Here are some statistics:
· Seventy-five percent of South Viet Nam was considered a free-fire zone (i.e., genocidal zones)
· Over 6 million Southeast Asians killed
· Over 64,000 US and Allied soldiers killed
· Over 1,600 US soldiers, and 300,000 Vietnamese soldiers remain missing
· Thousands of amputees, paraplegics, blind, deaf, and other maimings created
· 13,000 of 21,000 of Vietnamese villages, or 62 percent, severely damaged or destroyed, mostly by bombing
· Nearly 950 churches and pagodas destroyed by bombing
· 350 hospitals and 1,500 maternity wards destroyed by bombing
· Nearly 3,000 high schools and universities destroyed by bombing
· Over 15,000 bridges destroyed by bombing
· 10 million cubic meters of dikes destroyed by bombing
· Over 3,700 US fixed-wing aircraft lost
· 36,125,000 US helicopter sorties during the war; over 10,000 helicopters were lost or severely damaged
· 26 million bomb craters created, the majority from B-52s (a B-52 bomb crater could be 20 feet deep, and 40 feet across)
· 39 million acres of land in Indochina (or 91 percent of the land area of South Viet Nam) were littered with fragments of bombs and shells, equivalent to 244,000 (160 acre) farms, or an area the size of all New England except Connecticut
· 21 million gallons (80 million liters) of extremely poisonous chemicals (herbicides) were applied in 20,000 chemical spraying missions between 1961 and 1970 in the most intensive use of chemical warfare in human history, with as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese living in nearly 3,200 villages directly sprayed by the chemicals
o 24 percent, or 16,100 square miles, of South Viet Nam was sprayed, an area larger than the states of Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island combined, killing tropical forest, food crops, and inland forests
o Over 500,000 Vietnamese have died from chronic conditions related to chemical spraying with an estimated 650,000 still suffering from such conditions; 500,000 children have been born with Agent Orange-induced birth defects, now including third generation offspring
· Nearly 375,000 tons of fireballing napalm was dropped on villages
· Huge Rome Plows (made in Rome, Georgia), 20-ton earthmoving D7E Caterpillar tractors, fitted with a nearly 2.5-ton curved 11-foot wide attached blade protected by 14 additional tons of armor plate, scraped clean between 700,000 and 750,000 acres (1,200 square miles), an area equivalent to Rhode Island, leaving bare earth, rocks, and smashed trees
· As many as 36,000,000 total tons of ordance expended from aerial and naval bombing, artillery, and ground combat firepower. On an average day US artillery expended 10,000 rounds costing $1 million per day; 150,00-300,000 tons of UXO remain scattered around Southeast Asia: 40,000 have been killed in Viet Nam since the end of the war in 1975, and nearly 70,000 injured; 20,000 Laotians have been killed or injured since the end of the war
· 13.7 billion gallons of fuel were consumed by US forces during the war
· If there was space for all 6,000,000 names of Southeast Asian dead on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC, it would be over 9 sobering miles long, or nearly 100 times its current 493 foot length.
I am not able to memorialize our sacrificed US soldiers without also remembering the death and destruction of civilian infrastructure we caused in our illegal invasion and occupation of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. It has been 47 years since I carried out my duties in Viet Nam. My “service” included witnessing the aftermath of bombings from the air of undefended fishing villages where virtually all the inhabitants were massacred, the vast majority being small children. In that experience, I felt complicit in a diabolical crime against humanity. This experience led me to deeply grasping that I am not worth more than any other human being, and they are not worth less than me.
Recently I spent more than three weeks in Viet Nam, my first trip back since involuntarily being sent there in 1969. I was struck by the multitudes of children suffering from birth defects, most caused presumably by the US chemical spraying some 50 years ago. I experienced deep angst knowing that the US is directly responsible for this genetic damage now being passed on from one generation to the next. I am ashamed that the US government has never acknowledged responsibility or paid reparations. I found myself apologizing to the people for the crimes of my country.
When we only memorialize US soldiers while ignoring the victims of our aggression, we in effect are memorializing war. I cannot do that. War is insane, and our country continues to perpetuate its insanity on others, having been constantly at war since at least 1991. We fail our duties as citizens if we remain silent rather than calling our US wars for what they are – criminal and deceitful aggressions violating international and US law to assure control of geostrategic resources, deemed necessary to further our insatiable American Way Of Life (AWOL).
Memorial Day for me requires remembering ALL of the deaths and devastation of our wars, and it should remind all of us of the need to end the madness. If we want to end war, we must begin to directly address our out-of-control capitalist political economy that knows no limits to profits for a few at the expense of the many, including our soldiers.
S. Brian Willson, as a 1st lieutenant, served as commander of a US Air Force combat security police unit in Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta in 1969. He is a trained lawyer, an author, and has been an anti-war, peace and justice activist for more than forty years. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.
You, Dear Wall, are crowded with the dead
of my generation of my Country.
Some of you I knew. Most not.
Does it matter, Dear Wall,
That you only name the fallen from my country, and not
The agonized wandering souls of Vietnam?
Could you grow to fifty times as big?
Would the Mall hold you?
Would our souls?
1973. What had started out as a few military “advisors” (or so we were told) had turned into hoards of U.S. military combat troops stalking and killing unarmed Vietnamese citizens by the hundreds of thousands, dropping bombs and napalm and bodies with no end in sight. And the body bags kept arriving at our airports and kids from Iowa and South Dakota were dying and the lies kept coming and I had two little boys who I swore would NEVER grow up to be soldiers and so, one day, when our younger son was three, his father and I took him to Washington, DC, to march, as we had marched so many times before, for an end to the war.
It was springtime in the Capital, and the azaleas and the cherry blossoms were in bloom and the sun was shining, and there were thousands upon thousands of us who came to march for an end to the war.
I was married at the time to a pediatrician, and so we joined the contingent of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and we marched next to Ben Spock, the famous “baby doctor,” at the front of the line, and we introduced our little one, our Adam, to Dr. Spock. Adam held out his left hand for a hand shake and Dr. Spock said, “A lefty! Don’t worry. He’ll grow out of it.”
Adam never grew out of it, and I never worried. Not about that. I worried that one day his number would come up and he’d become another kid from who-knows-where coming home in a body bag. And so we marched for an end to the war.
We marched. And we marched. It was hot, and we marched. To a three-year-old, the route must have seemed a million miles long, though in reality it was probably no longer than from the White House to the Pentagon, or maybe it was the other way around. And all along the route, our three-year-old kept asking “why?” and we explained over and over that we were marching for an end to the war.
Finally, the march was over. We were hot. We were thirsty. We were tired of marching for an end to the war and tired of trying to explain “why.” But it was over! At last! And then it came… the one final question. Adam turned to us then and asked, “Is the war over now?”
It’s been many years, and many more marches, since that one in 1973, and Adam’s question still haunts me. Did our marching end the war? Did it make a difference? Does it make a difference? Do our marches, our letters to the editor, our petitions, our rallies, our lobbying, our meetings, our vigils, our songs, our chants, our poems, our putting our bodies on the tracks and in the streets…. Are the wars over now?
I don’t know if we made a difference then. I never can be sure of that. But I do know this: Adam now has a child of his own. And for him, and for all the children and grandchildren of the world, and for all of you whose names are engraved here on this wall, the American War on Vietnam taught me that there’s nothing else I’d rather do, nothing else I can do, but keep on marching for an end to war.
The Wall That Separates Us
I truly believe if the people on this memorial could
come back to life, they would all be in the antiwar
Since Vietnam, the United States has been involved
in war after war after war.
More Vietnam veterans have committed suicide
than were killed in Vietnam.
When politicians and the rich in America start sending
their kids to war, I’ll start believing in noble causes.
I honor the dead on this memorial,
but I do not honor the lunatics who
send them to die.
While the churches in this country pray
for peace, our economy worships war.
I saw some people on this Wall take their
last breath, and I do not want to see the next
generation do the same.
I did not serve in Vietnam for the cause of freedom,
I served Big Business in America for the cause of profit.
Every American soldier on this Wall now knows this.
I deeply honor Vietnam veterans who are here today,
and those who were in the antiwar movement who
tried desperately to stop the war.
I came back as I said I would,
to face the pain that I should.
Only this time the tears will flow,
like I couldn’t do years ago.
Army Medic Vietnam
May 15, 2016
Photograph by Mike Hastie
Medevac Helicopter An Khe, Vietnam
I talked to John Lees the other day
in the garden of the Vietnam Memorial.
He remembered me and my new son
I remember his farm, his high school sweetheart’s daily letters.
It’s been a long time, John
since we staggered back to the barracks
counting the long days.
He laughed and said we didn’t know then how long it really would be.
We traded stories: who went, and who didn’t
who came back, and who didn’t; who came back
with so much baggage they would have been better
not coming back.
I wondered if it was worth it
and John got mad: it’s never whether it’s worth it
he said, it’s what we did, and what’s now.
He said his sweetheart is married, has three kids
his mother gone to cancer, his father to farmer’s lung
his farm part of a company his brother works for.
He said what makes him mad is to think we did it
so there could be more homeless on our streets
so there could be less clean air and clean water
even in his precious Iowa
so there could be more rich politicians standing trial
so there could be less spent on bread and more on bombs.
He said now there was less caring, more grabbing for power.
I didn’t know what to say so I asked him about the flag
and the Supreme Court, if he’d heard about that.
He seemed to ignore me and said
if we fought for anything it was to make it better
for those who’ve had it stacked against them
that’s why so many blacks died there, for their
brothers’ and sisters’ jobs, for all people
to control their own bodies, their futures, in their own ways.
Perhaps we even fought, he said, for those nine black robes
to chip away at all that.
Freedom, he said, what’s that?
Freedom to invade, to destroy?
Freedom to enslave, freedom
to give up freedom?
He laughed, his anger turned back on him
twisting inside out.
I even know about China, he said
in China they fought for the freedoms
your President wants to take away.
He stepped back towards the edge of the park
towards where the shadows had disappeared
and where the shadows grew again
past the flowers and the lunches
past the sons and daughters of the veterans
past the veterans themselves and the great crowd
of the sons and daughters who would never be.
Your flag, he said, your fucking flag
I didn’t die for your fucking flag
I died for your freedom to burn it.
It was in a philosophy class, I’m sure, where a young, bright instructor gave a clear and cogent argument against the war in Vietnam still being waged by our country. It was 1969 or 1970.
He was so correct; so right on, that I could not enhance his argument in the least.
The red rage was that he had no right to know that. I knew that. But he had not earned that right in the manner I had. A few short weeks or months earlier I had gotten back from that country and did not know how to endorse his observations without smashing him in the face while say, “You’re so right!”
It did not seem to be a wise course of action, if I wanted a good grade.
Looking back from forty-seven years later; it might have been nice, if I could have just written what goes before and given it to him. Perhaps the intervening years might have been different. Keeping silence seemed to my rocked world a wise course for survival. I wasn’t positive that the military might not try to grab my ass out of civilian life and thrown me back into their mad house. Anything seemed possible.
In the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines area of operations (AO), when they didn’t like having a World Council of Church’s leper colony in their AO it was a simple matter. On the given day they marched past the site with two tanks and a company of Marines. Since it was a “no fire unless fired upon” zone, a squad of a few jarheads were sent around the colony on the east (ocean) side, who then called their platoon to see if they should take a few Viet Cong under fire who they saw running around in the colony. Shooting through the colony their rounds went over the main force, which was fortunately (by plan) on lower ground. Now that the main force was receiving fire, they commenced firing back. Quite a few rounds later (they needed a re-supply) the colony was in shambles and the lepers would need to be moved closer to DaNang. Problem solved.
I’d personally marched through major taboo’s in our culture since returning and no one said shit. Although my Dad did said, “At least your taste is improving.” I knew that smoking dope had possible legal consequences, too. But that didn’t slow my involvement. Chasing and reading, working on classes, working for “the man,” chasing and using held my attention. That was it.
Protesting the wild war was a step too far for me. Drinking and hanging with other student veterans, who didn’t want to have anything to do with the insanity, maxed out my ability to respond.
Maybe I could have told that college instructor about going into a village in Vietnam with a company of Marines and asking one of the officers who the Vietnamese person with us, was. Outfitted with a white shirt and six gun strapped on his belt, he didn’t seem to be one of the villagers. And clearly didn’t live there as he had come with us. I was told he was the mayor of the town.
Being the strong-men for this guy really had lighted up my sense of patriotism and sense of pointlessness to the blown-up troops; officers or enlisted. Great use of our national tax moneys. Dying for “the man,” who happened to be Vietnamese. Wow. Thank me for that service!
Oh, and speaking of blown-up; there was the time I managed to get my own ass blown-up. Not even a scratch on my body. The other ten Marines were not as fortunate when some defective ordnance went off, when it wasn’t suppose to. Thank you, armaments manufacturers! How much did your profits go up from cutting that corner? I wonder if that attitude was part of the one so many Presidents since Ford have wondered about the problem with “the Vietnam Syndrome?” You know for sure that those Commanders In Chiefs (CIC) were not really talking about any of the “mental issues” associated with fighting that pointless war.
After all everyone knows that post traumatic stress disorder didn’t appear in the Data and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until five years after that country was united and the last Americans flew away. Yes, five years after the war was over; suddenly there was a disorder called PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Don’t you know that veterans of the America war in Vietnam were instrumental in getting it recognized for their brother veterans’ benefit. Thanks again all you caring mental health care workers! We knew you had our backs on that one.
But I drift.
Last year in a “Full Disclosure” note I mentioned a “back story” to an operation just before Christmas 1968. Before we boarding the choppers to complete the cordon on that cordon and search operation, a number of us noted a psyops plane flying around south of us. When we asked the Vietnamese interpreter what was being said, he reported that they were saying that the Viet Cong were surrounded and should give up. Unfortunately, we were not there, yet; and would not be for another hour or so.
One can bury a lot of booby traps in an hour.
A number of “short timers” who were in the rear in preparation for going home went home sooner than expected that day. And the one boot platoon commander who is named on the wall was part of the parties that bought the farm from deeply buried dud 105 artillary rounds they scavenged to use against us. Yes, the Vietnamese are nothing, if not resourceful.
Their culture has had a long history of opposing invaders. Possibly our politicians didn’t know that when they decided to back the losing French enterprise in 1954.
Oh, and the commanding officer for the battalion even came out to visit his operation on the second or third day. As a leader of infantry he arrived inside the middle of three tanks. When the company commander went to speak with him. He had to walk to the back of the tank and pick-up a field phone on the back of the tank to talk to him. The lite colonel never did get out of the tank. Too many booby traps, I guess. And he was too short himself to risk it.
Would that have been the Operations Officer or the Commanding Officer, who should have called off the psyops plane? One assumes that after action reports comment on this question.
But it was a dumb war anyway. If there was ever a none dumb war. Or ever will be.
Seven years later (after my return), I finally finished the two quarters of college work I had left when I was kick out in 1966. Eight years after that I stopped using dope and began attending to what it would mean to have a career. I guess I just wasn’t cut out to be a tough, heartless killer for christ and the rest of the patriotic bull shit. I still cared about people. Like the time I came across a wounded North Vietnamese medic, who had been taken captive, because they left him behind. He was on a stretcher on the ground with a Marine guard with a rifle near him. I casually walked up to him smoking a cigarette. We looked one another in the eye. He signaled he would like a cigarette. I didn’t think the threat of cancer was a big deal in fulfilling his wish and gave him one. We had a few puffs and then I walked away.
I have no idea what became of him. But one Marine gave him something, without a string attached to it. At the time I recall thinking that the Marines around me may have wondered what I was doing. I was clear about demonstrating a human kindness in the midst of senselessness.
When my wife and I were in Vietnam in 2014 with Chapter #160’s fund raising tour, I had a brief sense of me pissing into the hurricane with that kindness. But I did it without missing a beat. It just needed doing.
It was such a fucked up war. The second “Asian anticommunist” war. Both had questionable beginnings. And both likely arose out of the “China Lobby,” with that whole questionable origin. Or hadn’t you heard about the doubts about the origin of the supposedly civic organization’s history. Secret funding goes lots of secret places, for lots of secret reasons. Study the China Lobby. It’s good use of your time in developing perspective on this democracy.
I believe the truth will out and the careening course of our democracy can straighten out for a short period again.
I hope so.
Dear Brothers and Sisters of The Wall-
I’m so sorry your young lives were cut so short. I’ve tried to physically approach you at The Wall to offer my prayers and condolences but am unable to get within a fifty yards without breaking down. So this letter is being delivered to you by Veterans For Peace on Memorial Day 2016.
We all live with the racism, lies and atrocities committed by our country in Viet Nam. I’m so sorry you had to die for it.
Charlie Sisson, USMC
Viet Nam 1968-1969
Letter to Dave Brostrum.
This letter is to a Coast Guard Academy classmate who while serving as a Patrol Boat skipper in Danang in 1966 was killed with “friendly fire” by the US Air Force.
I also drove one of those 82 foot Patrol Boats, with a crew of 9, harassing fisherman and passenger vessels plying the coast of Vietnam. Fortunately, my boat was only shot at a couple of times, and we suffered no physical casualties. I don’t know about how the crew has made it mentally through the last 40 years.
Having left Vietnam in late 1966, I returned to the states ignorantly believing that the “war was going well…more roads were open..etc”, only to see, just a few months later, the Tet Offensive, to me a real turning point in the War, as I began to realize how brainwashed I had been during the 50’s and 60″s. Years later reading the Calley story showed me how men get caught up in the excitement of war, get really crazy and really lose their humanity. By the time I left Vietnam the rebellion was beginning, and there were already stories of coasties and fragging.
I credit my spouse at the time, who said that humans had been trying for thousands of years to resolve conflict with violence, and that it was time to find another way.
Later the Pentagon Papers exposed all the lies behind the war, from the Gulf of Tonkin on. Unbelievably, the US hasn’t seemed to learn any of those lessons from that time…how the government lies to us, and how our democracy exists in name only.
Dave, you were a great guy, caught up like the rest of us in Imperial America. May you RIP.
Member, Will Miller Green Mountain Veterans For Peace, Chapter 57
Saturday, May 14, 2016
To Whom It May Concern,
I write to the Vietnam Memorial Wall as the United States is in the midst of the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War.
President Obama’s effort to focus the commemoration on injustices suffered by the troops who served in Vietnam is a disservice to history and to prospects for peace in our future. On commemorative occasions of World War II, the world expects and receives words of remorse and contrition from the leaders of Germany and Japan, two aggressor nations in that war. The United States, if it had any objective view of history, would do the same in its commemoration of the Vietnam War. It would disavow any future acts of aggression and completely acknowledge the commission of war crimes and atrocities.
Any injustice suffered by American troops upon their return from Vietnam pales in comparison to the injustice of sending them there in the first place. Halting the spread of communism is not a permissible use of military force under international law.
Obsessive veneration of the troops is a predictable characteristic of a militaristic nation. It serves to distract attention from the criminal architects of the war (Johnson, McNamara, Nixon, Kissinger et al.)and obviate the suffering of the truest victims war; in this case, the people of Vietnam.
During this fifty year commemoration, let’s dispense with the platitudes and work to repair the damage done to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos by America’s indiscriminate war machine. I call on my country to do everything in its power to dispose of unexploded ordinance, clean up the contamination caused by Agent Orange, and care for the victims of both in Southeast Asia.
With Hope for Lasting Peace,
Veterans For Peace, Twin Cities Chapter 27
United States Air Force and USAFR (1973-78)
Ten of the people who were in my company during my time in Vietnam are on this Wall. Every time I hear Iris Dement’s song “There’s a Wall in Washington” I start to cry.
I just realized I didn’t say “The names of ten of the people” but “Ten of the people.” That’s because when you know people they are more than the name on the Wall, they are the things that you remember about them.
One was given the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously, for falling on a grenade and saving the people around him. We lost two other people that day.
One was a Mennonite, a medic who didn’t carry a weapon, killed in his sleep by a grenade thrown through a hedgerow near Cu Chi.
One was a friend of mine, killed by a mine in a hedgerow, also near Cu Chi. He’s always on my mind. I could have prevented that if I’d been mature enough to know that I could have called a halt and had him removed from the field. He seemed to be having a breakdown while he was walking point and as his squad leader I could have stopped it, but I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing and he died.
Two were killed by our own artillery. I wonder if the artillerymen were told about what they’d done.
Three were killed in a little village a few days after the Tet Offensive started. After they died we were told to pull back and get behind some APCs. The Air Force came over and started 12 hours of bombing with HE and napalm and burnt the whole village to the ground. At about the eighth hour of the bombing, in the dark, in the lull while the F-4s went back to re-load, a young girl came out holding a little baby over her head, saying the same thing over and over in Vietnamese, None of us understood it, She was probably saying “Please don’t kill my baby, please don’t kill my baby, please don’t kill my baby.” She walked past us into the dark.
In the morning we stayed in a circle around the village while they brought in Charlie Company to search the rubble. They counted 192 bodies. Just one more atrocity to add to the thousands of big and little atrocities that we did in Vietnam. We came to protect them from the evils of Communism and instead we killed them.
Was that war one fucked–up mess, or what? How could we have been so stupid? But unfortunately, I don’t know about you guys, but yes, I was that stupid. But I’m better now. And we keep going, trying to warn other people about the dangers of war and militarism.
My brave and beautiful brother Ken should be on this Wall. He was in the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands. In May ’69 he was wounded in a firefight. His left leg was broken by a bullet and he lay there for 8 hours while the fight went on around him. Our own artillery hit him and broke his right foot (Lord, have mercy). He suffered for years. He killed himself in 1994. I want everyone of you who reads this to get through your sorrow. We don’t have a Disorder, our society has a Disorder, and we can help them fix it.
I speak in high schools and colleges about Vietnam and Afghanistan (two sides of the same Western arrogance coin). We are trying, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, to save the soul of America. I’ve given out about 3 hundred copies of his “Beyond Vietnam” speech in the last few years. As I hand it to people I say “If you read this, it will change your life for the better.”
I think when I speak in classes from now on I’m gonna bring a good portable sound system and start out by playing Iris Dement’s song. Around the middle I think I’ll play John Prine’s song, “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore”. I think I’ll end by saying that if we’re going to save the soul of America, first, we got to get some soul, and hand out “Beyond Vietnam” and end by playing Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”:
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
To bring some lovin’ here today
Sisters and brothers, we are doing something that needs to be done, so let’s keep going. But take some time to watch the clouds, and watch the river flow, and watch the children play, and remember the beauty of life. That’s what we’re working for.
Vietnam, December ’67 to September ’68
Delta Co., 2/ 506th
Peace to those who for a moment lived inside the Vietnam Wall, but have made the crossing. As Michael Norman said, “To touch the Wall is to touch the dead, to get close to them.” But those names should not have been on that or any Wall. Mankind always builds Walls, Walls that divide us into “Us and Them,”, “Good People and Bad People,” and creates cultures of “Others,” of whom we are all a part. As Robert Frost said, “Something There Is That Doesn’t Love a Wall, That Wants It Down.” And the ultimate Wall, is the Wall of War to honor, respect and touch our dead. But it is time to STOP WAR, to tear down such walls and honor those that are alive, who refuse to create war, which is all of us “Others!!”
Peace, Judith Sandoval, VFP Chapter 69
Dear Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall,
Last year was the 50th Anniversary, 8 March 2015, of the “beginning” of the war with the landing of Marines at Da Nang.
The so-called Gulf of Tonkin Incident occurred on my 18th birthday as I was getting ready to begin my freshman year of college. I finished out the year, but the main thing I learned there was that I didn’t like chemistry after all, even though I was good at it.
What to do?! My grandfathers were both Army vets, one from WWI, the other from the Spanish-American War, my father was a Navy officer and my mother was a Navy nurse in WWII so I enlisted in the Navy in September ’65, “chip off the ol’ block” so to speak. The recruiter put me on delayed entry so I reported to Great Lakes Naval Training Center on 6 January ’66.
After Basic I was sent to the Memphis Naval Air Training Center in Millington, Tennessee. I’m from Nebraska and lived and enlisted in northern Ohio, but after Basic Training north of Chicago during the coldest months of the year I didn’t mind being sent to Tennessee. Duty there was good, it was near Memphis after all. A couple of my buddies and I decided to take a day trip down into Mississippi one summer day. One of them had a ’39 Ford with a rusted out floor pan, but it ran so we didn’t care; all three of us were still 19 so it was an adventure. Before we got very far into Mississippi we heard on the radio of civil rights troubles so we decided we’d be better off by grabbing a burger somewhere, and heading back to base. We found a little place down a side road and went in. We got the “look” from the proprietor/cook. She must have thought we were bringing the civil rights trouble right to her, me being white, one of my buds African American and the other a Native American. It was about a year after “Bloody Sunday” in Selma. But she served us, we had fun, and returned to Tennessee.
When I finished Avionics ‘A’ School, some of us were sent to the west coast, others to the east coast. So I began what could have become a Navy career at the Norfolk Naval Air Station, in an anti-submarine warfare squadron. They asked if I’d fly; I said sure so I was assigned to Flight Crew 9. VP-24 had P2-V Neptunes at the time, and my station in the plane was in the nose, where the gunner – bombardier was when the plane was a medium bomber. I had the best seat in the house! More than 180o vision above and below, port and starboard! I operated sub detection equipment, was the flight photographer, and forward observer.
We began training to change from P2’s to P3-B Orions, so in late summer or early fall of ’67 we got the new planes and were moved from Norfolk to Pax River NAS in Maryland. We were deployed to Iceland in March of ’68 for six months of operational duty, mostly in the North Atlantic.
We returned from Iceland to Pax River in September of ‘68, and somewhere along in there I began reading about the war, the reasons for it, and some of the questions about those reasons. Heck, I enlisted to go to Vietnam. The Navy had their own plans for what, when and where they wanted me and others, so whatever I thought I wanted didn’t count. The age-old problem of kids who go to recruiters and are told all kinds of things about where we would go and the glories of serving there!
By the time we were deployed to Iceland again, in March ’69, I had turned from an essentially apolitical Republican kid from Nebraska and Ohio to an anti-war activist who had been to a couple big demonstrations in DC with tear gas and riot police, and I subscribed to some underground GI newsletters and newspapers. I remember going to those demonstrations with a plastic bag and a damp cloth in case I got caught in the tear gas – I knew what it was like from my training in Tennessee.
Through the first half of my four-year enlistment I thought I could make a career of naval aviation, what with flying all over, visiting places in the U.S., the Caribbean and Europe. I spent a lot of time at NAS Key West, NAS Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico, and visits to Oslo, Copenhagen, Rota, Edinburgh, London, Thule, the North Pole and even Waco, Texas!
But my thoughts of a Navy career changed after I realized the Admirals and Generals and the President were lying to us. A couple of my high school buddies and neighbors were casualties in Vietnam before I enlisted, and I found out that the leaders of America, they lied! It really pissed me off, so I began writing an anti-Vietnam War newsletter while I was deployed, running it off on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine and distributing it on base, all in the wee hours. I was an anti-war activist in uniform, who woulda thunk it! I never considered refusing to do my job. They would have just thrown me in the brig, out-of-sight, out-of-mind. So I ranted, held barracks bull sessions, I was the “squadron radical.”
Another guy and I were flown back stateside, in a C-141, ahead of the rest of the squadron so we could be processed out early when Nixon began reductions in authorized force. I got out on 6 November ’69 instead of 6 January ‘70, two months early. I came to Baltimore to be with the young woman who became my wife before long. We were arrested on Christmas Eve for painting military recruiting signs, those big metal ones, near Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, the home of the Colts and Orioles. Get this: Army Navy Marines Air Force Coast Guard National Guard
P E A C E
It was just before Nixon’s “secret plan for ending the war”, the Christmas bombing that mobilized people all over the country and led to the Kent State shootings on 4 May 1970, followed by Jackson State a week or so later and uprisings at hundreds of campuses across the country.
I’ve visited you many times. I’ve looked and walked, touched and despaired, and there are those who now would try to whitewash the history of the war you are here to help us, MAKE us, remember. I’ve been blessed to have had leaders in the veterans and labor movements whom I respect and appreciate. They include Fred Mason, Jr., a long-time friend and now President of the Maryland/DC AFL-CIO. He was one of six original co-conveners of U.S. Labor Against War, USLAW.
Another is Dave Cline, a former President of Veterans For Peace, an Army vet who, like me, turned against the war while still in uniform. He was seriously wounded there, whereas I spent my overseas time on the opposite side of the planet. I always appreciated his stories about his time in Vietnam, and his work afterwards, against war, and FOR workers as a leader in his union in the postal service. Dave is gone now, since September 2007, but I remember him playing his guitar and singing “Touch A Name On The Wall.” As I did when I wrote last year, I’m including the lyrics to the son, which was written and performed inyourname, The Wall.
USN 6 January 66 – 6 November 69
ATN2 (E5), VP-24, Flight Crew 9
Touch A Name On The Wall
© 1988 Joel Mabus
I know this from “Annie and the Vets” singing it, but especially from Dave Cline, a Vietnam Vet and former VFP President, playing guitar and singing it.
* * * * * * * * *
Well, I guess you could call it our summer of freedom,
the year that we both turned eighteen –
We hitch-hiked to Denver, fresh out of high school
man, we were sights to be seen.
And that was the year that you dated my cousin, ’til
they took us away in the fall.
Now I dearly wish you were standing here with me as
I touch your name on the wall.
Touch a name on the wall,
Touch a name on the wall.
God help us all
Touch a name on the wall.
Every time I come here I wear my fatigues,
to honor the men that I knew.
I touch every name that came from my outfit,
and I read them out loud when I do.
Now some people say that they all died for nothing,
well, I don’t completely agree –
‘Cause this brother here didn’t die for no country –
He died for me.
Touch a name on the wall,
Touch a name on the wall.
God help us all
Touch a name on the wall.
Now, usually walls are made for division
– to separate me from you.
But God bless the wall that brings us together,
and reminds us of what we’ve been through.
And God damn the liars and the tin-plated heroes
who trade on the blood of such men.
God give us the strength to stand up and tell them –
Touch a name on the wall,
Touch a name on the wall.
God help us all
Touch a name on the wall.
We wonder why academia hasn’t protested the Global War On Terror, like asking, “what the hell is a global war on terror”? Then we recall how academia protested the war on Vietnam. I remember 1970 in Brunswick (that’s a town in Maine) in the strike season after the incursion into Cambodia by the President who removed US troops from Vietnam. The mall in Brunswick was full of displays about the war and none of them seemed to me, a fifteen-year-old, to have anything to say. Then my brother gave me “A Bright Shining Lie” in the ‘90’s—the same brother with whom I drifted into the strike season, etc.—and I read that Ike had been told by the CIA that if the 1954-conference-mandated referendum took place, the communists would take 80% of the votes, if only because they controlled the territory. Then I checked sources and found that Ike had told the world about this decision—oh, the referendum didn’t get held—in Mandate for Change, a memoir published in 1963. So everybody in Washington and academia knew in 1963 that Kennedy etal were fighting against the mass of Vietnamese public opinion. Hence it was a war on Vietnam.
Why? How? I must suggest that there is a WASP racist imperialist genocidal power structure in place in the US as it has been for centuries (The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley will put you in the mood).
Can’t we blame all this on the Israel lobby? I searched for the name “Bernstein” on Harvard Medical School’s website ad got, as I recall, 16 different people. I realize now that’s like touting the influence of the Israel lobby in Congress. (“The Israel lobby has never been stronger in Congress.” George Mitchell to a colloquium at USM-Portland four or five years ago.) A small minority, even willing to disproportionately invest itself in politics, cannot change nor even shift the weight of opinion evidently at work in such acts as the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (and Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya—and go on back to Panama, Grenada, Lebanon, Nicaragua, keep on going to Congo (killing Lumumba and possibly Dag Hammarskjold, see the interview with the Norwegian deputy commander of NATO who was a UN-seconded colonel Northern Rhodesia and saw Hammarskjold’s body with a “round hole in its forehead”), Guatemala, Iran.
How do you hide such a monstrous edifice (“establishment”)?
Pope John Paul II accused the US of having a culture of death, and I would specify that a bit: it’s a fundamentally violent culture, and lying is the main vehicle and means of violence: it is the poor person’s strategic weaponry, the rich person’s terrorism, it is the essence of racism, and it is what WASP children are suckled on.
Why didn’t we learn anything from the war on Vietnam? Because the experiment isn’t finished yet.
Christopher C. Rushlau
25 Grant St., Apt. 7
P.O. Box 15368 Portland, ME USA
Thank you for taking my letter to the wall.
Dear names on the wall, you will always be more than names on a wall to me. I wish you had all come home, that the war had never happened and we could go back into time to fix it. I was a child when my father served in Vietnam and I have wanted to end war ever since. Most every day since seeing the picture of Kim Phuc running after being napalmed I have prayed and tried to use my life to end war but now I am almost 53. I am getting old and I have had no successes. It seems sometimes we are only getting closer to even more war, to nuclear war and destroying our planet, but then I have this stubborn hope in my heart: You have not died in vain and maybe I can feel your spirits are there helping us to try to end war and injustice. My letter to your names on the wall is my prayer for help. Please help. I know you have and you will, but I am getting old now and with climate change, I am not sure we can make it if we spend all our resources on more nuclear weapons and war instead of meeting human needs to get thru.
Love always, I carry you all in my heart, Linda Marie Richards
Memorial Day, 2016
Thank you for reading my letter.
I especially remember Larry Welch, a friend from high school days in Jacksonville, Illinois. Larry was a star on the JHS football team. Although I don’t have many details, Larry died in Vietnam. Like so many serving in Southeast Asia, his life was cut short.
He will always be remembered.
My wife and I have visited the Wall in Washington, DC. The experience was overwhelming for us, as it surely must be for you.
I was a Navy veteran who served two tours in the Vietnam War.
Retired for a few years I spend much of my time volunteering. One interest resulted in joining a local chapter of Veterans for Peace. Here is a quick summary of what VFP is about:
“Our collective experience tells us wars are easy to start and hard to stop and that those hurt are often the innocent. As veterans, we draw on our personal experiences and perspectives to raise public awareness of the true costs and consequences of militarism and war – and to seek peaceful, effective alternatives”.
To the Guys on the Wall
There you are
All you guys
Who didn’t survive
A roll call of so many names
In rows upon rows
Like eyes front faces on parade
Reassembled from the chaos of
Returned to duty
To wall up another corner
Of the capital
So it shan’t collapse
Of its military follies
To Don MacLaughlin—my friend commemorated on panel 4E, line 51
You would remember, Don, I visited you on the slightly overcast morning of June 10th, 1995. Along with many other of our fellow Naval Academy graduates, family members and friends, I had come to formally pay respects to you and our 12 other fallen classmates, victims of the grossest of our nation’s many military misadventures. In that solemn ceremony conducted on the lawn of the Ellipse, within sight of the black granite panels on which your name and the names of over 58,000 other American men and eight women are etched, a close friend of each fallen classmate spoke. You would have thought that each of you was a more-than-mortal soul as your singular virtues were extolled with heartfelt sincerity. As one among many who was honored to know your friendship, I was proud to make the case that you were the best of the best. The memory of that day sticks with me, not because I presented your case well—that was easy—but because I expressed on that day sentiment I’d come to embrace, sentiment that then was generally unshared and unappreciated and, worse, rejected by most in the audience.
In speaking of you I said, “Since I learned of Don’s death in 1966, I have struggled to put meaning to his loss, just as I know his family, his parents, his brother and sisters, and wife, Gail, all struggled. And I am certain that the families and loved ones of the thousands of other young people memorialized here also have searched for meaning, just as I am certain that the 1-2 million Vietnamese who died also had wives and sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and parents who mourned their premature demise. Those losses were just as assuredly monumental and overwhelming and they, too, have struggled to make some sense of the insanity and the inanity of it all. Now I have found some solace in the recognition that these losses have served to move me away from militarism and resolutely toward pacifism. And, while I know it’s unlikely many of you would go that far I do believe it’s quite possible we all have been moved toward negotiation and reason as a means of conflict resolution and away from war.”
I went on to quote the former Senator, J. William Fulbright, on that day in 1995. “We must dare to think “unthinkable” thoughts. We must learn to welcome and not to fear the voices of dissent. We must dare to think about “unthinkable things” because when things become unthinkable, thinking stops, and action becomes mindless.”
Fulbright’s was a lonely voice of dissent as he called for withdrawal from the conflict in Vietnam; his perspective rooted in common sense and a respect for the brotherhood of man and his conclusion that the true enemy was war itself.
I came away from that day at the wall in 1995 proud for having expressed my deeply-felt sentiment with regards to the American criminality and futility of the Vietnam war and all of our militarism over the intervening years, but feeling depressed and alone as the reaction to my words had been generally chilly, and in the case of one former classmate downright hostile. He had said, “Today wasn’t the place and time to acknowledge Vietnam’s casualties.” I was speechless. In retrospect I have concluded that my dissent in my classmate’s opinion was an “unthinkable thing.”
Now, 21 years later, I feel vindicated and validated, but nonetheless, disheartened when I consider the history since. U.S. military interventions in foreign lands are undertaken with an every day regularity that barely provokes Congressional scrutiny and, generally, escapes media comment or public attention. The author Andrew Bacevich documents that we have bombed 14 Islamic countries. Drone attacks, simply targeted, extra-judicial assassinations or murders, and the miscarriage of, nay— the absolute disregard for, justice at Guantanamo stand as policies of a country that refuses to hold itself accountable. This refusal is, I believe, a legacy of the Vietnam War. It is behavior that has been facilitated by the disregard, if not the absolute distortion, of the lessons of Vietnam.
This brings me to the Veterans for Peace (VFP) Full Disclosure campaign, a response to the Pentagon’s more generously funded commemoration of the war. The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the Secretary of Defense to launch a program, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the war that would extend from Memorial Day of 2012 through Veterans Day of 2025, the stated purpose, among other things to “thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War.” Nice and meaningful enough, but nowhere there will you find acknowledgment of the truths of that war as are widely known today. Nowhere will you find defendable rationale for the war for there is none. And the failure to disclose those truths has served to feed the cannons for all the wars that have followed.
At the VFP website vietnamfulldisclosure.org the goal is “to speak truth to power and keep alive the antiwar perspective on the American war in Vietnam. It represents a clear alternative to the Pentagon’s current efforts to sanitize and mythologize the Vietnam war and to thereby legitimize further unnecessary and destructive wars.”
I believe that from the other side of the divide over which you, our twelve classmates, and the more than 58,000 others have so prematurely and so pointlessly been taken, you would commend us for our work. May it ultimately not be in vain.
Rest in peace, my friend.
Deer Isle, Maine
In Memory of my husband: Michael D. Chwan – Panel 2E – Line 99
Captain, USAF, October 26, 1938 – September 30, 1965
Interred at Arlington April 16, 1985
In 1965, fifty-one years ago, I kissed my pilot husband good-bye,feeling confident that we would see each other in 90 days,the time of his assignment to a base in Ubon, Thailand.
That 90 days stretched to 19 ½ years before a handful of remains were finally returned to American soil for burial and closure in 1985.
Six months after his plane was shot down over North Vietnam, our daughter Michele was born and grew into young womanhood without the love, guidance and care of her missing father.
Our patriotic military personnel who serve their government sincerely believe that they are acting in the highest tradition of helping an ally fight for freedom and the right of self-determination in various countries all over the world wherever they are ordered to go.
As a military widow, I can tell you that the price of service in these wars that are not for our country’s benefit is paid in grim coin.
In my opinion the loss of our best, brightest and most promising young people is a travesty and a drain on our American society.
The only ones who benefit are the arms and materiel manufacturers.I pray that someday our government leaders will finally come to realize and understand that in war there are no winners…
Battered, battle-weary soldiers and their bereft family members are then left to pick up the pieces, heal the emotional and physical wounds and strive to carry on when promised services and care are sometimes sub-par or non-existent.
This Wall of names is sacred ground. Seeing 58,000+ names is sobering and tragic – and a reminder that all these American citizens died not for glory or any good reason except for a false idea that democracy for an ally could be gained through our going to war for them.
Still the South Vietnamese could not sustain after all our efforts, expense and losses and fell anyway after so many deaths on all sides: North, South, Laotian, American and Russian.
When will we ever learn? When we ever learn……………
With gratitude for those who served, came back and now stand with others working for peace with their hopes and intention for a world without war.
Dana Chwan, Santa Fe, New Mexico Author: The Reluctant Sorority
The Life, Loves and Loss of Three Vietnam War Widows
Dear Friends of Consciousness,
So, it has come down to this, has it? We can either celebrate one side of the Civil War of the U.S. . . . or the other?
Cherish battle flags, honor, oh yes, Honor the dead on one side, or perhaps both sides of war. A War Heritage Month?
Just what the doctor ordered . . . relieve stress by honoring the deadliest conflict the U.S. has ever known.
Shall we continue this rivalry, when a simple understanding of our common need, our universal Humanity is obvious?
I submit to you, this war appreciation is absurd. We honor the contributions of all people who have furthered Humanity with millions of genuine contributions of knowledge, compassion, integrity, and, yes sacrifice. But to honor war . . . is an abomination of truth and kindness. With empathy and respect, I’d call for Peace. Honor Peace!
Peace Is Void Is Love Is Action.
Gov. Whomever: work for peace, spend for peace, diminish anything that silences peace; you must perpetuate peace, recognize peace builders, spend time for peace, communicate peace, meditate for peace, move for peace.
But any who monger for war or hate or fear deserve no monuments, deserve no special recognition, require no superb enhancement. War catches up our best intentions and lays them out as travesty! War flags, symbology so beautiful and colorful and inspiring, lead us only to the cold, solemn earth and final rest, despite our best efforts.
Let us advocate for seeing each other, eyes into eyes, to perceive our deepest truths, our most painful recollections, our sincerest passion for the wellbeing of all persons. Surrender to the highest calling a human being can attain.
Our work is love and love is action! No Dreams without Dreams Of Peace. Any separation must now be seen as illusion. Any tactic of division must now be seen as the darkest treachery. Let us say, “Honor Peace!”
Let each of us become a Personal Practice of Peace.
There are no dreams without the seeking of Peace. Our longing, our future, our best feelings and thoughts are Of Peace.
There can be no satisfaction in denying peace to others, our fellow Dreamers of Peace. There can be no future for our closest friends and loves without constructions, parameters, paradigms of peace. We have before us the need to mediate for peace, to simply allow peace to happen, before our very eyes, daily practice for the growing of peace.
Who can deny peace with a clear conscience? Who can celebrate any noble virtue or accomplishment without Peace!
Who, in their own Soul, can claim any meaningful existence, throughout eternity, without contributions to Peace?
In our every waking moment we wish to Experience Peace Together, to walk a path that brings all to peace, sweet peace.
Listen to the quiet and careful breeze of peace play the bamboo flute in the tavern pavilion of our hearts, and act accordingly.
Our work is awesome, it is forever, it is as clear as a sunrise horizon, and instantaneous, like the clicking of a clock.
Bullies shrink and disintegrate in the blink of an eye when presented with the seed of Peace. The beauty, the strength, the clarity, and the quickness of Peace infiltrate our bodies at the cellular level and Ecstatically Nurture Peace, undeniable and sensuous peace.
Peace dances in the face of demagogues! Pours tea in the laps of tyrants!
We inculcate peace into our offspring, from each generation to the next. We Imagine peace for the souls of our future, for All of Time.
Overwhelming Peace, Shimmering Peace, Nestling Peace, Embracing and Harmonious and Luxurious Peace.
Accepting Peace, So Be Peace.
h h higgins, 3/15/16
Stop the madness, please. The only way I can think of to lessen the impact of loss of lives, is to reinstate a draft and have a MICROSCOPE and the press on every child of every parent in high government positions so that it will be much harder to wheel and deal their own kids out of service. Greed and lust for status/power are so powerfully corrosive drives, however, I won’t hold my breath that even the death of a loved child will deter the war mongers and all the pawns supporting their efforts. God help us all! What can we do????
This note is sent in memory of PFC Russell Cornish, who died on patrol in Vietnam and whose name is inscribed on The Wall: Dear Russ, You were more a friend of my brother than I , but I still miss you and think of you. I feel sad that you did not return to your home in Maplewood, New Jersey on Prospect Street and resume a normal life. I feel angry that misguided civilian and military leaders colluded to send you and millions of other young men and women to Vietnam for what noble purpose? You were a victim of cold war paranoia and fear. Vietnam was a poor, underdeveloped, rural nation with no interest or capability of threatening the United States homeland. I bid you goodbye again and hope that you rest in peace.
Your friend, George Taylor, Maplewood, New Jersey
Dear Lucky: There’s never a day that I don’t think of you, never a day that I don’t feel thankful for you, never a day that I don’t try to make my life count as a way of paying you back and making your life matter.
Clear left, Larry Shook
PFC PAUL JAMES GORMAN USMC
KIA VIET NAM 7/30/68
DMZ KHE SANH
QUANG TRI PROVINCE
BLT 2/4 9THMAB FMFPAC
With Love & Peace from your Sister and Family who have been working for Peace since then.
Bonnie Gorman RN, Quincy MA
As a Navy nurse, I worked for two years in the Vietnam Air Evacuation Hospital network (1967-69). In July 1968, my brother Paul, a young Marine, was killed in action along the DMZ in Vietnam. Our mother then had a massive heart attack and eventually died. As a result of our personal losses and involvement with many wounded and dying soldiers and their families, I joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and other peace groups working to end the Vietnam war and prevent future wars. I continue to work for Peace and Justice with: Gold Star & Military Families Speak Out (GSFSO/MFSO), Veterans for Peace, Smedley Chapter (VFP), Gold Star Families for Peace (GSFP), and Massachusetts Peace Action Board and Legislative Committee.
Dear Friend in the Wall,
I sincerely hope that the day comes soon when no more young people are forced, or convinced, to go to war for the benefit of the American military-industrial complex, as we were in Vietnam. Those of us who were lucky enough to live through the war are the ones responsible to find the will and the effort to make clear to our country the way that the system profits from constant war, and to bring that war to an end.
USN 1969-73, USS Coral Sea, Yankee Station
My father was 28 years old when he was deployed to Vietnam. As a new F-4C Phantom Pilot, he was unsure of what was to come. He had all the training he needed but entering a live combat environment is something that you can’t always prepare for. I admired his courage and his patriotism, as well as his bravery and willingness to sacrifice his life to defend our country.
Forty-eight years later, my father is a 76 year old war veteran and significantly different than the man who went to Vietnam. He never went into great details about his deployment but I remember him telling me that the true heroes were the men who died over there, not the men who were able to come back. He also mentioned how his return to the States wasn’t as easy nor was it favorable. The effects of the Vietnam War are felt even decades later. Multiple Vietnam Veterans have developed diseases related to Agent Orange exposure, which was used to remove foliage that provided cover for the enemy. If the military was aware of the damaging effects that herbicides have, I doubt it would have been used during the war.
To the men and women whose names are engraved on this wall-you have done a great service for your country. You will never be forgotten and your memory has been passed down to future generations. I’ve heard many stories about my father’s wingmen whose who ended up on the wall and had the opportunity to etch their names on a sheet of wax paper. The wax paper ended up in my 8th grade Washington DC Album project and I’ll never forget that moment of being at the Wall with my dad. Just know that you’ll never be forgotten and your service in the Vietnam War will be remembered by the future generations, including myself.
Georgetown University | Class of 2014
Master’s in Sports Industry Management
My dear PFC…..
For years, I knew your name, just as I remember your face, now. I still remember Joe Wallace, too, and I looked for his name on the Wall, the first time I went. I knew your name would be there because I watched you die. Joe looked a lot worse than you, but he kept breathing, and we managed to get him to the beach. He must have made it. He’s not on the Wall.
While we made a fuss over Joe, who was bleeding from dozens of shrapnel wounds, you died quietly on the deck of that Mike boat, the one you were so proud to have known as the Black Boat. Here you were, our first boat with an all-black crew, doing the most mundane of war chores: hauling surgical waste to be dumped in the middle of the Mekong River. It was probably a kid younger than you, launching the only rocket he had before you even cleared the basin. And none of us ever bothered to put on our pots and flak jackets until we reached the river.
Captain Wilde and I talked about your boat, about pros and cons for a black identity. With his blonde hair and brilliant blue eyes, he could have passed for a model Nazi, but I was the one who was xenophobic, even if it was in a somewhat enlightened way, befitting my status as an officer and a white-privileged gentleman. As platoon leader, I had no run-ins with you, although you had a reputation as a trouble-maker. Joe and I, on the other hand, didn’t like each other. I thought I was fair with him, to the point that I could have charged him with insubordination. He was careful not to yell at me, but he gave me some pretty pointed stares before I let him leave my boat. He had a little too much exposure to black power for an insecure white lieutenant. Anyway, the captain and I decided the Black Boat would do more for esprit d’corps than for polarization. After you were killed, we just shook our heads, feeling more unlucky than guilty.
I was never tempted to leave a message at the Black Wall, but after all these years of pondering the bigotry and immaturity of my role in the rape of Vietnam, I decided to write to you. I don’t expect to reach you in heaven or in hell or to ease your cosmic mind. Souls of the dead are far beyond my reach, and I pity the thousands who write to the long-dead to tell them things they should have heard before they were misled to Southeast Asia. I believe in God, but not in the one warriors have created to justify their lust for killing and looting, and not one who picks winners and losers when rockets are fired and the air is filled with shards of boat steel. My God is not to be blamed for your premature death, or for the U.S. killing so many Vietnamese, our non-enemies in that non-war. I’m writing this only in the hope that some mortal will read it, someday. Read it and have his or her suspicions confirmed: War is bad. Peace is good. We never fight as a last resort, nor does any other nation which constantly prepares for war. We are addicted to war and oblivious to the infinite possibilities for peace.
I don’t ask for your forgiveness. It’s not your job. I’ve been forgiven for not even thinking of giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when we found you’d quit breathing. That young sergeant from California tried. Many times I wondered if I would have done that if you’d been white, or if he grew up in a mixed neighborhood, so unlike my segregated youth in Georgia. I didn’t hate you. I didn’t fear you. But you were “the other.”
I wonder if Joe is an old man out there, somewhere. If I should find him, I’ll ask him for forgiveness. I didn’t want him to suffer, but I didn’t want to admit he was as good as I. I was not an equal-opportunity officer. And I’d love to show him how far I’ve come since I was a hired killer of Asians, expecting black men to respect me because I was superior by rank and color. I’d like to show him pictures of my children and grandchildren, African American, every one. Perhaps he would show me pictures too, and shake my hand, if a hug would be too much to ask. We would agree that war is stupid and we were both lucky to get out of Vietnam alive. And we’d talk about you, that terrible moment on the Black Boat, how race issues have been better and worse and fouled by war and fear and self-righteousness, and how wars ensure that we’ll always have plenty of “the other” to blame for the lack of human progress.
I don’t understand how anyone who’s been in combat can claim to have no regrets. I regret my part in putting you in harm’s way. You were not the first man I lost to hostile fire, but you were the last, and I regret I didn’t learn something about war in general and our war, in particular, in between. I should have gone home and helped to end the war.
Finally, thank you for being stuck in my mind and helping bring me to the work of peace.
former lieutenant, 1097th Combat Boat Company, RVN
presently, President, Spokane Veterans for Peace #035
Thanks, Doug Rawlings
on Memorial Day, 5/30/2016
To the People on the Wall –
It’s difficult to think of you there and not here with us, the living. How many died in that foolish war which no president had the guts to stop. So much was destroyed. I work with the Veterans for Peace gang in New York City, trying to teach some peaceful ways and trying to get the Congress to begin to repair the huge damages we perpetuated on the country of Vietnam… especially the sites where Agent Orange was sprayed and the children with birth defects are still being born. And of course the parents of children who have suffered so greatly from our endless destruction and more.
The U.S. has a habit of overreaching and that is what we did for ten or so years in Vietnam. Nothing gained except what should be a warning about the difficulty and danger of imposing our politics on others – especially when the battlefields are halfway around the world. I’m not sure we’ve learned it yet.
Much has been lost – your courage and your bodies. That is a tremendous loss for all of us.
Please know that we won’t forget you and your service. The wall is there for good. Likewise our memories and our gratitude for your service. I wish we had used you better than we did.
With much love and respect, Jill Godmilow.
My name is Patrick Muscarella. My email to you is in response to a request put out by Veterans For Peace regarding stories to be shared at the Vietnam Wall Memorial this coming Memorial Weekend.
I served as a Marine in Vietnam from just before the Tet offensive of 1969 until March of 1970. I was honorably discharged in Sept.of 1971, having served out a four year commitment with the Marine Corps. Almost immediately upon release from the military I began classes in L.A. and joined forces with Vietnam Veterans Against The War on campus at UCLA.
I am not much of a writer but, as best as I can convey it, this is a small window into my experience as a Vietnam War survivor.
I was 20 years old when I enlisted in the Marine Corps in October of 1967. I volunteered for jump school and ended up in Vietnam assigned to F-4 Phantom squadrons maintaining pilot flight gear, parachutes, and ejection seats in fighter aircraft. On two occasions I came within inches of serious injury or death and have now lived a long life and have many reflections that still haunt me.
I had personal contact with many of my fellow Marines who perished, some of them pilots who never came home to their families. At that young age it was so easy to fall prey to the lies of war, as day after day, aircraft, one after the other, launched from the airfield where I was stationed with great thunder, delivering lethal payloads of ordinance (much of it napalm) on human beings.
I’ve spent many hours since that time hearing a voice in the back of my head that asks, “what was I thinking that whole time”… surely I knew people were dying under those bombs and loads of napalm… I did have questions, there did exist an uneasy feeling that I was a cog in the wheel of something evil. I’d overheard stories from returning pilots bragging about catching “them” out in the open and turning them all into “crispy critters”,.. burning human beings alive with napalm. Along with the illegal carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos the conflict in Vietnam never needed to happen. Somehow we never learned anything from that experience.
I took up with photography for the first time then. I have a sizable collection of original glossy images from my time there, many of them faces of other servicemen and of civilian villagers,.. many of them of innocent children. Those images still haunt me. They remind me of a time when I stood by silently as other’s on both sides needlessly lost their lives. I simply don’t know how to untangle the knots and reconcile with those memories, memories of death and all the unnecessary suffering that belongs to that war. Like so many I had fallen prey to the delusional thinking of others, to the war makers and to the war profiteers. Most of them, if not all, had never personally witnessed a moment of the horror they helped unleash on millions of innocent people.
The burden for me now, all these years later, is in knowing that the deception of delusional thinkers in government is still in place, manufacturing the myths that attract many of our best and brightest into the military. And like flies drawn to a bug zapper they will go willingly, high on someone else’s lies about the necessity of killing. Their innocence, their potential for contributing something life giving, to harmony in the world, lost.. their right to happiness stolen forever.
Until we come to a full understanding that the insatiable appetite for profit on the part of the war industry,..the many billions and trillions,..will continue to drive war policy, directly or indirectly, our youth and the youth of the entire global community will remain vulnerable to the lies and deceit that fuel conflict in the world.
For those of us who have seen the irreconcilable outcome of reckless interventions since Vietnam, the senseless murder that has taken place all over the globe for the sake of controlling territory and resources, the price is too high. The threat of retaliation by those affected and offended grows exponentially by the day. We owe it to our children and their children to wake up and insist that we’ve seen enough. It’s time to pull together for the sake of our planet and our youth and expose the lies for what they are and for what they have always been.
It will almost certainly require mass disobedience and nation wide civil unrest in the streets of America to get the attention of those in power. It’s probably all we have left. For now we can support a movement to get corporate money out of the political process,.. it’s a start in the right direction. But it will take more than one person like Bernie Sanders to accomplish real change and rest power back to the will of reasonable people. It will require all of us informing one another and standing in solidarity together. Along with a movement, we need national recognition of our failed policies and re evaluate our priorities to include a long term survival plan for all living things on earth. Enough with all the illegal, immoral, unnecessary wars.
My heart goes out to all the souls who made the ultimate sacrifice, who have been cheated of a full life of happiness. May you all rest in peace.
Former US Marine, Vietnam veteran
Spec Giacomo “Jocko” Liberatore
Birth: Feb. 13, 1950, USADeath: Oct. 25, 2009,
USA Specialist Five US Army, Ammunition Specialist
131st Avn. Co., Hue Phu-Bai, RVN Dec ’68-Dec ’69
Burial:Calverton National Cemetery
Suffolk County New York, USA
Plot: Sec. 34 Plot 4493
Record added: Dec 26, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 63338442
“Skunk Vietnam Story 1969”
Giacomo and I met about in 2008, and we liked each other instantly. My friend Steve Cordelli introduced us and was apprehensive because he said we were both like a force of nature, and didn’t know how that would turn out… it turned out just fine…I met a wonderful person and friend that day.
Our dear friend Giacomo Liberatore: native Brooklyn born- An only sonpassed away form heart ailments at the age of 59. When stationed in Vietnam Jocko (Army) Flew in OV2 plane that held weapons for the troops & functioned as a supply unit…His job was to set up the base with a storage facility to hold all weapons/supplies for our troops – When needed he would build bunkers or use a suitable hut for storage…
In the 1980’s Steve and Giacomo were down in Florida for spring training, as they would do every year –Steve noticed that Giacomo had a cute skunk tattoo (not masculine) on his Left shoulder- he asked what’s up with that. At the time it was too difficult for Giacomo to speak about it … so he didn’t… Steve didn’t press him on it because he could see that it had some deeper meaning …Thinking it unusual for this big strong friend, who always joked around.
It took a few years before Giacomo could share the story of the Skunk tattoo. It turned out that while stationed in Vietnam…he was at his base…and one day there was lots of frantic activity…A Marine helicopter pilot flew in to express that there was a big battle going on the island, and they had to get to the wounded. Giacomo, immediately wanted to assist.
However, this was a Marine helicopter …he asked if he could go with them… He was given permission to board…While on the helicopter, he met a young black man in his mid twenties (a door gunner)… The fella introduced himself as Skunk …When they got to this big vicious “major” battle…Prior to landing the helicopter… Skunk said: I’ll stay in the door and COVER you, while you rescue those who are injured… please do this quickly…
While Giacomo ran out – there was an explosion and he was knocked down… when he was getting up the enemy was coming …He was dazed by this event… then a second Explosion occurred… ( He could feel an actual person jump on him.. it knock him down…Actually it was Skunk who did this to protect him, Skunk saved his life….a Granada or a Mortar exploded again….This fella Skunk, who save Giocomo’s life was now dead on top of him. While trying to access the situation…
The guys in the helicopter were screaming we’ve got to go…we’ve got to go… he tried to pick up skunk, but they wouldn’t let him…they said someone else would get this person on the next run…still in shock…he jumped on the helicopter…and was brought back to the camp. While in Vietnam and in the states, he tried to get Skunks real name and rank… He couldn’t find out who he was…this bothered, so he put the Skunk tattoo on his left shoulder to keep him near to his heart and to always remember the unforgettable sacrifice this fellow veteran made on that day…
After his return to the states he remained in the Military. and was Stationed in US – somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona-… Giacomo was awarded the Purple Heart, for which he felt that his fellow-veteran brother Skunk should have received.
Giacomo shared a very difficult story with Steve about a person and time that he experienced in Vietnam, which remained with him all the days of his life.
We miss you Giacomo! Peace to you & Skunk
Love Lee & Steve
For Joseph Hardy
Tired and dirty from sleeping on sandbags at the LP, we returned to base camp in the duce and a half. We were in a hurry to get some hot breakfast at the mess hall before the chow line closed. Still in our hooch putting up our gear we heard a small explosion. Didn’t sound large enough for a mortar but some jumped for the bunker door. No siren to warn of incoming – what the hell. Let’s get some chow. Outside there is a small commotion as a FNG has been taken to the hospital. He had been told to clear weeds near the perimeter wire and had stepped on an anti- personnel mine. He may have been lucky and only lost part of his foot. We don’t know, per usual he was quickly removed and nobody heard any more about it. But his boot remained. His fuckin boot with the heal blown off the back.
Joe, you were my good buddy, so why didn’t you get out of the field when they needed an Officer’s Club bookkeeper? I took it when you wouldn’t. Did you really need that Combat Infantry badge? You know if I hadn’t taken that job I probably would have been with you. I can hear you now, “Come on, it’ll be a fuckin blast. They want me to destroy some of the old ordinance at the ammo dump. BOOM!!!”
Boom alright, there wasn’t enough left of you, Joe or the other three guys to send home in a jar.
The cherry on this cake, later the CO and chaplain tell the troops in the chapel that these men died as heroes. That the VC planted a booby trap and that their death was heroic. Made me want to puke. I tried to get some of the guys to help me blow the steeple off the chapel, but couldn’t get any serious help and lacked the balls to do it myself.
Shit Joe, you didn’t even leave me a fuckin boot.
Veteran for Peace
I Dream of Dirty Faces
by Daniel Shea
Viet Nam Veteran
I dream of dirty faces
boys unwashed, baptized under fire
Engraved Zippo cigarette lighters
Smoke mingled with burning diesel shit
Lean bodies hung in rags
Sweat, spills, beer, spit, crap
Military jungle fashion for young
men at war playing soldiers, for real
Accessories, helmets & weapons
notched in Kills & Peace Signs
M60 Machine Gun on my shoulder
Bandolier across my chest
45 calibre pistol on my hip
Oh boy I’ m going to die
names carved in a black granite
mirrored wall, for families
to reflect on their loss
They need instead
to reflect on the whitewashed
Lie, that sent children to risk
their lives in Viet Nam
A country that was crying
to be free, independent,
liberated from colonial powers
their goal, ours to rule with puppets
Dirty faces of young men
like me, invade my dreams
names forgotten, carved in stone
their futures washed away in time
May 12, 2016
To Whom it May Concern…(all of us!)
The wars now seem continuous and yet for the most part far away. What to do? How to be? The literal “over-kill” of OUR military resources forces one to wonder why. Who is afraid and what fears are being used to justify such obscene misuse of our strength. Causes are intertwined and the situation can seem intractable.
It is by looking without filters at what happened in the past and what is going on now that can cause change. The efforts of VFP to tell the truth of their experience and bear witness in the face of the glorification of war give me hope.
There is a better way…or perhaps I should say there are better ways…to organize our culture. I was inspired by Michael Moore’s latest film to really see this. Sometimes we need to get out of our own polluted environment to see other ways.
And so, another memorial day when we mourn what has been lost…all the unrealized potential that lies behind the names on the wall in Washington. We can only hope that, through the efforts of those who remain, the future can be made livable for our children and grandchildren and all who follow us on this beautiful gift of a planet.
As I grew up in the waning shadow of my namesake, my dad’s twin brother, who died in Belgium during WW2, I was captivated by the extreme measures that were adopted to end the fascist scourge. I collected war comics, then throughout my youth I went to the library to check out books on war. For my 16th birthday what I wanted most and got was a large coffee table book, A Pictorial History Of World War 2. I had collections of books on fighter pilots, I built plastic models of WW2 war planes, I went to or watched on TV every war movie ever made, some many times over. Then one day at the library I checked out a small book called, This Must Never Happen Again. I chronicled with script and photos the holocausts of Armenia and World War 2. It was so shocking to my soul that I put it under my mattress and returned it to the Library a day later. I was ashamed to even know about such things.
However when I was drafted in January of 1967, I didn’t turn away. Instead I went with the program and eventually was shipped off to “the Nam” in early 1968. I rationalized it by thinking that I had to go in order to really know it was right. I found out all too soon, and spent my 9 months doing my best to avoid the “service” I was sent to perform.
Since then I have spent my life getting my head together so I could educate others of the futility of war. I have also endeavored to be an example of a human dedicated to living a life based on Peace, Love, and Justice. In this way I have honored my dad’s twin brother and many others who know that working for peace is the only way to created it.
Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago:
What the Fuck is Spree de Core?
I haven’t had a shower in
A week… maybe two…
Sandbaggin yer bunkers some more?
Took some speed last night…
Only a half a vile…
The others took a whole one.
I feel like shit today.
You goin out to the boonies
We are too.
I hate humping the rice patties.
Heard Sgt. Perez got blown away
By a ARVN gunboat…
He’s little, yeah…
Musta thought he was a gook…..
How short are you now?
47 days? Wow….
I still got 206.
I’m goin over to the
Bloods bunker tonight
And listen to soul music
And smoke some gan sai…
Wanna go? It’s cool.
Nah…I don’t miss Recon.
Last time I was with them
We humped all night
In the jungle near Trang Bom.
We all got leaches
The next day,
And Herbie couldn’t find us
From his Huey.
Herbie, man…All he wants
Is a body count.
Remember boot camp, man?
What the fuck is
Spree de Core?
I am writing this with several objectives in mind.
One is to remember my friend and baseball team member Carey Hess. Carey was killed early in the war. I remember how broken his family was. I wonder what effect Carey would have had on our world today. He may have invented some marvelous thing that would have been of great use still today. He may have written or composed something that would be historical. Or his children or grandchildren might have done so. We can only wonder.
I also think about what the many people who have been killed in our wars, especially since the 60s, would have accomplished. So many are dead and do not have the opportunity to follow their heart’s dreams. Especially the children in the countries we invaded. Perhaps one or many of those children might have striven and been successful in bringing more peace to our world.
And for myself. I joined ROTC to stay out of the draft for a war that so strongly effected our country and world. I was fortunate to be stateside during my service, but sometimes pause to consider how my life may have played out without my ‘volunteering’ for the Air Force. It certainly would have been different. I don’t begrudge the way life went because it is in the past and I have 4 wonderful children that elevate my life to this day. I do though wonder if I might have invented or composed something marvelous with a different life path.
If I remember correctly, the oath of military service states that the US government will not send its individual soldiers into harm’s way unless there is the utmost necessity. Which is certainly a judgement call by our elected officials. It is very obvious to me that we have lost many many more of our military personnel by invading other countries than we would have lost by not invading them. And we would have satisfied that clause in our oath.
I ask that you not let your sense of patriotism overarch a realistic, unencumbered perspective of how the United States conducts its business.
Peace and Healing,
|In memory of my high school, friend Orville Curtis Rogers|
I was in the band with Orville Curtis Rogers in high school in Dallas. He was a first lieutenant when he died trying to save seven fellow Marines. Who would have ever thought that he would give his life for our country in Vietnam, and that I, myself, would be there for four years before he got there and would be one of the lucky ones who came back?
I did not know Curtis well, but he played coronet, and I played clarinet. All of the guys in the band had to be in the ROTC until our senior year so you would be in the marching band. We all loved marching at the Woodrow Wilson High School football games.
I am proud of what he became and what he did and grateful that I knew him. When you can put a person to a name on the memorial, you really get the full impact of the lives lost.
Let’s say … I assasinated him
Let’s say … One bright winter morning, late in 1970, the ice is thick atop the Potomac. On a private Pentagon elevator, I place behind his ear a cheap, short-muzzled .38 and pull the trigger. I whisper a guiltless good-bye—softly, tenderly, gently—kissing him with a bark strikingly opposite cacophonous death in mad combat.
Let’s say … He is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs , a four-star honcho; high, holy suzerain of 1 the U.S. military, appointed by Nixon. His blue-black jacket is thick with Navy stars and stripes, real gold, heavy braid, his mind filled with Southern fried right-wing politics—a Prussian fashionista who hadn’t smelled cordite or shit over a barrel of diesel fuel since World War II.
Let’s say … I am his Marine orderly, carrying a war-earned Top Secret clearance. I escort him into and out of this octagonal conurbation of callous delusion, carrying his briefcase, filled—no doubt —with US strategies for slaying more. My sole task is hailing his high-gloss limo each morning then adieuing it each night in the Pentagon’s shadowy basement, a devil’s den of mean American murderers.
Let’s say … I teach Sunday school at the Church of God on 16th Street, NW, looking for god amongst my Vietnam debris. It never occurs to me to kill Admiral-Golden-Braid though my combat is fresh and raw and wildly, raggedly breathing fire. I do not own or carry a weapon—not then, not now —no gun, no knife, no club; no vest wired to high explosives and rusty bolts of industry. While I have no idea if the Admiral is armed, his chauffeur is: handguns holstered at each ankle, one in the hollow of his back, a fourth on his hip, a fifth strapped chest high.
Let’s say … I join Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Defense Intelligence kicks me out as a security threat. Still to die: some 6,000 more Americans in the American war in Vietnam, and another 500,000 Vietnamese.
Let’s say, again … On a private Pentagon elevator, I place behind his ear a cheap, shortmuzzled .38. One bright winter morning, late in 1970, the ice is thick atop the Potomac. The reality was … I didn’t then. I had the opportunity no one else had. I might—today.
Copyright Timothy M. Bagwell
Participant in Dewey Canyon III, April 1971
Washington, D.C. USMC, 1968-1971 Vietnam, Jan.-July 1969
Honorably discharged as conscientious objector, May 1971 1.
Admiral Thomas H, Moorer, USN.
A Post Vietnam Memorial Day
The guns were fired,
The wreath was laid,
A widow cried,
A speech was made.
Some poor bastard,
Laid out in a tomb
They said he died for his country,
But he died too soon.
If they’d have told him what
He was really fighting for
He’d have stayed at home,
He’d have locked his door.
He’d have raised his kids
And made love to his wife.
He’d have helped his neighbors.
He’d have had a good life.
Instead he died for old men
Growin’ mouldy on the shelf.
He died fightin’ communism
Which died by itself.
He died for Halburton,
He died for Lockheed.
He died for power
He died for greed.
And when this veterans’
Time has passed
They can bury me face down
So Bush can kiss my ass.
Shortly after college graduation in 1968, I joined the U.S. Army to preempt my draft notice. I was going to go to Officers’ Candidate School. While in Advanced Infantry Training I came to the realization that I could not become a “leader” for a cause I did not believe in. I served out my 2 years, including a year in Vietnam with the First Cavalry (Airmobile), working for nearly 11 months in a Fire Direction Center of a 155-mm artillery unit on temporary remote bases. Our unit was dropped into the Cambodia Invasion in June of 1970 and spent some days there as a participant in the shooting of artillery rounds. We were then returned back across the border into Vietnam but continued shooting ordinance back into Cambodia in support of U.S. troops still there. After returning home to Washington State in November, I came to believe that the American public and I had been lied to. President Nixon, I discovered, had assured the public that all U.S. troops had been withdrawn from Cambodia by a certain date, perhaps it was June 30. My artillery until had fired rounds back across the border after that date in support of U.S. soldiers still in Cambodia. I was angry. Very angry. I knew that Vietnam veterans were having some difficulty transitioning back into the American culture. There was no public support of what we had participated in. In fact, it was often the opposite, to the point that many returning veterans were being ridiculed and disparaged by the general citizenry. The result was an increase in the level of anger among vets. Some went up into “the hills”, living the solitary life of a hermit, to overcome their anger and shame. Some tried to find solace in bottles of alcohol; others escaped through drugs. Still others began participating in acts of violence against the government, some with crude homemade bombs and the like, against family and friends. I joined the Peace Corps. Within 6 months of my return from Vietnam I was on an airplane that landed in Teheran, Iran. I spent 3 memorably rewarding years teaching English at a boarding school in Shiraz to children from migratory tribes, tribes with no written language. I will always appreciate my service in Vietnam, but only because it was the impetus for spending 3 years in Iran, a place that is in my heart and part of my daily existence 42 years after my return. But I will also always feel the pain that my veteran brothers suffered, and continue to suffer, trying to deal with the verifying experiential knowledge that many initially learned prior to going: “War is not healthy for children and other living things”. Where have all the flowers gone? Peace, Jim Endicott
Helen Keller Revisted
Now it’s time to go to sleep
And dream of a different world.
No more war, no more killing,
Just peace and love and a girl.
But still tomorrow will come too soon,
For I know that I will find
People that cheat and steal and hate
And treat each other unkind.
Now it’s time to rise once more
And smile not today
For I must kill to end all death.
There must be some other way.
For still tomorrow will come too soon
For still I know that I will find
People not knowing of brotherly love,
Why is man so blind?
By Jim Endicott, Those Army days in Vietnam
Thirteen Echo Forty
I get up every morning at an hour that shouldn’t exist.
I stand there at attention while The Man goes down the list.
Then I wait and wait and wait and wait in line to get my chow
Of leather pancakes and muddy coffee, not knowing why or how!
I grab my books and sticks and charts and hurry to catch the bus,
For I know if I am late to class The Man will raise a fuss.
I jump on the bus at noontime and hurry back in line
For food that is not like mother’s:
Meat that was soaked in brine?
I hurry back to class again
For four more hours of the same.
My mind begins to wonder.
Who is the one to blame?
The day finally ends, the day begins,
Whichever the case may be?
I put on my jeans and go downtown
I guess that I am free!?!?!?
By Jim Endicott
Artillery Fire Direction Training
Fort Sill, Oklahoma 1969
Letter to the Wall-2016
As I come up on the 46th anniversary of my direct involvement in the Viet Nam War, my first involvement of telling your mother that you had been killed Johnny has not lessened in intensity. I still feel every blow to the chest that she gave me. Unfortunately, those blows still say the same thing to me. Waste, waste, waste. Latter wars have only further shown me how violence only begets more violence.
I am under no illusion that I may change things in my lifetime, but I do take from all of your deaths an inspiration to have the moral courage to not give into fear. St. Augustine said it well when he said that hope had two beautiful daughters whose names are Anger and Courage. “Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
I easily get the anger part of hope from not only those of you that have your names on the Wall, but even more so from the many who should have their names on the wall-the suicides, the agent orange caused deaths, but mostly the millions of Vietnamese killed in the war.
The courage part is harder to get, but you all do encourage that beautiful daughter also. As Joseph Conrad wrote much later than St. Augustine, “You know that in cowardice is every evil-especially that cruelty so characteristic of our civilization…. We are born initiated, and succeeding generations clutch the inheritance of fear and brutality without a thought, without a doubt, without compunction.”
I take from the Wall the companionship of both of the daughters that St. Augustine wrote about to do my best to keep the enduring flame of hope alive.
Viet Nam 70-71
Writing to you again, out of love,out of compulsion,out of habit, it really doesn’t matter. I have to express these things to someone and you’re it.
I’m going back to walk through that hell again and still trying to figure out why. Maybe I can’t handle civilian life, maybe I don’t want to, maybe I’m brainwashed.
There is no sense of duty, sacrifice, and certainly none of defeat.
The fact is that it is still going on and the only way to stop thinking about it is to go back over to stop tearing my mind up. I’m looking for a statement that answers WHY?
About all I can come up with is: The sonofabitch isn’t over with yet.
Some have finer talents. One of mine is being decent infantry (grunt) Corpsman.
To the platoon you are the man only concerned with their welfare. And once you go out under fire, once you put your ass on the line for them, , for the rest of the time you work and and die together..more than God, more than country..nothing means more than “doc” hauling ass, scared as hell out to patch someone up.
That’s the kind of work, I don’t know why, I want.
Sometimes I’m scared shitlessly. I don’t want to die yet. No martyr. I’m also afraid of the bleak and frustrating and probably neurotic existence left if I don’t do this thing. I’ve been through enough of that shit already.
Robert A. “Doc” Lindstrom HM2/USN
H Company, Second Platoon
2nd Battalion 9th Marines
Third Marine Division
11th Marines (Artillery) and First Medical Battalion
USS Kitty Hawk 1971-72
To whom it may concern,
I’m Percy Hilo; An air force veteran from November 18th, 1966-May 5th, 1970 – #af11670967. I served my basic training at Amarillo air force base in Amarillo, Texas, then went to Shepard in Wichita Falls, Texas, and then served a 3 years overseas tour at Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii from May 29th, 67 to May 5th, 70.
I found the military to be extremely oppressive, absolutely insensitive and cruel to it’s own and with no compassion or interest in the fate of any other peoples the world over! I never went to Vietnam and never wanted to go! Once I awoke to what was being done in my name and of the complete lack of feeling towards the Vietnamese people as well as the inhumane treatment and feeling of fear placed upon our own soldiers I went through many changes in my belief system. One of the most important was my letting go of the horrible belief in “My country, right or wrong” and replacing it with a genuine empathy and compassion for all people’s everywhere. This new belief is the foundation of what I’ve become in the 46 years since my discharge.
A few years back I became a member of Veteran’s For Peace (which I’d been since 1969 when there was no formal organization for it) and have continued to build a lifestyle that includes feelings for all living things and the belief that all God’s children can learn to love and appreciate each other and work out all differences! It hasn’t yet fully manifested but I feel that it’s possible at some time in the future that I won’t live to see. Many blessings on all of our good work.
Peace to all and Namaste,
Dear Jim Waulk and Bill Wood,
Both of you fellows hailed from the land of rural Ohio. A person can draw a straight line on a map between the two townships that you both came from. Both of you were husbands and one of you was a father-to-be. That wife mis-carried when she learned of her husbands death. I even talked with that woman on the phone. This has been so long ago. All of this has been so long ago.
The atrocities continue gentlemen. The country that you were born in to and died for is a lie. The lie started when those white men sat in council to form the United States of America. United we are not, and divided we are.
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day gentlemen. Another lie perpetuated by commerce. For the dollar do rule. As a Veterans For Peace member(Life) I will be giving out the original Mother’s Day Proclamation, Julie Ward Howe(1819-1910) with a carnation. This will be handed to women only. If your Mother’s are alive they miss you terribly. My Mother is alive(91) and she loves me dearly, as I love her.
As young men we did not understand or know how oppressive and hateful this country(USA) is. For we were born as white men; not men of color.
I do hope you both are at peace in your final rest. We survivors of combat though are another story. Suicide, alcohol, drugs, meanness to other people, broken marriages, broken hearts, locked up, locked down, and not facing the moral truth of their actions.
I am so lucky to be able to write this letter to you both. I am in my own home, in the kitchen, at the table finishing my own home cooked meal. Jim W. I was able to visit with your in-laws in rural Ohio. I had lunch with them in their farm house and then they drove me out to your grave site. Near their home. Your laid to rest in a peaceful place with others. I sat with you.
I have been to the traveling “Wall” three different times to pay my respects to you and Bill. Maybe some day I will get to DC and actually lay my hands on your names.
Because of the violence and tragedies that I was a witness to and participated in for 10 months, I put my weapon down. I was done emotionally. This was my first political action. I would not carry a weapon, nor take life for the sake of Empire.
I cry tears when I re-live your deaths. Two nights before on the Firebase we had toked together; and in an instant you were gone. Ed D. (CA) is gone. His kidneys finally stopped. Paul F. (NY) and Ron W. (NY) think of you and Bill W. We talk on occasion and they are both doing good. Both are married.
I am drinking a good micro brew and listening to Lucinda Williams. Good tough southern woman.
Tomorrow I will wear my “Muslims Are Not Our Enemy” t-shirt for the 3rd day. Me and my VFP brother Ralph H. today on the square were photographed with a Muslim man between us. His wife took the picture. This was a great moment for all of us. Some simple encouragement. Not to be angry. I know so many kind people. People holding hands. People hugging. People kissing.
I, Jim W and Bill W, am 69 as I scratch this writing. I have many good and some bad experiences since I stepped out of the military machine. I am happy, along with sad, but I am present. I am still participating in the cycle of life.
I have a younger brother and sister. They both have families. I am single and Pop to a grown son who I am very proud of. I have no grandchildren.
The organization Veterans For Peace are very active trying to put an end to warfare. The United States of America military machine is huge and bloated. The young men and women serving during the occupation of Viet Nam helped stop that war. The young people who are serving now in illegal conflicts will stop the machine. The military will break down from with in.
Veterans For Peace has its own Peace Navy now. The Golden Rule sail boat is back in the water and sailing for nuclear disarmament by all Nation/States. I am happily participating with this project.
Hopefully I will be writing again next year. Good for me and you both. You are not forgotten.
Love, Rw Cage VFP (Life)
James Harold Waulk Jr. William Wayne Wood
I was called upon to serve during the Korean War which, in retrospect, I think of as two years of my life substantially wasted.
But, the experience did succeed in at least temporarily warping my mind. For, during the Vietnam War, I was initially shocked and disgusted by the large number of draft dodgers and resisters.
Indeed, it wasn’t till America’s apparently endless campaign to destroy Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria that I realized — in Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler’s famous words — war is a racket.
It should be obvious that this so-called War on Terror is gold mine for the military-industrial-security complex and the One Percent who are its stockholders.
Today, thoughtful writers like Dr. Paul Craig Roberts suspect USA may be laying the groundwork for a Third and final World War (for the purpose of obliterating North Korea, China, Iran, and Russia). It’s alleged that there are those in high places within the Pentagon who believe America can fight and win a nuclear war. To which I would say only that, if W.W. III comes, the survival of the “Establishment” ought not be considered a priority.
Please: DON’T thank me for my service.
Smith, Frederick S., Pfc.
Proud member of Veterans for Peace, Inc.
I did my time in Vietnam from 9/67 to 9/68. Tet was my time in combat. I was supposed to be a Process Photographer with the 66th Engineer Company, Topographic, but the VC decided otherwise. Obviously, I made it home.
A friend of mine did not, however. His name is listed on this great, black Wall. Some of us made it home, and some of did not. Who is luckier? The America we fought for didn’t care. Not even the army we were in cared. We can only care for each other, and for the dead we left behind. It would be nice if this all meant that the same mistakes will not be made again. Like in Iraq and Afghanistan and where is the next one?
Let us all hope for and pray for an end to all the violence and hate.
Thomas F. Bayard, RA11857325, SP-5
66th ENGR CO TOPO, of the 20th ENGR GP.
RVN, 9/67 – 9/68
Years after I got back from Vietnam while I was in Seattle I visited a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Of all the dozens of things left in loss and sadness there, only one will forever remain in my memory. It was a letter of apology from a young girl to her father, a father whose name was on that wall, a father she had never known. “I am so sorry that I was so angry with you daddy, but it was just that I wanted a daddy so much–like the other kids”. As I read this simple sentence, it seemed to capture all the grief and anguish of that war, and of all wars.
Tom Charles, VFP Chapter #35, Spokane, WA
May 6, 2016
Dear Names on the Wall,
The following is a eulogy for a real hero to honor the ultimate sacrifice you made as young men and women in our name:
A Eulogy for Rev. Daniel Berrigan
Frail, but always nonviolently defiant for peace with social justice, you died the other day, letting loose your vibrant spirit from it’s well-worn body. To the very end, you never wavered in your dedication and commitment to peace, to end all war, to oppose the destructive capacities of governments, of armies, of missiles, of heavily armed men and women fighting mostly for venal politicians’ quest for power.
Heroically, you often placed your body on the line, being arrested numerous times, serving time in city, county, and federal prisons, for daring to speak truthfully and compassionately against the horrors of modern war, burning draft documents, hammering missile heads, symbolically turning them into plowshares and pruning forks. You even went underground for several years while continuing to speak out for peace.
I am so grateful I had the privilege to know you, to communicate with you, to be in your most holy presence. The first time was at the retreat you lead in 1987 with Thich Nhat Hahn, when I was still so ravaged, shamed and guilty about my participation in the terrible and long war in Vietnam, for which I gleefully volunteered in accordance with my southern heritage of duty, honor, country. You and Thich Nhat Hahn helped heal me by suggesting whenever I hear a Huey to be grateful I survived instead of being racked by keening guilt.
A couple of years later, I had a simple lunch with you and the UN ambassador from communist Vietnam, a former enemy whom I was most grateful to call my comrade in seeking peace and reconciliation for the millions of Vietnamese peoples so brutalized by and still suffering from the war we both fought in on opposing sides. To this day, I accept that I fought on the wrong side, an illegal invader of a country that did the US no harm.
I was most pleased to attend your 78th birthday celebration, where I met a close friend of yours, Kurt Vonnegut, someone whom I’ve always admired. When I told him I was a Vietnam veteran platoon leader, he took my hand in both of his, looked up at me with such compassion, and apologized for what my country had done to me. Recalling that moment, I again sob healing tears of gratitude.
Were I in New York today, I would march with many others from E. 3rd Street to W. 16th Street to honor you and to attend the memorial mass. Know in the unutterable mystery of being, I am with you in deep connection as your spirit spreads its powerful beneficence throughout the wide and ineffable Kosmos.
Spread your healing, peaceful energy in the memory of all who needlessly died in this unjust, illegal, unnecessary war. Thank you deeply !~!~!
In Memoriam for all of you,
Thomas Brinson, ILT, US Army
II Corps, Vietnam, April 67—April 6
An Operating Room Nurse Speaks To The Wall
by Susan O’Neill, RVN 1969-70
My face in your slick black mirror
over graved letters that bear no link
to men I knew for moments or hours
to men over whose inert bodies I passed threads
nylon / gut / steel
too fragile to bind restive souls into their broken casks
to men over whose secret red meat
my gloved fingers probed
before it fell still.
You deal in names
I deal in nameless shades
that slipped anesthetized shells
that left me
numb / dumb /stunned
my hand too weak to grave labels in my brain.
You are past
history /herstory / ourstory
58,286 hungry ghosts
among millions here
among billions there
cyphers that though graved
my memory can not touch
pragmatic count of time-blind grief.
Oh black mirror:
Call your phantom legions to formation
call them to march howling waving flagged transparent gore
call them to spill their precious wasted
blood / bones / meat
on grand oak desks
their sweet lost dreams on manicured hands
of The Powers That Were, That Be, That Will Be
call them to grave on foreheads of kings and presidents and dictators and generals in funeral black
the vast permanent cost of transitory wars
call them to trumpet their names
for all who have eyes and ears and hearts and mouths
for all who have wisdom and fire and love and outrage
call them to stand ruined and proud
relentless and brave before the stone
call them to fix us with their flamed unwavering eyes
until we feel the price that
they / we / all
I didn’t go. Fortunately my name is not on this wall. I suspect some of the guys I trained with at Ft Polk, LA in August of 1970 are among the thousands of names here. I didn’t go. I volunteered to go in 1971 while stationed at Ft. Wainwright, AK but my request was denied. I didn’t go.
I was 18 years old at the time and totally ignorant about the foreign affairs of the day. I understand today the male brain is not fully formed until about the age of 25. Insurance companies understand this and charge higher rates of those under 25 because of the poor decision making, particularly not understanding future consequences of actions.
Upon my entry into the Army at 17 I was trained to kill. I still have this jingle etched in my mind ” I wanna be an airborne ranger, I wanna live a life of danger, I wanna go to Vietnam, I wanna kill the Viet Cong, kill,kill,kill.” I didn’t go, I didn’t kill.
My brother, a Marine Alpha 19 1968 Tet offensive was there.. He’s not on the wall but wounded by friendly fire. Psychologically wounded, 100% disability PTSD. Over the years drank himself into dementia, he never really recovered from his Vietnam experience. How long of a wall would it be if those like him were included?
Today, I leave this letter at the wall as a 62 year old husband, father and grandfather because I Didn’t GO.
I was an organizer and longtime participant in demonstrations against this horrible war. and was on many committees opposing the draft, etc.
We spent 12 or more years, billions of dollars, almost 60,000 US lives and probably over million Vietnamese lives for what was clearly an irresponsible and probably illegal war. But we learned our lesson only for a few years, and are now again invading other countries as an element of US foreign policy.
When and how can we learn??
Gerson Lesser, M.D.
I joined the Army reserve in October 1966 just after getting married and a month before my 21st birthday being 1A in the draft didn’t know what else to do. Wasn’t aware of being a conscientious objector or even where Canada was,even way back then I wasn’t a war person. My dad wasn’t in the military ever, so no influence from family. Did basic and AIT in the winter of 1967 at Ft. Leonard wood a miserable spot in Missouri went to summer camp for two weeks 67 68 69. By that time my beliefs in war and the Governments trip in Vietnam had come to a head and no longer wanted any involvement with it. The marriage was coming to a end also it was time for something new went West young man to California. Did nothing about the Army just stopped going to meetings, got involved with Peace and protest activities like so many folks. Got paper work from the Army was activated and to report to Ft. Jackson S.C. which I did at 26yrs of age in the spring of 1971 with my hippie look and long hair told them I want nothing to do with the Army or the war machine. I refused to do anything at the reception unit so got put in the stockade spent three months kept putting in for a chapter10 discharge. After three times doing it I knew it was time to move on went to a court martial they wanted me to go Germany for 20months to finish my two year obligation, I said ok got out of the stockade that day and left the base awol they call it I call it freedom. Finally I was dropped from the Army along with many others in 1975 by Gerald Ford. Have no vet rights which is fine with me. I feel honored and humbled by my association with Vets for Peace folks Peace Frank E. Donnelly
A Letter of Resistance
In early December of 1967 at the Lutheran Church of St. John the Evangelist in Brooklyn, New York, the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus presided at a service of conscience and hope. At that service more than 200 young men walked to the altar to deposit their draft cards in the offering plates, declaring their disaffiliation with the Selective Service system and their determination to resist being conscripted to fight in the war in Vietnam. I was one of those men.
After my second year as a divinity student at Princeton Theological Seminary, I engaged in a rite of passage following in the footsteps of many other young people. After purchasing a cheap ticket to Luxembourg, I hitchhiked my way through Europe and the British Isles, also traveling across North Africa. As the 6-Day War ended, I was on the beach in Tunisia preparing to leave for Italy. It was a beautiful day, the Mediterranean was warm and inviting, and I was thinking about my long-time friend, George Fry, who had been drafted into the Army and was somewhere in Vietnam. He’d left his young wife behind and dutifully answered the call, and I was sitting in the sun, aware that I was safe yet feeling very conflicted.
On my travels in Europe, especially in France, I’d taken rides with many people who were against the war. France had had it’s own unfortunate experience in Vietnam, and the people I spoke with couldn’t understand why we were there. And I found that parroting the reasons usually given….the domino theory of the spread of communism being the most popular….were not compelling. This exposure to world public opinion which had not reached me at home, weighed heavily on me and upon my return I began in earnest to study the history of our involvement in this conflict.
My third year of divinity school landed me in New York City where I was doing an internship in an experimental program sponsored by General Theological Seminary. It was an exploration of the mass media and how it works to create public opinion and it required us all to find a job in some form of media. After weeks of applications and interviews and lots of frustration, I was offered a position with the American Heritage Publishing Company working on the first edition of the American Heritage Dictionary.
This turned out to be a great job as I met many wonderful people who were very open and accepting of this seminarian who just arrived. Coming from a small farming town in western New York, I’d never lived in a city among so many different people and it was very stimulating for me. And it was here that my education took me deep into exposure to the antiwar movement. I attended demonstrations, teach-ins, lectures, and had many conversations with fellow students.
All of this was chronicled in a documentary film that focused on the work of the internship group of which I was a member. The director of the film, Bill Jersey, who had won prizes for documentaries, like A Time For Burning, said that the National Council of Churches had contracted him to do a film on new forms of ministry in the church, and he met with our group and decided to follow our work for the next 9 months or so. And he said that it works best to single out one person and show the work of the group through that person’s eyes, and I was the one he chose.
That’s why this film crew was also present at the church that day in December of 1967 when I turned in my draft card and went public with my decision not to cooperate with the Selective Service system. As a seminarian, I was entitled to the 4D deferment which was for clergy and divinity students. There was no way I could be drafted. But holding that deferment, I reasoned, would make my words of opposition to the war hollow and meaningless because I was taking no risk. Giving up that deferment would make me as vulnerable as any other guy my age.
The fallout from this act of resistance and non-cooperation was both positive and negative as the film was shown in many churches. In my hometown I became a polarizing figure. My dad had died suddenly 2 years before and my mother lived alone in the home where I grew up with a brother and sister. She was also the Postmaster in town; a position she held for nearly 35 years. And now her son, had done this deed which made him a traitor in the eyes of many. It was very hard on her.
There’s one scene in the film where we’re standing alone in the greenhouse…..she also raised African violets….and we were talking about what I’d done and why. I wanted her to understand why I took this step of faith, and she said, “you get to go back to the city, but I have to stay here.” And I said “I know you have to stay here, why do you say that?” And her reply was, “This is where the people are.” Being a public person in that small conservative town, with a son who had done this radical thing, was not what she wanted. And “Where The People Are,” became the name of that film.
That was 48 years ago when I was 24. My mom lived to be 92 dying on Mother’s Day in 2008. In the intervening years it became clear to many people that the Vietnam War was a terrible mistake. Many thousands of people died on all sides, including my friend, George. The suffering of the Vietnamese people, the spraying of Agent Orange, the wounding, both physical and psychological of those who served there, is testimony to the barbarism and futility of war as a means of solving problems. And we still haven’t learned. The war machine keeps on churning creating horror wherever it goes. And now we have a volunteer army. If we still relied on conscription, I believe the American people would rise up to stop these misadventures, but since the armed forces offer jobs and training with pay and benefits, the public at large has been bought off.
Wake up, America! These are your sons and daughters, and what are they fighting for? For you? To keep us safe? I don’t think so! What do you think?
May 5, 2016
Carmel Valley, CA
I am a terrible golfer. I know that now. But before I learned it I thought one day to go practice and hit a bucket of balls. Our village had thoughtfully constructed a driving range on the old town dump. As I drove up in the afternoon I noted that there was only one other car there, it must for the attendant, the guy who gets to drive around in that cart with a cage on it so he doesn’t get hit. Typically he is retired and just killing time, like me. Then I noticed that he had veteran’s license plates on his car, just like my truck, so we started in talking. It turns out we were both in the same place in Vietnam, in Chu Lai. He was the only person I have ever met that was there. Once we realized that the very first words he said were, “It’s a shame about that nurse”. Forty-five years after it happened and it was right in the front of his mind, waiting to be said. “It’s a shame about that nurse”.
On June 8th, 1969 1LT Sharon Ann Lane from Zanesville, Ohio was on duty in the ward that treated wounded Vietnamese soldiers when a Viet Cong rocket struck between two wards, killing two and wounding twenty-seven. She died instantly. 1LT Lane was the only female to die from direct enemy fire in the entire war.
Forty-five years later two guys who never met her took a sudden moment of silence remembering her loss. She was not forgotten by us.
I’m writing this in the hope that her memory will live on with others and her sacrifice and the sacrifices of others will not fade with time.
To those on the wall
I wanted to give you an update. First everyone of you and our experience in Vietnam is never far from my mind or my heart. I can look at my grand children and know that I am fortunate. I can talk to my children as adults and I am grateful. I can also remember that you can not, never could; you were robbed of the joys I enjoyed over the past almost 50 years now.
I go to VFP meetings and VVA meetings and I believe that you would be glad to know that we are graying with commitment, graying with energy, graying with grace. Many of us do anything and everything we can to promote peace from blocking Creech Airforce Base to marching at the School of Americas, to sailing the Golden Rule, to sitting in silent vigil outside of an NRA convention. We also try to get into the high schools to counter the efforts of the recruiters. But I have to tell you things are not good.
Twenty two veterans take their own lives every day. Many of them are our generation but many of them are young veterans. Young veterans who were sold a bill of goods like we were. Many of whom believed that they were on an honorable mission only to find out that, like us, they were pawns in the scheme of the rich. However, these youngsters are part of an all volunteer army. That’s right no more draft. That means that the public is deathly silent when they come home dead and injured. That means that when they look for assistance often the response is “well you volunteered.”
Something else troubling, militarism is now the chief export of the US and we are internationally viewed as the biggest threat to world peace. Seriously, Gallup did an international poll in 2014 and the US was seen by 24% of the people as the biggest threat to peace. Second place I think went to China or Pakistan at 8%.
And then there are drones, but that might be another letter.
I truly believed that our generation would be the last to suffer this fate. I thought that as we grew older that we would stand up and forbid our politicians to send us into another debacle, but we didn’t. We allowed it to happen again and again and again from incursions into Central American to endless war in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we lead the world in the sale of arms to other countries. So we are perpetuating not only our own wars but those of other countries.
I hate to say this because I do not want to disturb you anymore than dying in Vietnam already has but sometimes I feel that all the soldiers and sailors and airmen who died for this country may have died for nothing. I know I said all from the Revolution on. We are only 240 years old but we have lost many aspects of our democracy and have become the world’s bully. Those who died fighting the Nazis a mere 75 years ago would not recognize our country. The 750,000 who died in the Civil War would be so disappointed to see that we are no longer a country of the people, by the people, and for the people, and the people don’t seem to care. The Founders, who realized that in order for this country to succeed would require an engaged populace and never a peace time army, are probably rolling over in their graves and saying to each other: “Well we tried!”
There is a glimmer of hope in the youth right now who seem to be getting engaged behind an old conscientious objector by the name of Bernie Sanders. I know many of you probably don’t think much about a CO but when you hear his story it is compelling. He is truly a man of commitment and he has helped those of us who survived more than anyone else in the Congress. But his efforts only provide a glimmer of hope, as the moneyed and militarized powers are fight back hard.
So if you can, as the collective spirit that you are, visit us here in the country you died for so many years ago and fill our hearts with compassion for each other and compassion for the others throughout the world. We are not sustainable as we are and we need your help.
God Bless each of you; you are remembered and loved.
RD2 from the Westchester Cty Lst 1167
And Point Defiance LSD 31
For my childhood friend David Thomas
Marcia told me you were killed in Vietnam. She said you had planned to go back and start an orphange. I wasn’t clear about whether you were in the Army or had gone as a missionary. Either way I know how loved you would have been! I wrote a poem about you back in the ’80’s. You and your field organ. How I have missed your shyness all these years. I never saw you after your family left Cali but the image of you climbing the tree with your skinny legs and big grin is as vivid now as that day in 1949.
Love always ,
first one leg then the other,
Message to Thomas A. Williams
L/Cpl, USMC, CAP 3-1-4
Born September 21, 1950, Died February 18, 1970
Panel 13 W, Line 30; Vietnam Veterans Memorial
This is Mike Peterson. I contacted your sister in Wilkes-Barre around 2000, but lost touch. Among other things I said that you did not suffer; that your death was quick. In all honesty, I didn’t know your death was all that quick; somewhere (I believe it was our skipper, I forget the name) I learned that the medics on the chopper said that you had expired en route to the medevac hospital.
I did not know you all that well, and that’s not right; but now it’s too late. I did dedicate my book, The Combined Action Platoons: The U.S. Marines’ other war in Vietnam to you; but I’d rather you be alive than I ever wrote that book, if this makes any sense.
I thought that we had fought in America’s last Bad War; silly me! With the on-going wars in Afghanistan and Iraq promising to be “endless wars,” I hold dim hopes for us to be at peace anytime soon; or even grow up as a society. I do hate war. As William Tecumsah Sherman said: “War is all hell.” I am a member of Veterans For Peace, and will be for as long as I live.
Just checkin’ in
Michael Ernst Peterson
“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of menwho, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destruyed by the war.
Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front.
Hello my friend.
If not for WW-2 my older sister and I would not have been born, which was the result of my Welsh mother having met an American GI, who was stationed at a nearby airbase in Wales, UK during the war.
I grew up in Wales without the help of my father who abandoned us all very soon after the war was over.
Since then my views have remained the same about war.
I condemn all wars without hesitation, and yet I have great pity and empathy for the soldier, who is used then soon disposed of, after the war is over.
A few years ago I took my father-in-law, a veteran of the Pacific Theater, to visit the Vietnam Memorial, where a close relative of his deceased wife was carved into one of the stones. It was an Honor Flight and my father-in-law felt a healing that he had never known before.
He was 92, and he cried as his finger ran over a hallowed name once so fondly remembered by his late wife.
I came to America in 1966 having learned the history of post WW-2 Vietnam in school and I knew that America was deeply involving itself with a needless, and avoidable, tragedy.
I had come in search of my father, and soon after I arrived in the USA the Selective Service wanted me to join the Vietnam War.
I explained my education and refused to participate in the carnage.
I wanted to cry for America not to kill someone I never met for it, or to be killed in some far off place for no sensible reason at all?
I have apposed every war since.
Before President H W Bush made his greatest mistake, I begged him not to send a military force to eject Saddam Hussein but to use our far more effective financial powers instead?
I reminded the then president that our country was violent enough without presenting the thought that violence is always the best way to solve a problem?
Tourists from Germany were being shot in Florida in random acts while another war was being fashioned, I asked could there be an end to this madness?
My letter went unheeded war resulted and it led to the most recent catastrophic exchanges of violence and began a religious war that now spreads like a unconstrained and virulent virus.
After stealing the election of 2000, his son compounded the misery of war and for insane, and unfounded reasons, he justified making things far worse.
We are now in a constant-war mode eagerly fed by the makers of arms and ammunition to every side, they must be making a fortune.
We send off a missile costing $200,000, to kill a human being that is holding a $20.00 AK47. They might be standing on a street corner or hiding in a building, and we call it a fantastic victory.
Let us not count the cost of the devastation we reap and sow, of the minds and limbs lost, and never to be the same, ever again on every side of this bloody carnage?
When will we have the sense to put an end to war?
We fight an enemy, then the enemy becomes our friend, why not skip the stupid war that precedes the in-between?
Senseless, bloody wars, hospitals and schools never built, hungry children never fed, because the cost of war is always so expensive.
Let us all please put an end to this madness now, before this madness puts an end to us all.
Roger W. Imes, Spokane, WA.
From an Air Force widow to all the people whose names are on this memorial:
My husband was in final training in an RF101 aircraft, having already received his orders to the Viet Nam war theater. This model plane was getting old, and parts were being pirated from other planes to keep them in the sky. One day a malfunction of some sort happened with the plane, and my husband crashed. That was on March 17, 1966.
Had he not crashed that day, it is my conviction that the way things were going, he would have been shot out of the sky somewhere over Southeast Asia, as was one of his closest friends. So, he died answering the same call that you did, but his name is not on your memorial.
I want for you to know that I still love and miss my husband, and I know that your families also have not forgotten you. If they are like me, not a day goes by that you are not thought of and missed. Time does not really heal our losses, we just go on as you would have liked us to. We go to the memorial, and we weep. The tears are always just a blink away wherever we are.
I want you to know also, that I try as best as I can to work for peace, so that other people such as you will not die, and so that families all over the world can live in peace and security. This is the very least that I can do for you.
Widow of Capt. William R. Wilson
I grew up in Maine. Chris was my best friend for many years. They moved to another town in Maine, but we stayed in contact. Sometime while I was in the air Force we lost contact. i started to look for him a few years ago. It took a while, but I found him.
Can it be sixty years ago?
My God, the time’s just gone.
We were close as brothers then.
We played at war
In Gannet’s Wood,
On the ledges, and down the draw.
And still when we were teenage boys
And I just got my car
Chris stole my new girlfriend.
[What was her name? I don’t recall.]
It doesn’t matter now.
He was my brother, after all.
When I enlisted
He just said
That I was crazy, I’d end up dead.
He wouldn’t come.
I left, instead.
And he stayed home to play.
In my third year in Germany
I heard they’d drafted him.
Oh shit, I said. You should have
Come with me, my brother
He’d laugh, I knew, and toss his head
And tell me he’d had all the girls
While I was alone in bed.
How can it be so many years?
I’m silver gray these days.
And he’s still young in memory
His freckled nose and forelock’s fall
Are all that’s left of him today.
Chris’s name is on the Wall.
To Robert Sinclair, name on the Wall, and the only African-American male classmate of mine from high school. I’m so sorry you never made it back home. I did. But as a Vietnam Era Navy veteran, I did my job so others could do theirs. So I’m an accomplice to the murder of some three million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians, mostly women and children. Like others serving then, I thought my service was justified if my beloved country could be again at peace. For every veteran, the sense of betrayal comes with the next war, or the one after that. It has something to do with so many veterans young and old committing suicide. Veterans For Peace has saved me to be sober and make amends.
Truth has been the first casualty in Vietnam and our every other war since. War is a lie, and we’ve become addicted to it. I have an email from Colonel Gregory Daddis, then-faculty department head at West Point. He agreed with my theory, that the defense industry won’t let peace break out and stick them with a trillion dollars in unsold inventory on their shelves.
I’m on Facebook today with almost a hundred former members of 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment, First Marine Division, which has had 14 to 25 suicides among active and former members, since tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unit is now again deploying to fight ISIS. How many more will bring their war home and die from it here?
The “2/7” Marines are probably the canary in the coal mine. Endless, winless wars will destroy our military on the installment plan, and who will defend us then? We veterans left alive are less than 10% of the population. We need our civilians to read the truth about war from us, and help us end war before it ends us.
Roland Van Deusen
MAY ALL THESE SOULS BE ‘OF BLESSED MEMORY’ ETERNALLY _/|\_
Dear Mr. Rawlings,
I was recently loaned a copy of a 1994 book by Jonathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D titled, Achilles in Vietnam.
Amazingly well thought out and presented.
I can hardly believe the Bush/Cheney Administration claims that PTSD was not well understood when they put so many more of our military into it unnecessarily. Even if we really did need to go into the Middle East – much of the 21st Century PTSD could have been prevented by understanding the role that leadership (via the betrayal of “what’s right” ) plays in its development and persistence.
Thank you for what you are doing for Memorial Day – with the letters.
I will be displaying the RRug in Portland, OR.
THE BLACK WALL 1986
Written by Sue Chase, August 26, 1997 (copyright 1997, Batesville, VA)
I witnessed this when I visited the Vietnam Memorial in 1986.
I wrote it as a song, but just the words are here as a poem.
As I walk out this morning to see the long black wall
Built four years ago and now I seem to hear it call
“Come touch my massive form, my endless names in endless rows”
I quietly approach and think that I am all alone.
Chorus: (But) Two stand by the dark and silent wall
One is weeping softly, the other stands stiff and tall
Nineteen years ago today, the age he died back then
And now each time his name is here to touch
Each time they come his name is here to touch.
“Excuse me, sir and madam”, I hear a voice nearby
“May I speak with you, I know this is a private time
Is it your son, how old was he and sir, how do you feel
About the war and your son’s part, what can you reveal?”
I see the man who stands so straight, address the microphone
“We’re proud he died to save our land, he did what he was told”
While he holds forth the woman weeps, so close yet worlds apart
Two different ways to love their son, one broken and one hidden heart.
One broken and one hidden heart.
To Doug Rawlings, Veterans For Peace, Maine, USA May 4, 2016.
One kid’s response to Nam.
Dear Doug and Families of Nam,
The sadness of human growth is a deep part of my reflection during the Nam years, even as now. From the military during Korea, I switched career paths from CIA and diplomacy/Georgetown or AU to Andover Theological School to better pursue my early childhood dream of fostering peace. By Nam I was able to be alert enough that our own three sons and many from our Church took heed of what the Quakers in Boston were teaching about negative-registering for the draft. One of my youth group leaders became a CO. Throughout my ministry I accepted shorter pastorates due to my views on race and war and the environment, as I, with excellent scholarship and education guiding me, often pointed to what was called “the social gospel”. That is, our job is to grow up to peace and DO IT. Parishioners would refuse to receive me or “talk it over.” It often meant one more move for our dear family, and I must admit to being pretty much a “stuck in the mud, home happy, trail happy, greenery happy, good water happy” New Englander, despite my family history of “South Africa,” “Lebanon,” “the Levant,” “Chicago,” “San Francisco,” “Plymouth migrants” et al. Even so, I was not intelligent enough or learned enough to be more influential against what IKE had termed the ”military industrial complex” and now is known as the “military industrial congressional complex” and probably should be known as the “military industrial war profiteers congressional pentagon public ignorance complex.” I have sought every way possible within the socio-economic reactionary frames of the churches to oppose war. What I have done as the many before me, as the one Congressman who voted against WWII, the American Field Service of WWI, and the many such as Saint Francis of Assisi and Brother Martin et al, is not enough. That is what gives me grief right now as I consider those who have lived valiantly and died or been maimed as human fodder before the corporate war machine. As one in my ninth decade, I pray to have the strength that Louise and I may have the strength to change the paradigm, change the empowering human story as from destructive competition to creative competition and obvious cooperation, change the story that empowers people from depreciation toward appreciation of our planet and its life. Even as I felt pledged as a young child, through being close to my Church and faith and other faith groups as well as my dear family who had all served in the military and who lived lives in opposition to warfare, I continue to pledge to be and do whatever I can to be effective in what I term from my religious background and leaning as God’s call to every human being to grow this world beyond war and the destructiveness of violent response.
My tears remain for you as families as they do for my own slowness to respond and oft ineptness in response. They are good tears and from them I feel each day a bit more empowered to speak and act for peace, which we all needs must do. May God bless you even as I feel empowered, forgiven and blessed forward and backward both, toward God’s goal of a dynamic, loving, caring, responsive world choosing not the easy way of conflict and war and ignorance and avoidance and denial, but doing the hard work and knowing the blessed creative and active rest of peace.
Our love, David P. Ransom, Waterville, Vermont 05492
War Is Slavery
It was January of 2003, late at night, and I was home alone. I turned on the TV. The movie “Platoon” was on. I had never watched any violent shows nor read anything about war or Viet Nam since I left there in March of 1971. Now, all these years later, I figured it was time and I could handle it. The scene was a U.S. patrol entering a village. I saw the kids with their big dark eyes, skinny bodies and ragged clothes – and it all came back, like a lightening bolt. The sights, the sounds, the smells. I was stunned. I turned off the TV and sat in the darkened room.
The next day the internet became my soul-mate. Unstructured for the first few months, I consumed a world of information. At 57 years of age with an MBA, it seemed like I should have known these things. But I was almost totally ignorant. Information on war, peace, politics, world affairs, religion, organizations, books, magazines, videos, DVDs, radio and TV shows – and the list grew with each passing day. I needed structure. I finally formulated two questions: why war? and why do we so proudly send our children to kill other children?
These two questions burned my brain. Howard Zinn helped with his book on US history – “The Peoples History of the United States”. Marine Major General Smedley Butler helped with his booklet on war – “War is a Racket”. Many other authors and people and programs moved me along the path.
I concluded that the main causes of war are money and markets. There is always plenty of flag waving and bluster about the “evil ones”, but every war I’ve studied, once you begin peeling back the layers, has the same core.
Why do we send our kids to kill? Because that’s how we raise them. Sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, but there is an ever present message that violence is the solution to conflict. Go into any park in any town and you’ll probably see a military statue or a canon. Veterans’ memorials are everywhere. Parades are lead by weapons carrying veterans and the military. The military carries the flag into sporting events. Military ads are ubiquitous. POW-MIA flags fly from Post Offices and other buildings. Highways are named after wars, war veterans, and generals. Battleships are named after Presidents. We have civil war re-enactments. Our language is violent – “ I could just kill my kids”, “bullet points”, and sports announcers inject “kill”, “beat”, “destroyed” into their descriptions. The more overt influences are easy to notice once you become aware – video games, weapon toys, paintball parks. They are there. Everyday. All of these, the subtle and the overt, lower the barrier to hurting others.
I’ve tried to summarize my findings into short, snappy slogans to get people to think. I used to say, “war is failure”. But war is only failure for one side. For the other side, war is the best business in the world. High profits, little competition, products rapidly used, price is seldom questioned. Weapons are the number one export product of the USA. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the death and destruction industry. Thousands also spend their lives teaching at war colleges and military schools and in JROTC and Cadet programs. Other thousands plan wars and “covert actions”. Mercenary companies and contractors are ubiquitous. They are involved in every U.S. conflict and sometimes outnumber the military.
Thus I needed a new slogan, a new summary of my research. I found it in an unusual location. As I walked through the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati I began to feel what slavery was/is. It felt vaguely familiar. The oppression, the hatred, the total dominance, the violence, the tearing apart of families are part of slavery, but there is also the “other side”. On the other side are the money and the righteous – the people who were not only comfortable with slavery, but promoted it. The preachers, the politicians, the teachers, the business people, the pillars of society said slavery was not only necessary, it was the only way the country could survive. The slaves weren’t people. They weren’t human. It was OK to torture them and shoot them and hang them. It was OK to use dogs on them and beat them. They didn’t have a brain. The Golden Rule didn’t apply to them. I realized that slaves have much in common with those we label as the “enemy”, or “terrorists”.
Slavery will never be forgotten on the one side. The scars are deep, bone deep, generations deep. Like war. On the other side the masters and their families and the foreman and slave traders and the bankers and the pillars of society and all those who supported and profited from slavery didn’t have bad memories. They didn’t have losses. There was nothing for them to forget.
As I thought about slavery over the next months I began to realize that slavery and war are very similar. The one side (the civilians and the lower ranks of the military on both sides) suffers. The other side says war is the only way the country can survive. War is slavery. I’m an abolitionist.
(Army, infantry in the U.S. war against the people of Viet Nam)
With their backs board straight,
and their hand to their head,
the draped box passes by.
With their uniforms crisp,
and their eyes steely fixed,
the draped box passes by.
Gone are the “who-yahs” and the high fives
and the beers, and the babes and the bitchin’.
As the draped box passes by.
“Kill the bastards – THEY killed ours.”
“THEY’re all bad.”
“We go there to help them. For freedom! Democracy!”
“We serve our country!”
“It’s NOT about money or markets or oil!
We’re defending our freedom and our soil!”
“There’s no other way! Sometimes we must!
Send in the few . . . the proud . . . . . the . . . “
the young? . . . . the pawns?
The Draped box passes by.
“THEY can’t speak our language.
THEY don’t know our customs.
THEY are HEINIES, and JAPS, and CHINKS,
and GOOKS, and HAJJIS, and RAG HEADS.
(and before that . . . THEY were SAVAGES)
They’re evil. They’re terrorists!”
They are “THEM”. They are “THOSE”. They are “THEY”.
So it’s OK – – – – to kill them.
There’s no other way,
That’s what the box makers say.
We have courts – but not for “THEM”.
We don’t torture people – but “THEY” are not.
We are CIVIL – with our approved assassination lists,
We are HUMANE with our surgical drone strikes.
“THEY” are not.
We have our flag. We sing our songs.
We love our country. “U-S-A U-S-A
We’re # 1. We’re # 1!”
“THEY” are not.
Don’t bother your beautiful brain.
Don’t think . . . . avoid the pain.
As the draped box passes by.
Who makes the box in which soldiers lay?
This well crafted box for the remains to stay.
Is it more than a box to carry the dead?
Is the box mental and fixed in our head,
By those who profit from wars and destruction
Because they know we’ll follow instruction?
Some of the box makers are out in the light,
They’re proud of the fact they cause us to fight.
But most of the makers work in the stealth,
Applying their trade and amassing huge wealth.
From Presidents to talking heads and others less known –
– – Create fear . . . , make a box . . . , keep the masses alone – – .
“We know what we’re doing, we’ll save the day,”
“Stay in the box and just do as . . . WE say.”
The boxes are made as they always have been,
By those with the power to develop the spin.
Their words are repeated – –
Down is up . . . up is down
Killing is good . . . they are not
Down is up . . . up is down
Soon the box closes . . . without a sound.
Violence and power are global pollution.
Dialogue and education are the solution.
Talk to those you know . . . and to the “THEY”.
(very slowly) Read and share . . . . and show the way . . . . . . .
With their backs board straight,
and their hands to their heads . . . . . .
With their uniforms crisp,
and their eyes steely fixed . . . . . ,
Gone are the “who-yahs” and the high fives,
What’s left are the whys . . . . ,
As the draped box passes by.
To my brothers and sisters remembered here:
My heart breaks whenever I remember that awful war, the American War, that took you from us. I was not in Vietnam as I served my enlistment in the US Army before the tragedy in Southeast Asia began in earnest in 1964. I am very fortunate that due to circumstances of age and economics I was already a veteran and was not called to serve, but, strange as it may seem, especially when I am actively protesting US military adventurism, I feel guilty about not having been there with you.
I visited the wall in 1992 with my family and I still remember clearly how my breath was taken away when I first came upon that beautiful, black edifice, so majestic in its simplicity. It seemed so fitting for what it represents. I was deeply moved as I approached and I remember weeping quietly as I mourned you and the countless others who were sacrificed to our country’s hubris and warped view of the world.
Sadly we have not learned much in the decades since that terrible action, but I can only hope that maybe, even before I depart this earth, we finally do learn the lessons of Vietnam and all the conflicts since, and realize that peace, not war, is our only option if we are to be a successful species. If we can get there, then finally you and all who gave their lives before and since, can finally really rest in peace.
You live in my heart, always,
US Army, 1960-1963
Well big brother, I know you will forgive me for calling you Bobby. I’m sure you would prefer Bob or “Arnie” but Bobby is how I remember you. I sent “The Elephant Smiled” to our close friend Bonnie in Texas last week. She loved it. Actually, through the miracle of genealogy, we are blood. Cousins, just like Lew from Alpha North is our 8th cousin. Tomorrow a copy of “The Elephant Smiled” goes to your best friend, Harold. I can see you riding with him in his new red corvette. Who would ever have thought 50 years ago that a book would be dedicated to you and the other 6 who died at Alpha North? Who would have thought that I would find so many of your fellow Marines who fought the battle that took your life and that we would all get together for reunions ? I’m so grateful to Scott for bringing the team from the University of Florida at Gainesville to our first reunion in 2012. That allowed the Marines to share their stories of the battle for Alpha North. Much of what happened is forever archived at the University and also The Library of Congress. You know that I have the rest written down to be shared with our family. I have also included the narrative I wrote about Alpha North for our 50 year commemorative reunion in DC this year. It is directly under this letter to you. It may or may not be added to this letter that I am writing to you. I do hope it will be though.
I’m still looking for John William Bell. Sadly, I learned of the deaths of Ron Smeberg, Nickie Owens, David Alberson and Grant Baldwin. Guess you knew about them long before me. You know how my entire life I was haunted by these names and my intense need to know about them and all that happened the night you were killed. With the exception of Bell, I learned the fates of your friends. You also know why I went into the Veteran’s Administration to work as a psychiatric registered nurse. Chills came over me in the early 80s because I had a vision of things to come and it was then I knew there was something big coming, just did not realize how big or how long it would take to materialize.
I’m confident that you enjoyed the picture of Jay and George at the “Wall.” When we laid the wreath, I didn’t cry. I do plenty of that when I’m by myself. Whenever I feel sad or hesitant to do something, I think of you and the courage you had during your short time in Vietnam. I think of the many stories of your bravery shared by your buddies. I can’t say that any of those stories surprised me. From the time we were kids, I knew your courage would serve you well when life challenged you. Even at the end, you gave your life for your friends, not for support of the war. While functioning as a “grunt” shortly after arriving for Operation Double Eagle, I remember the letter you sent us when you said, “ I don’t understand why the U.S. gets involved in wars they do not belong in.” You were right then Bobby, and you are right now. The whole world finally understands that war was a mistake.
I think you, mom and dad were finally able to reunite our sister and me. What a surprise! You knew about her once you crossed over but there had to come a time when Sandy and I were meant to know that each of us existed as full biological sisters. I know you watch over her and her entire family and of course me too. I have felt you around me so many times. So….. Bobby…….eternal peace and love my dear big brother. Can’t wait to see you again when I join you in spirit.
Forever your little sister,
In the spring of 1966, Battery A, 1st Bn, 11th Marines remained attached to the 1st Bn, 12th Marines, designated as Alpha North. The 105 artillery battery was located 30 kilometers northwest of Da Nang. During the early morning hours of April 18, under cover of a dark moon, “an estimated main force” of North Vietnamese sappers attacked the position. The intent of the enemy was to destroy the six 105 howitzers and kill as many Marines as possible. The revenge mission was retribution for the heavy casualties inflicted upon the Viet Cong by Alpha North during Operation Harvest Moon. Hanoi Hannah taunted on the radio that the Marines would feel the vengeance of North Vietnam. For months the enemy combatants trained on a battery mock-up which they built in the nearby hills, only discovered by an investigative patrol after the attack.
The outposts and gun line were hit hard as the sappers penetrated the position through a drainage ditch and heavy foliage. Five Marines were killed and 28 were wounded as gun two was destroyed and gun one was crippled. Official documents vary on how many attackers were killed. Never completely determined, two estimates were between 15 and 40 dead. The actual count may have been higher. It was the practice of the enemy to drag away their dead and wounded as they rapidly withdrew from a battle ground. The North Vietnamese greatly underestimated the fighting ability of the fierce young Marines they encountered as they attacked the guns and outposts of Alpha North. There would be no second opportunity for them to seek revenge and decimate the battery.
The five Marines killed at Alpha North on April 18, 1966 were PFC Robert Dwain “Arnie” Arnold, LCpl Danny Arnold Bolin, LCpl Frederick “Fred” Homeyer, PFC Ralph Richard “Junior” Lind and PFC William Terry “Jake” Main.
Eighteen year old PFC Robert Dwain Arnold nicknamed “Arnie” felt fortunate that his asthma did not prevent him from serving in the Corps. He was an outdoorsman and avid reader, with a strong focus on military history. He dreamed of a future life in journalism, possibly as an outdoor writer. Good friend Jay Booher met him on Okinawa. Their friendship lasted through Operation Double Eagle 1 & 2, Bravo 1/12 and finally Alpha North. Jay would honor his fellow cannoneers, Arnie and Fred Homeyer with a memorial stone in his home state of Oregon. Another Marine who remembered Arnie fondly was Ace Cardenas. Born on the same month and day, Ace good- naturedly would tease his new friend about his baby face and generally young looks. On April 18th, as the battle raged, George Wirtz found Arnie where he fell, guarding and comforting him until his last breath.
L/Cpl Danny Arnold Bolin 19, loved sports. He participated in high school football, basketball and track. In July, 1965 he married his high school sweetheart, Rhonda. Of the 5 KIAs from Alpha North, Danny was with the battery the longest. Well liked and respected by all members of the group, he would help out on gun # 1. He enjoyed his battery armorer MOS but also wanted to learn the job of cannoneer. Gun 1 crew chief, Ray Glynn took this opportunity to allow Danny two hours a day on the 105 howitzer as gunner/assistant gunner as long as he would pull outpost watch whenever possible. The battery was short of help and Danny played a significant role in relieving his tired fellow crewmen. The outpost forward of gun # 1 was his assignment on April 18th with Martin Vigil, Jake Main and one other Marine. He was killed instantly as the enemy moved on the outpost.
L/Cpl Frederick “Fred” Homeyer 21, was affectionately known as “Freddie” by his mom, close friend and fellow Marine, Al Maglietto. He was on his second tour in Vietnam when he lost his life. In his teen years, fishing and high school sports were his interests. Assigned to gun # 2, there is a picture of Fred at Alpha North taken by Jay Booher. Ray Glynn remembered Fred being assigned to gun # 1 for a short while. Always interested in the current events, he would repeatedly ask for “scoopies” from Ray. At the time, the same question over and over annoyed Ray but now he states, “how I would love to hear him ask me that again.” He died instantly near gun # 2 as the area was in heavy explosions. His last words to friend Al Maglietto as Al dropped him off at Pendleton in ‘66 were “Semper Fi Teufel Hunden.” Two months later he was gone.
Nineteen year old PFC William Terry “Jake” Main had a very close relationship with his sister, Marilyn. Niece, Lori Fennewald, described her uncle as a “jokester who was charming, smart and loyal.” Assigned to gun # 1, Ray Glynn remembered the young Marine as a good worker with the ability of using humor to defuse an argument. Scott Camil stated Jake was his first friend in the battery, forming an instant bond with him when he learned they were both from Florida. As stated previously, Jake was on watch with his three Marine buddies on the outpost forward of gun # 1 as the enemy creeped in. When the battle ended and as the sun rose, Scott felt the loss of his new friend. He looked at his face for the last time and said a quiet, sorrowful good-bye. Upon his return to the states, Scott reached out to the Main family.
Nicknamed “Junior” by his family and friends, PFC Ralph Richard Lind 20, arrived in Vietnam in November of 1965. Before transferring to artillery, he had been in a mortar battery. Back in the states, Ralph enjoyed fishing with his dad and had recently proposed to his steady girlfriend from high school, Linda. He was described by his family as “witty, kind, just the nicest guy you ever met.” During the attack on Alpha North, Ralph was fatally wounded as he ran from his tent to assist his fellow Marines. Corpsman “Doc” Hodgson attended his wounds until the chopper arrived for medical transport. Ralph’s sister-in-law, Diane Lind has a family poem that was written for Ralph’s parents. Three pages long, three lines from the poem were shared: “Yesterdays-Tomorrows, dedicated to mom and dad: Dad looked at mom, then mom looked at dad. They laughed and they loved and guess what they had? ‘Junior’ now a memory of years that are past but the love for him will always last.”
In addition to the 5 Marines killed on April 18th, two forward observers from Alpha North lost their lives in an amtrac accident on November 22, 1965. They were nineteen year olds, PFC Michael August Beringer and PFC John Drew Campbell. Their disabled amtrac was being towed on the Cau Do river near the Nam O bridge when the tow line broke and the amphibious vehicle drifted helplessly in the dangerous current, finally sinking into the turbulent water. Three men were observed swimming in the strong current. A rescue team was sent but arrived too late to save them. The bodies of Mike Beringer and John Campbell were found by Vietnamese fishermen and carried to shore the next day. The other 7 deceased Marines were found in December, 6 were inside the sunken amtrac.
John Campbell was a powerful, gifted swimmer. Many theorized that John was able to swim out of the amtrac, possibly assisting Mike and Richard Wick as he exited, but the deadly, swift current and tumultuous swells could not be overcome.
Several Alpha North Marines remember John and Mike very well. Jerry Fankhouser went with John on liberty many times, describing him as being a very giving person with a great sense of humor. John continues to enter his dreams at night. When Wayne Martin heard the tragic news of the deaths of Mike and John from his 1st sergeant, he felt certain either of them, given the opportunity, would have tried to save the other. Jack Huelskamp was on the same forward observer team with the drowned Marines. Quotes from Jack, “Yes, I knew them well. Formed our FO team at Camp Pendleton just prior to embarking for Vietnam. Had liberty calls in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Australia. Chipped paint on the USS Lenawee for days at a time with the guys. Spent some star-filled nights sharing thoughts about our futures and such. John was a Christian. Mike was always smiling, very easy going.” Denny Forsyth occasionally swam with John at the base pool. He shared that “John practiced diving and swam like a fish.” He remembered that Mike’s nickname was “Wadena” since he was from the Wadena, Minnesota area. Hayward Paul also has great memories of the two Marines. As a new F0, he served with the guys in 1965 during Operation Silver Lance.
Mike came from a large family and John a smaller one, being adopted by a loving couple who taught him important values. Alyce Campbell Crownover Keesee, married daughter of the Campbell’s was very pleased to welcome her little brother to the family. Gail Anderson and Christine Riebold heard many remarkable stories about their cousin. As shared previously, Gail said he was kind, generous, athletic, and very popular. His strong beliefs kept him focused, allowing him to help several individuals in his short time on this earth.
The 7 Alpha North Marines who died in Vietnam will never be forgotten. “Long Time Passing” as we think back 50 years. Some speak of finding CLOSURE as we honor members of our fallen family. Maybe it is more fitting to say that we found some PEACE as we discovered and shared the truth of what happened at Alpha North.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE Jay Wenk
Gregory, nicknamed Raj,
from Bangor, Maine,
a vet of Iraq,
hooked up a vacuum cleaner hose
to his car’s exhaust.
These are today’s dead veterans.
There were others yesterday.
Living alone in a fifth floor walkup
on East 111th Street in New York,
Antoine raised and flew pigeons
from his rooftop chicken wire and slatted frame cage.
As he plunged into the backyard,
he took out several clotheslines.
There was Irv, Helen, George, Harold
Rennie and Harry.
Harold was gay, was called Roxy
among his friends, and he used a knife.
Frenchy never made it to the Post Office.
That’s where he told his wife he was going.
He drove head-on into the side of
a concrete bridge abutment
on Route 66 in Arizona, at 120 MPH.
It was a clear, bright morning.
A Lieutenant Carbonaro took his ’45 along
on a hunting trip upstate in North Dakota.
The medic who used to shoot up prisoners with
morphine, Carlos, saved up enough for himself.
He injected it while on leave, in Germany.
Angel, a guard at
our prison camp in the desert,
was a huge, smiling man, very friendly.
After discharge, he got a job as a warder
in a State prison near Biloxi.
He hung himself in his secondhand RV,
parked in a shady cottonwood grove.
There was Rudy, James and Eduardo,
living in ghetto flops in several different cities.
They combined booze and pills.
Reuben’s father was an Air Force officer,
so Reuben was born into it.
Everyone called him “Hey, Rube”.
When off duty from guiding armed Drones,
he loved to go up with the Paratroops.
On a flight yesterday,
he pushed his way past the jump master.
There was Bennie, Vera, Eli and Chris.
Chris was trained to defuse mines. Last evening,
on patrol, he jumped on one in plain sight.
The taxi driver who took Vera to
Chicago’s railroad yards reported that
she was drunk.
During the night, Juan, in Nevada, and
Eugene, in Colorado, both walked out
into their respective deserts,
stripped, in spite of bitter cold,
lay down, cut their wrists, and died,
looking up at the full moon.
There’ll be 22 more tomorrow.
My only direct knowledge of the war comes from growing up among its veterans – such as yourself. So, I cannot provide the kind of personal account that many of the people writing these letters will offer. I have, however, become an academic specialist in international relations, and I teach a class in a British university titled The US in Vietnam. This class attracts students from throughout the university and throughout the world. The fact that so many young people in 2016 recognise that this cataclysm which took place two generations ago should be learned from and commemorated is, to me at least, as small reason for hope.
Memorial Day 2016,
To our Brothers and Sisters on the Wall,
I am a Vietnam-era Veteran, USN 1961-15; served active duty onboard a very old submarine, the USS Grouper AGSS-214, from October 1963-65. I had joined the Navy as an obligation to my country, which I truly loved and believed in, and had great camaraderie with shipmates.
In late 1964, following the “Tonkin Gulf Incident”, which was fabricated to provide the basis for escalation of U.S. involvement in open warfare against North Vietnam, there was a request for volunteers to serve there. Many of us young sailors tried to volunteer, as we believed the lies that our Navy comrades had been attacked for no reason, and wanted to support them. We were told that submariners were not being accepted for service in Vietnam at that time, due to our extensive specialized training. However, I remained concerned about the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam, and learned all I could about developments there.
After leaving active duty service in October 1965, I returned to pursuit of college studies at night, and continued interest in developments in Vietnam, reading everything I could find about the escalating war, in which many friends and comrades had now become involved. Upon learning the truth about the lies that led to the war, I became active in the peace movement, and joined antiwar demonstrations and organizations, including Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW).
I have been active in the Veterans Peace Movement since that time, currently as an officer in my local chapter of Veterans For Peace, doing as much as I can to educate the public about the true costs of war, as a necessary counter to the wars which are so often started by lies. Many of us Veterans continue to serve the cause of peace.
The unnecessary illegal American War in Vietnam was a shameful time in our nation’s history, resulting in three million Vietnamese deaths, over half of whom were civilians. The war has left a great feeling of shame for my country’s behavior, which continues to this day. I often find it necessary to explain to my 6 grand-children why I can never “salute” the American flag or sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at the numerous school events that we attend.
No More War!
May 3, 2016
In these United States our government and many citizens seem to believe that our intervention in the politics of other countries is best for the world. And yet, the history of many U.S. interventions is, at best, a difficult one to read and understand.
As various as those interventions have been, there is one factor that links each one to the others; our citizens have been sacrificed to whatever the cause may have been. Do we know or understand what that cause was?
My memories of Vietnam begin at the time that I heard of “military advisors” being sent into that country. I was young, not yet in secondary school, but I wanted to know more. My Dad was a veteran of World War II and I wondered what I was about to witness.
I learned. I witnessed and I still witness today the deaths, mental and physical damages of what became the Vietnam war. Some of my high school buddies were just memories before I even had a chance to graduate; many of my friends today carry scars from their time there.
I could not be drafted because of my physical disability and yet, many who were drafted came home with disabilities that were worse than mine and some couldn’t come home at all.
I didn’t go to the Vietnam War. But the Vietnam War came to me. I was drafted but refused to go. Instead, I went to Canada. I only lived there for only a year or so due to a fluke postponement of the draft call, which meant, in those lottery years, that I got off the hook without a warrant being issued for my arrest.
But the war changed my life. It brought me to the stark realization that we all had been lied to in our schools and churches about what country we were living in. We were not the good guys defending freedom around the world. We were the aggressors wreaking massive death and destruction, with an imperial vengeance.
I could see the casualties every night on TV and in the disruption happening in our streets. I could feel the pain of those on both sides in Vietnam and suffered an intense moral crisis that came with my conviction that I could not be any part of this war. This was a big awakening for a working class kid whose father worked for the army for 30 years and who actually had been offered an appointment to the Naval Academy from his U.S. Senator. I went from being a contender to being an outlaw.
I dropped out of college in my senior year because I could no longer concentrate on the studies that were leading me to join the ranks of the powerful. I spent some time in a monastery in New Mexico trying to understand my own spiritual truth. Then I sent my draft cards back to the draft board and hitchhiked with my backpack to Montreal, then to Toronto, a refugee of sorts, looking for asylum.
It was 1971. I was 22, alone, poor, and homeless in a foreign country, struggling to come to terms with the reality that I could be in exile from my country for the rest of my life. And with even more clarity, being outside the U.S., I could see the evil of my country’s ways. And not just in the war itself, but in the racism, classism, and militarism that was so endemic to our culture. It was a deep disillusionment.
When it turned out that I was out of the draft, I returned to the U.S., but with a different view of myself and my identity vis-à-vis my country. Although I still bore the privilege of being white and male, I was now alienated from my “homeland.” In my head and heart, I was now a resister to the dominant mainstream culture. I spent years smoking dope and avoiding any upward social or economic mobility.
Throughout the rest of my life, I have continued to feel like a man opposed to his own country. On the one hand, it has motivated me to join with others in the struggle for peace and justice. And on the other hand, the sense of alienation remains and I carry an abiding sense of sadness about the way things are.
In my later years, I have found common ground with many veterans from the Vietnam War who belong to the organization Veterans for Peace (VFP). These are men and women who carry the heavy burden of having been in war and who have learned the hard way that there is no such thing as a good war. They have unseen scars from their experiences. I also have scars from that war, though not comparable.
Once a VFP man asked me what branch of the armed forces I had been in and I told him, somewhat sheepishly, that I had not been in the armed forces, that I was not in fact a veteran. He smiled and assured me that we all were veterans of the war, all damaged in one way or the other. I could feel the truth of that and felt grateful for the understanding from a fellow refugee.
May 2, 2016
for Maya Lin
Black mirror cut into the green, from a distance seems a scar,
but closer, the crook of an arm to cradle the head,
it draws us in, embraces. A place of whispers, and tourists
wander confused, are hesitant to photograph, seeing themselves
reflected so. How are we to be, they seem to ask, and what is this?
The young ask especially, threatened by this invitation to grieve,
this knowledge of how things become one in the end, or how
this labial gesture of stone draws the surrounding monuments
into contention, shames them with the suggestion that we are not stone,
but reflections of earth, before and behind these names.
I move my finger down the index, find the name of the first man
I could not help, and for a moment, the tree splintering
in front of me, smell of blood and cordite, his lips turning blue,
the gasp of a lung filling with blood. I select more names
in order of their passing, find their places on the wall.
All along the base dried flowers scatter, some have left letters
to the dead, some medals. A young girl, too young to know this war,
sobs nonetheless, so precise are these fifty-eight thousand facts,
but we who fought there never imagined we would return to such a world,
to such a monument, numb, we did not yet imagine that for us the war
had just begun, that for years we would be picking through the shards,
the war pursuing us everywhere, our dreams, our lives with women,
chasing us from hiding place to hiding place, would wait at the edge
of whatever anesthesia’s groundfog, would wait, would wait until
we looked it in the eye. My face reflected, I watch the wall’s
perspective vector into earth and wonder, how long a wall,
if we inscribe three million Vietnamese, four million Cambodians,
how long a wall? And after Hiroshima and the Holocaust how if an
Asian woman turns a mirror of black granite, gazing stone of possibility,
womb of Kali, and not least, the night we wander in becoming whole.
— Doug Anderson from THE MOON REFLECTED FIRE
2nd Letter to the Wall
The Wall is hard for me. I am not a military veteran: I was an opponent of the war for which those memorialized sacrificed their lives. I cannot think about the wall without remembering those millions of Southeast Asian deaths not memorialized. Some of those memorialized in the wall did horrible things in the war. I also understand that these victims of the war served out of honorable motivations of patriotism, who confronted an enemy of whom they had no real sense. Enemy soldiers were also patriots.
The Wall is America’s official memory of the war. It is not celebratory and its somber tone implies that war may not be as glorious as other parts of the culture suggest. So I hope that the Wall might serve as a good possible starting point for an honest commemoration since it allows for new generations to connect to what is now receding into historical memory. The great historian Hobsbaum writes somewhere about the movement from the memory of those still living into the recesses beyond it; from family lore and journalism to history. We are on that cusp.
So how can we build on what the Wall evokes. The proponents of the war promoted it as a noble fight for freedom, appealing to traditional American notions of idealism. It became a war in defense of a corrupt puppet government, led to a military strategy of “kill anything that moves”; and ended up sacrificing 58,000+ Americans and perhaps 3 million Southeast Asians; cost billions in national treasure, and deeply dividing the nation. As a 60s youth, I experienced that same transition. The obvious lesson (for me) was to not repeat this kind of monumental mistake.
For the militarists and the imperialists, this was disparaged as the “Vietnam syndrome” to be overcome as soon as possible. And they have succeeded. War has been normalized, torture legitimized, even celebrated, and peoples in other nations demonized. The military option is more and more the default option on all sides to resolve conflict and civilians are now routinely targeted or collateralized.
So for Americans at large, and especially our rulers, the opportunity for sober learning offered by the American experience in Southeast Asia has been consigned to the dustbin of history in favor of a so-called realism that so far has only spread the chaos and deepened the conflicts. The narrow logic of war has triumphed as each inhumane debacle leads to increasing polarization, bad blood and the seeming necessity of further escalation. What can upset this poisonous apple cart, which runs in dizzying circles digging us deeper into our ruts?
It remains for us the living to do our best to expand the circles of honest memory to truly honor the victims-which include the survivors who still bear the war’s consequences. This is not so much about who was right back then (or now); but to move beyond the follies and disasters of imperial war to imagine peace, what Viet Thanh Nguyen calls “a realism of the impossible”. Let’s begin at the Wall and move on out from there.
Brushes With ‘Nam
by Rick Dale
My draft number was over 200
Thought I’d never forget the exact number
but it was winding down and the danger was low anyway
So college it was
Jim was tall
Scraggly beard and googly eyes
Drank Jim Beam by the gallon
Said he picked up the habit “in country”
A chopper door gunner
One of the ones who survived
Didn’t survive college though
helped me see how
we treated returning vets
Read Tunnels of Cu Chi
Thought about enlisting
at 32 years old
Guilt over the narrow miss
Friends talked me out of it
Otherwise I’d probably be pieces in Iraq
Taught high school
Students with learning disabilities
History class was torture for them
until I bought a picture history
of the Vietnam War
Read it to them
Talked about it
They actually wanted
to take the chapter tests I wrote
Robert’s got one foot planted in the bar
and one at the VA hospital
Self-medicates with weed
Says the stuff they prescribe
for PTSD makes him worse
Marines are crazy to begin with
The jungle just made him crazier
Estranged from all his family
Even his children
I won’t join them
Don’s got a heart of gold
Melts when his grand-daughter says “Cappy”
Booze to forget
Downers so he doesn’t
kill someone at work
He calls them “happy pills”
I’ve seen happy
and that’s not it
Crystal’s husband died of a brain tumor
His memory haunts our relationship
I don’t even know what he did in ‘Nam
but I know he got exposed to the orange monster
and despite my own escape
nevertheless I’m just another victim
40 years later and 8,800 miles away
They lie to get us into a war
and then they lie about it being over
It’s never over
May 1, 2016,
In 1968 I was a junior in college. I was opposed to the US war in Vietnam and I as equally opposed to the II-S Deferment which allowed college students to avoid the draft. If a country’s young people need to kill and die to preserve and protect the country and its Constitution, why should the privileged be exempt? Isn’t that privilege both the opposite of democracy and the insidious curse which undermines it?
And the US war in Vietnam was wrong for so many reasons — a continuation of French colonialism, an intrusion into a country’s civil war, fundamentally racist, a wilful misreading of regional history, and based on lies told to the American people to promote it. The war was illegal and a moral abomination. It was a war of choice. It was a war of empire. It was a war in which the soldiers and civilians on both sides were objectified and diminished to be expended in a US geo-political shell game.
I felt I had to fully engage the moral crisis of this time — either I go to war or do everything in my power to stop it and help bring an end to the killing of Americans, Vietnamese, Cambodians & Laotians. I turned in my draft card with the expectation that I would be sent to jail. I was re-classified 1-A, and when I refused to sign the loyalty oath at my physical, I was classified 1-A delinquent. For reasons never made clear to me, I was never prosecuted. My assumption was that if enough sons and daughters of the middle and upper-middle classes went to prison to protest the war, enormous pressure would be brought to bear to end the war.
When I experience the The Wall now, my feelings are complex and overwhelming.
First there is the great sadness. All that suffering. Guilt. Shame. Heroism. Degradation. Anger. And the continuing legacy of Agent Orange plaguing the Vietnamese. I feel the same anger that I do about the Iraq War: A crime was committed. The Wall is the perpetual evidence of that crime. But the truth is never acknowledged; the US never holds itself accountable for this crime.
I was never opposed to US soldiers. They, like the Vietnamese, were victims of bankrupt policy. I was opposed to the people who sent them to do and suffer such physical and moral injury. Part of the shame I feel is that I did not do enough to end the war. Daniel Ellsberg and the Berrigan brothers are reminders of what more could have been done. Because of that personal failure, The Wall represents a part of me that died, too.
As long as the truth about the Vietnam War is not officially acknowledged, we can say in the words of T. S. Eliot, “We had the experience, but missed the meaning.” Without the meaning, our souls embrace an essential hypocrisy. Our schools fail to teach the young the truth. The Wall, at the least, continues to offer the possibility of redemption.
Last night I met a vibrant, funny, determined young man. As I watched his movie, listened to him answer questions and helped with his book signing I was at once awed by his courageous story of survival and healing …..and so overwhelmed by the atrocities of war! In 2012 Sergeant Travis Mills put his backpack on a land mine in Afghanistan and today is a quad amputee who has started a foundation to open a respite, resort camp in Maine for disabled vets and their families.
My friend teaches,Travis and Kristen’s 5 year old.! She hosted a sold out event and raised about $5,000 for the foundation. Travis’s message of hope and healing and family resonated so deeply with me, but I so just wanted him to tell us war just sucks and we as a nation and people can do better. We just don’t need any more names of dead soldiers on walls and Travis talked about how he was so lucky to survive because many of his friends are not at home with families and loved ones. He feels blessed and is so articulate, but I wanted to hug him and tell him or ask him why he felt a young, healthy man had to go to war,..what was the purpose? He loved the feeling of belonging to a unite and leading his men and being involved.! So why can’t we have an army of water and all the armies in the world fight the battle of fresh water until every person on earth has fresh water. Then just fill in the blanks…army of food, housing, disease.
Margy Burns Knight
I enlisted in the US Air Force in 1968 three months before graduating from high school. This was prior to the draft lottery. I was not planning on going to college so I knew I would be drafted shortly after graduation.
Following basic training and ten months of tech school in Texas I received orders for Wheeler Air Base, Oahu, Hawaii, a 36 months assignment. While serving in Hawaii I became involved in the GI anti- Vietnam War movement. In 1971 I attended an anti – Vietnam War demonstration at the front gates of Schoffield Barracks, Army Base, Wahiawa, Oahu. Within weeks following the demonstration my 36 months assignment was curtailed and I received orders for Thule Air Base, Greenland.
My participation in the GI Anti-Vietnam War movement and participation in a demonstration against the War are what I am most proud of in my 3 years, 11 months and 11 days in the military.
Michael F. Turek, US Air Force 1968-72
I, Sheridan Peterson, a World War II Marine Corps vet, spent 7 years in Vietnam as a civilian throughout the war. As a refugee adviser for USAID/CORDS in the Mekong Delta at Phu Vinh, Vinh Binh and at Cao Lanh at the Sea of Reeds, I saw America at its worst. I went to Vietnam with the express purpose of writing a literary documentary of the war and wrote a 600 page manuscript. No reputable publisher wants to peruse it. Among so much else, I witness genocide frequently – napalm and white phosphorus drops on peaceful villagers, burning them to cinders. Carpet bombings, ordinary troops mutilating corpse and proudly passing the photos about. The horrors of the Phoenix Program, torture, dropping prisoners from helicopters. Hanging out at the Cheiu Hoi camps I saw the war through the eyes of the Viet Cong and NVA. I am 90 and wont be around much longer. I have Agent Orange poisoning and the VA refuses to compensate me because I was a civilian under the command of colonel, Province Senior Adviser. I am anxious to see this manuscript widely distributed before I die. It may simply disappear.
I wrote a letter to the Wall last year, and here is another. I hope to continue this until I am no longer able and as long as that wall exists as a reminder of the needless death and destruction wrought by the American War in Viet Nam.
Acts of heroism, compassion and bravery under fire, regardless of the side, are worthy of respect but the war itself from the U.S. side, a war of domination and empire waged on a people struggling to be free from exploitive colonial power, was not. Those who died or were wounded and the many, on all sides, who still suffer from that war, and all wars, what relief is there for them?
Perhaps the only relief will come, if ever, when this country, the U.S., which has been an example to the world in many ways – some good, most of them not, stops waging war, both military and economic, on the rest of the world. But we the living, have little time to wait for that to happen. In our short time left, let us put all our efforts into the quest for a peaceful world.
Maybe then, when the world is free of war, those whose names are inscribed here at the wall and the many, many others, who are not, can finally rest in peace.
U.S. Army Airborne 1959-62
Veterans For Peace
Board of Directors
May the millions of human beings who suffered death, disability, pain, imprisonment or the pain of separation as a result of the US War in Vietnam inspire us to work harder and think more clearly for peace and justice. May their suffering help us to root out the causes of war, the greatest scourge of humanity.
While we cannot undo their suffering, we can stop the suffering in today’s wars, and prevent the wars of tomorrow. For Vietnam we can only help heal the remaining wounds of past wars, but for Syria, now the bloodiest war on the planet, we can do better to end the conflict and bring peace and justice to that beleaguered nation. For all the current armed conflicts on earth and for all the hatred and xenophobia in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, may the remembrance of past suffering help us to find peaceful and just solutions to present conflicts.
Andrew S. Berman
US Army 1971-73
LETTER TO THE WALL
To all my sisters and brothers named on this Wall
To all who came back wounded in body and soul
To my son who returned from another American WAR
To everyone of the world affected by endless WAR
To Richard B. Clements, Panel 42W Line 54, of this Wall
May you all be at peace, find peace, rest in peace
I first visited here at the Wall in 2005. I looked up Richard B. Clements as I am Richard B. Clement (without the s). As a Vietnam Era Veteran this could have been me. Fortunately for me I only saw this war from a distance and did not join my brother in name on the Wall.
My first remembrance of Vietnam Vets came in the early 70’s when I was a wide eyed 11B infantry private stationed in Germany. Two Sergeants came into our Ordnance Company, fresh out of Vietnam. In dress uniforms. Overseas Service Bars/Combat Stripes on the right arm. Service Stripes on the left arm. Sergeant Stripes on both arms. Blue Infantry cord and tabs. CIB. Medals. A sight to behold for a young man coming from a small rural town in Maine!
As it was and is for many Nam Vets, this story does not end well. One Sergeant hoped to be a policeman when he got discharged. He was so laid back and mellow that he was essentially disengaged from reality. He did not get promoted. The other Sergeant immediately started drinking heavily and lost one stripe after another and soon “made” private. In a couple of short months he was shipped out of our Company. Assuredly both these men had PTSD which took years for the VA to recognize for the illness it is. It is my hope that these two men found ways to cope and overcome their war experiences and to find comfort and peace in their lives.
When I visited this hallowed Wall my eldest son was with me. From this sacred ground we walked to the “Iraq Veterans Wall”. A temporary Wall with names of war dead from yet another war had been set up. My son is an Iraq War Veteran.
My son found the name of a friend, a fellow Mainer, who had been killed in a mortar attack while they were stationed together in Taji, Iraq. The pain on my son’s face remembering a comrade killed in action was as heartbreaking as the pain on my face looking on. At least here I could hold him. As a parent, the year he was in the war zone of Iraq was the total year from HELL. The infrequent phone calls. The infrequent emails. The constant barrage of the war from the media. The constant dread of a government vehicle coming up the drive.
To all my brother and sisters who survived, WELCOME HOME. I hope you have found peace and comfort in your lives. To those who did not return, please know that many will never forget you and you live on in our thoughts and memories.
To all who have read this simple letter, know that war is unconscionable. From the Veterans perspective, from the fathers perspective, from the humanitarian perspective. May we find a way to end all wars before they end all of us.
In sadness but also in hope,
30 May 2016
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
National Park Service
National Capitol Parks – Central
900 Ohio Drive, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20242
I have posted these Coast Guard recruit names on the Memorial on my visits to Washington, previously. Though they did not make their sacrifices in Vietnam, they and their families have losses similar to those who did. Countless other sacrifices should be recognized in the cost of wars.
Prior generations of my family fought with pride; my paternal grandfather, Philip Morgan, during World War I and my father, Peter S. Morgan, in the U.S. Army Infantry 1943 – 1946. With the Selective Service due to arrive at my doorstep, I chose to enlist in a humanitarian service rather than support the questionable objectives ( later acknowledged by Robert S. McNamara’s In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam ) in Southeast Asia.
My wife and I who raised two sons a generation later, know too well of the value of a continued family legacy. ( Shameful that the United States invaded Iraq during their eligibility, ignoring Dick Cheney’s 1994 warning of a quagmire.” )
Peter S. Morgan, Jr. / active duty USCG 1969 – 1973
8 Bridges Lane
Raymond, Maine 04071
LETTER TO THE WALL
My life has been touched by the suffering of Vietnam veterans since I was a teenager. My first lover was a Vietnam veteran who eventually killed himself. I began to fall in love with my husband when I heard him tell a military age young man why he had risked his own health to avoid the draft during the Vietnam war: he knew that his government was lying to him.
My friends in the current antiwar movement often are veterans of Vietnam who have sustained the moral injuries of combat and who struggle with depression and despair. Many family members of students I’ve taught have suffered from PTSD, substance abuse, cancer and other health effects of being Vietnam vets. This continues to put stress on families down through the generations.
I did my basic training at Fort Lewis in Washington State; my Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana (affectionately referred to as the armpit of the Army) and my Armored Personnel Carrier Driver training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I turned 21 while flying home from Fort Knox for a week’s leave before flying to the Republic of Viet Nam.
I was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division 2/8 Mechanized Infantry. I went into the bush on December 8, 1967. After a few days in some base camp I was sent by chopper to my unit. I climbed up onto my APC. looked at the track next to mine and sitting there was one of my best friends from childhood. He had moved from Seattle to Aberdeen when we were about 13-14. He had been with the 9th Division and had recently been assigned to the 4th. Max went home a couple months later.
Between December 17-26 we spent our time on foot sweeping an area North of Pleiku in the Central Highlands. I first came under fire December 27. The track came off the APC I was driving and while I was outside trying to fix it we came under sniper fire and grenade attack.
Between then and Jan. 2, 1968 we were in a Fire Support Base. January 3 we got a report from a Montagnard that he had helped bury 2 NVA in a nearby village. Being one of the new guys I got to dig up this grave.
we move out of the tree line
spread out surround the huts
the village headman says
two wounded men died
and were buried
several days before
a green black shimmer
rises (after three days;
taut with gangrenous gas
with the weight of a landing fly
pus to dust
small men’s bones
in a small hole
a soup of khaki straps and steel buckles
stirred and sifted
On February 1, 1968 we were on patrol and got word that a chopper was under fire half a kilometer away. We moved in and cut an LZ with our tracks. An aero-rifle platoon landed and we all opened fire with M-16s and .50 calibers. In the middle of this I drove through some high grass and threw a track. When I got out of the APC to fix the track I found that I had run over a man hiding in the grass. In fact, he had become caught in my track and was the reason for throwing the track. I had to pull his headless body out of the thrown track before I could straighten in out and replace the track.
The first man I killed was small and
hidden in the tall grass.
Being a killer forever changes you.
Even if you learn to be kind and considerate and civilized
that part of you is always
hiding down inside
awaiting a chance.
A normal person does not want to kill and
will avoid it at all costs.
The military won’t allow you to remain normal.
It doesn’t matter if you think
you are smart enough
not to get caught up in their lies.
They will change you.
Don’t be sucked into the biggest myth and lie
that dying for your country is somehow heroic.
Really be all that you can be.
Later after this fire fight I was patrolling on foot and found a Vietnamese man who must have had 15 bullet holes in his body struggling to move away. I felt that he had no chance to live so I put him out of his misery with several rounds through the head. We found that we had killed 110 that day and captured 140. Unfortunately there were women and kids among the dead. To this day I don’t know if they were an enemy or just unfortunates in the wrong place.
An Army of One
Do you hear the dead complaining?
Killing is easy –
it don’t mean shit.
What’s that look for?
You think I should be touched by
the death of mother/brother/son/daughter/uncle/father/child?
The only touch I feel is
the half ounce of pressure on the trigger –
I get to be
all I can be.
We stayed in the area until Feb. 4 when the Army sent out bulldozers to bury all the bodies. Soon thereafter I was smoking 2 packs per day of cigarettes and daily marijuana. Once we went into Pleiku and bought opium from the Governor of the Province.
We came under periodic fire and I came close to dying so many times I finally concluded that I was invincible. Once a B-40 rocket came under my chin so close I could feel the wind. Once we were walking in 2 lines through some elephant grass following some commo wire. I was walking point on one line. A Vietnamese man stood up about 10 feet away and sprayed us with full automatic and the guys on both sides of me got shot.
I shot an NVA officer in the face and took his belt with a red star and rifled his pockets for his 300 piastres. When we would drive our APCs near indigenous personnel (Vietnamese citizens) we would throw C-ration cans at the kids begging at the side of the road cheering when a kid was hit.
nights he still comes to me
black and white
unlike his body
yellow and red
of a rising tide of godless communism
amidst the tangled pile
the 300 piastres
and the red-starred belt
I took from his body
We had a first sergeant who was a total asshole. (not recognizing at the time that we all were total assholes). We used to take C-4 explosive and take the tops off flares and pop them off so that they would explode in the air. Some one handed the First Sergeant one that was doctored a little so when he popped it it exploded in his hand blowing off several fingers.
this militaristic corporate statist
religion alive in our midst
barely hides the bronze face of Moloch
Canaanite sun god risen again amongst us
this god whose face is ours
whose name is consumption
whose tongue is greed
demands the sacrifice of our children
in blood and madness
name them warriors these boy soldiers
and our daughters now
to kill or be killed
a death hunger never satisfied
dance with the flute and cymbal
sing the patriotic anthems
loud martial songs
to drown the voices
and screams of the dying
This same guy remains in my prime image of the Army in Viet Nam. After about 10 months when I was sure I wouldn’t get killed I decided to extend my tour to get an early out. At that time we were drafted for 24 months. If you had less than 5 months left when you got back to the world you got out of the army. I hated the Army more than I hated the possibility of something bad happening during the extra time I’d spend in Viet Nam.
We stopped a checkpoint to re-supply (i.e buy beer and weed) and I signed the papers. We went out on a patrol near Plei Mrong and were attacked. The first and third APCs in line hit mines and the 2nd and 4th were hit by rockets.I was in the 5th APC.
I could see smoke coming from the one in front of me so I went around back to take a look. All the while we were under intense fire. It looked like a small fire near the battery so I stepped back to grab a breath before trying to put the fire out.
In the instant I stepped back another guy stepped between me and the door of the track and a grenade inside went off. He had a flack vest on and wasn’t hurt and I just got some minor leg shrapnel. The explosion threw me back a ways and when I looked up I saw the First Sergeant with an M-16 in one hand and a case of beer under the other arm running away from us. This is my full impression of the U.S. military.
I will teach you how
to perform a war
a clean operation
to remove that dangerous tissue
which can no longer be controlled
we first name it cancer
we curse it for an inhuman bastard
nothing legitimate to be found
the pathologic question
must be asked and answered
weighing whether a pound of flesh will be enough
shared definitions in hand
we sharpen our knives
chrome and steel
remove any shadow
patriotic anesthesia dulls the senses
common and other
to the loud cutting
bleeding to come
once hidden viscera bloody red
broken bone white
and hypoxic blue tissue
stare out at us
unexpected collateral damage
can be dressed
with sterile white gauze
although the bloated smell
we will remove our gloves and
wash our hands
I went to Viet Nam an average twenty year old. I was totally ignorant of American history and American foreign policy intentions. I was a leader in my high school and involved in many issues. Since then, I recently realized, I have had no close friends. I find it difficult to get close to people. It sounds strange but part of my consciousness is still in Viet Nam waiting for that bullet. When I walk along trails I am constantly watching for any disturbances in the dirt which might signal land mines. I always when driving or walking look for good ambush sites.
driving I remember to note
sites which would be good for an ambush
walking I watch the ground for
dirt which may have been disturbed
in the laying of mines
nearly forty years later
I still expect the bullet
to hit that spot
just below my left scapula
that always itches
like a target
nearly forty years later
I remember when we were boy warriors
thrown together far from home
(gun smoke thick as fog
hot brass litter
the lamb-like small of napalm
burnt indigenous personnel
pile of bodies
slowly moving limbs in rigor
greenthick vietnamese jungle vines
sticky red clay mud in monsoon reason)
if he wasn’t part of that
piece of me that couldn’t come home
maybe I could
remember my friend’s face
nearly forty years later
I have found in recent years especially I have nightmares and wake commonly soaking wet. That NVA officer that I shot in the face is a common visitor. I am a professional and self-controlled and have never gone seeking any professional help related to this. I’m not convinced that it would make any difference.
after we are the ones to survive
after the chill
after the heat
after we have killed but
before we have thoughts of being loved
we sing a manly song
martial and stirring
not low and blue we sing
when and because
we are distanced from the front
a reminder to remember
to forget what we want forgotten
we sing our loud song of silence
we sing again
until it is done
until it is gone
Being drafted and sent to kill or be killed made me a different person than I would have been. I spent the first 3-4 years after I returned using marijuana, hashish and alcohol almost daily in an attempt to self-medicate. I then saw the futility of that and have been generally drug free since then.
When my son was old enough to start asking questions about the draft I resumed my work with peace and justice groups. I have mainly been involved with Fellowship of Reconciliation. I was involved in founding member of both Western Washington VFP chapter #92 and more recently VFP-Rachel Corrie Chapter #109.
a black granite wall to rest against
each name an act calling for re-write
58,195 times rendered unto Caesar
58,195 rendered like fat on a hot stove
Dear brothers and sisters:
Memorial Day is on us again. Last year, I joined others to deliver our letters to The Wall in our first effort to let you know that you are not forgotten. All of us, no matter what our relationship to this war, anguish over your loss. Yet as I read over my letter from last year, I catch a strong whiff of survivor’s guilt — you know, why are you on The Wall and not me? One move one way or the other, and I may have joined you. So be it. I have lived a full life since those 411 days I was in Vietnam (July 1969 to August 1970). And I have been blessed with two children. That’s what I’d like to talk about this year.
One of the great sadnesses of your physical absence from this world is that you were robbed of sharing your unique life with your own children. I can tell you that having my own children puts the lives of the Vietnamese children I encountered into sharp relief. Looking into the eyes of my own children brimming over with wonder and joy made me think of how our presence often closed off those experiences from the eyes of those village kids. I live with that regret to this day. But watching my own children grow and flourish has offered me some solace as a counter-weight. I wish you could have had the same opportunity.
Here are two poems I have written for/to my own kids. The first I wrote for my daughter as she was turning three; the second I wrote for my son on his thirteenth birthday. They look to the future, which I will continue to do on your behalf, my friends. That is what our children offer us. Rest in peace.
JEN TURNING THREE
The birch splits
the snake its skin
the child leaps
into the woman
she always has been
Nothing is new
nothing is changing
the birch is the bark
the snake the skin
the child the woman
The seed, flowering,
dies back into the earth
as the child, growing,
turns forward toward
her new birth
For My Son Josh turning thirteen
If ‘namvets were ancient shamans
now would be the moment
to give you shelter
from the coming storm
But we are merely
survivors of suburbs and cities
not forest nor mountain
offering you our silences
to guide you going out on your own
Yet we have known for years now
that the silences of our fathers will not do
And we have known that words alone
cannot bleed you free
of your raging doubts
So listen up
to what we have found
between silences and words:
Open up your fists
Watch women move
Thank you for your courage, and I am sorry you had to make a supreme sacrifice of your life for the our government’s misguided adventure in Vietnam. I hope those in government will remember that people’s lives are on the line when we have conflicts with other nations. There are other ways to resolve these conflicts, so I will do what I can to prevent any future sacrifices similar to what you have gone through. I know your efforts have not been forgotten.
You were our fathers in the town that I grew up in without fathers. Those that survived and came home were ghosts that passed through our doors in the night.We missed you, our fathers. To some you were sons, and brothers and lovers, but to us you were fathers. In the town I grew up in with no fathers.
Here are my thoughts.
As Memorial Day rolls around again, my thought are drawn to military families. I think of one of my uncles who lost his son, Uncle Emil’s last name was kreutz and his son dies in Vietnam Nam so my visits to the wall always draw me to his name which is the same as mine.
But in addition to private memories and family members, I mourn on Memorial Day for our country and its perpetual state of war, about which we were warned by president Eisenhower to beware the military industrial complex which at that time was a glimmer of the monstrosity that it has now become. I am grateful to president Obama and John Kerry for their excellent efforts at negotiation, especially with Iran. At the same time, I fear that the drone warfare campaign is creating more terrorist and more spirit of reprisal by attacks on citizens every day. Thus the whole world moves toward global warfare and since the United States has as its primary product weapons and more weapons, the conclusion can be nothing but devastation.
We need to turn to negotiations and peace as our national product and honor life not death and destruction.
To The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, And More Importantly, To Those Who Visit It:
I stood before you alone on a warm, sunny August day, and fought to keep my tears to myself. I wished desperately that my father could be there too, but he was 3000 miles away, and we didn’t talk much anymore anyway. I was awed by the simplicity of your portrayal of such heavy sorrow. I was awed by how much sadness you stirred in me. There are no names on that wall that I recognize. I didn’t lose a loved one to this war, my father came home physically intact from his year in Vietnam. If he hadn’t, if his name were inscribed on your surface, I would not have been alive to stand before you, to touch your smooth granite and read the names of people I didn’t know, people I could never know.
My emotion that day was partly a reflection of my father’s feelings about you. Even though he never had the opportunity to visit you, it meant a lot to him knowing you had been built to honor those who died in the war he too had served in. The only time we ever talked about his service in Vietnam was when he shed a tear over an essay I wrote about you in sixth grade. It was such a powerful moment, and it felt a bit as though I stood before you in his honor.
But my feeling as I touched your cold, shiny surface that day was also a sadness of loss. My understanding of this war, and all wars, had come a long way since I wrote that essay in sixth grade. I feel the things that are lost to war very strongly. They are a weight on our society much greater than that of your granite slabs.
The loss of so many American lives is beyond tragic. But there are so many sad things about this war, so many more things than the loss you represent. An estimated 1,313,000 deaths occurred as a result of war in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the years between 1955 and 1975, and only a little over 58,000 of those are inscribed on your surface. At least 587,000 of those were civilians. Men, women, children. Every single one is a tragedy.
And people continued to die after 1975, they are still dying as a result of this war. We left behind a legacy of un-exploded ordinance, waiting for innocent people to stumble upon them. We left behind a legacy of people poisoned by Agent Orange. We left behind a legacy of refugees and instability in many of these countries resulting in more death, more destruction. Those names are not on your surface.
And those who came home to America? They were left alone to face what they had done, what they had seen, what they had experienced, what they had suffered. How many, unable to deal with their horrors, took their own lives? How many also suffered from the toxic effects of Agent Orange? Where are their names on your surface?
Your moving simplicity leaves out so much, as if to excuse our ignorance in this nation of the devastating effects our wars have on generations of Americans, and on generations of people around the world, and on the world itself. As if war, and soldiers dying, is as clean as your shiny wall and the simple white crosses of Arlington Cemetery.
I wish the American people would see a reflection of all that loss in your surface, so we might all rise up together and bring an end to the wars and devastation our nation is waging around the globe. I wish we would honor the many who have died for the few who profit from war by refusing to fight. I wish you said that on your surface, especially to the young men and women thinking of enlisting who happen to pass you by.
MESSAGE TO THE WALL
Your polished surface deceives.
You appear serene, yet you are bursting with anguish and lost potential.
You are a wall of great sadness.
You remember the young, whose lives were engulfed in the flames of war.
They wanted to live and love, but the cruel war stopped them.
They had lives before the lies of their leaders took them to war.
Their mistake was to trust.
And they never returned to their loved ones.
Wall, their names are carved into you.
Their hearts flutter around you.
These young who died are sentinels, warning of danger,
Reminding us that war is a fool’s game,
A game in which everyone loses,
Except for the arms merchants.
Wall, you reflect war’s human price.
Let the old and gray pay the price, if they must.
But youth, be wary of war.
David Krieger, President
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
From: Margaret Gallagher
For the Vietnam War commemoration.
I hope you don’t mind some input from an Aussie.
I am an Australian woman and former Rehabilitation Counsellor. Used to work for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in Sydney – 20-odd years ago – doing assessments for veterans’ pension tribunals.
Many of the men of my generation fought alongside US troops in Vietnam. Some were regular army – but an awful lot were conscripts – kids barely out of school.
Growing up in Australia after WW2 was probably quite similar to growing up in the USA – there were a lot of jobs around and most of us had relatively untroubled childhoods – even if there was not much money around. So, for these young men, having to go and fight in Vietnam was an enormous shock – particularly as WW2 had been so romanticised in the movies that we grew up watching. The things they saw and experienced – and had to participate in – and the fact that you were never safe, even on R&R, meant that, apart from physical wounds – and the Agent Orange damage – very many of those boys came home with undiagnosed and untreated emotional and mental health issues.
20-odd years later I was doing ‘work assessments’ for these ex-servicemen, as a result of them having made an appeal to the tribunal for a veteran’s pension, because they stated they were disabled and unable to work – but it was not physical – so the system automatically assumed they were faking and did not believe them. The tribunal was the last resort after having been rejected twice already.
I was part of the assessment process put in place before the tribunal to provide reports that would provide the evidence on which they could base their decision to deny or accept the claim. All but one of the men I assessed were Vietnam veterans. The other one was a WW2 veteran who had been an officer during the Vietnam war. He had to take these school-kids and prepare them for the insanity and horror that faced them – and lead them into the fray.
Every last one of these men was an emotional wreck – many of them for the entire time since they had got home – while some had tried to hold it together but, over the years, had fallen apart. Lost jobs, lost families, self-medication with drink and/or drugs, and, in some cases, lost everything. The worst affected I never got to see. I heard about them though, more than once. There were a significant number of them back then – living rough in the jungle, up north. Armed to the teeth – waiting for the Indonesians to invade. Went into the army as school-kids – came out with their lives totally trashed.
Everyone I saw, without exception, had PTSD. You could spot it a mile off – and it certainly is not something you can fake. All their emotions were on the surface and they were hyper-alert – both fragile and angry at the same time. It was absolutely heart-breaking. And reading their files and hearing their stories was shocking – the way they had been treated – as if they were making it up. Especially those who had ‘Agent Orange’ stamped on their file..
Some guys were up to their 3rd or 4th wife, some still had their first love – who had hung on in there, despite the anger, aggression, drinking, job losses – the works – that happen as you can’t hold it in anymore and all the pain and anger explodes out into your life – devastating it – and everyone around you. And they both blamed and hated themselves – for something that was not their fault – and for which they had no help or support – apart from family, if they could cope. I’ve had grown men – sometimes big 6ft blokes – sat crying in my office – just because someone was finally listening to them and taking them seriously. I had to go see one man at his home – because it was the only place he felt safe. And his wife had to ride shotgun because he was so angry that she was worried he might lose his temper at me – just because I came from ‘the Department’. Can’t say as I blame him, either.
And as for the officer. He held it all in until he retired – self-medicating in the acceptable way, with booze. He was old enough to be my dad. He sat in my office and cried – and talked about the guilt he felt at sending all those young men to that awful war to be killed and maimed and broken. He loved those boys as if they were his own kids – and he felt totally responsible for what happened to them. None of his peers could understand what happened to him when he retired. They all thought he was putting it on – because he kept the front up while he was still enlisted. But it was the structure that allowed him to do that – and helped him to block it out. Once that was gone, he fell to pieces. And he was all alone in trying to cope, because of the disbelief – and the stigma.
I was regularly offered security outside my office because these poor men had to run the gamut of everyone in the rehab team during their assessment visit: doctor, occupational therapist, physiotherapist – and finally me, the rehab counsellor. And my boss – the rehab doctor – had the bedside manner and empathy of a drill instructor – it was all my way or the highway with him. He was actually a good man – but no idea of compassion or empathy at all. Mental illness was not part of his universe – he had no clue – and he was bossy.
So by the time these poor men had seen him, and all the rest, they were exhausted (some had travelled hundreds of miles) – and ready to throttle someone. Not least because all this came after the drama of having got the summons to come for the assessment. They all received a formal and quite threatening letter a week or two beforehand – telling them to come in and be assessed. So, from the day they received the letter, they had been bouncing off the walls with stress – not sleeping, and generally being angry and frightened they would be judged and not believed – and thus lose this last chance for help. I begged to be allowed to write letters – to make them more human and explanatory – but the bureaucracy did not allow it.
I always refused security when it was offered – and I never needed it. How would it have made them feel to come see someone with a guard at the door? The whole system made them feel as if they were not considered fellow humans, just fakers and liars looking for a buck – and something like that would have just made it worse.
I did no formal assessments. I just got them to tell me what their everyday life was like. All of it. And my ‘formal’ report told their stories – of life and work and family – warts and all – and I made them human in the eyes of the suited folks on the tribunal whose middle-class lives bore no resemblance to what these men had to live with every day..
Nobody I saw was ‘just a number’ at the tribunal. And, because I was a ‘professional’, notice was taken of what I said – and they got the money they needed and deserved. And therein lies a major problem – oftentimes only ‘professionals’ seem to get listened to – and a lot of them are like my old boss.. Some of these poor men were not able to hold down a job – yet they had been fighting for years to get their pension – all because nobody would take them seriously – because it wasn’t physical. Still makes me steam.
I think of those men often and hope they eventually managed to get some effective help. EMDR was just starting to get noticed in Australia at the time. The Vietnam Vets’ Association were doing good work – but the local psychiatrists were a total waste of oxygen. There were only about 2 in all of Sydney that were human and empathic – but even so, all they knew to do was throw drugs at the problem. Which was like a band-aid over a severed artery. There were a lot of suicides.
I suspect that it was the same – or worse – in the USA for your returned young men after Vietnam. Hearts and minds broken, along with bodies oftentimes. And little or no support or help. In Oz, the best work that was happening then, as now, was being done by the organisations set up by and for the veterans themselves and those who cared about them. I am guessing it will be the same there too. Empathy and compassion are more readily available from those who have walked the same path – and support is more likely to be accepted from them as well. Shared experience takes down a lot of barriers.
I hope very much that grassroots support like yours is growing and bringing the new generations of service men and women into your fold. We older generations surely have a responsibility to share the love and support – and the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
All the very best to you.
On Memorial Day, May 30th, we will be delivering letters to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) with heartfelt messages to those young men and women whose names are on The Wall. Please join us.
My Letter:To those lost on the 67-68 Cruise of the USS Kitty Hawk CVA-63 (Operation Rolling Thunder) you will never be forgotten!
18 March 2016
A Second Response to the War in Vietnam
In Farmington, Maine, we stand for a half-hour every Friday noon in front of the town post office to show our support for peaceful solutions to political conflicts. Some of us are Quakers, some atheists, some veterans, some radicals, some traditionalists, some native Mainers, many “from away” as one says in this state.
All of us, however, have touched and been touched by the notion that our government has often chosen to use war as a means of trying to reconcile disagreements between nations, tribes, ethnic groups, and geographical regions. And we reject that notion.
One of the first instances in my life where I began to reject the notion of war occurred in the early 1970s in a small restaurant in Worcester, Massachusetts. My wife and I had little money, ate out very rarely, and didn’t frequent this place. But that evening, as we sat in semi-darkness, we began to talk to a man at the next table. Or perhaps he began to talk with us.
He had just returned from Vietnam. If he had been wounded, it was not physically obvious: no bandages, no slings, no casts. But the wounds were clearly present. He spoke with us for perhaps an hour, talking of his grief, his fears, his anger, his fundamental rejection of what he had done, what he had been forced to do.
We didn’t know him. We never saw him again. But I have carried with me now for more than forty years the intensity of his suffering, the recognition that we as a nation, that we as citizens, that I as an individual, have no right to make human beings endure what he had endured. I write this letter in tribute to him, for educating me about the world of what we sometimes call warriors. I write in tribute to those veterans who have come together in the organization called Veterans for Peace, believing deeply that all of us must take our stances against the violence that is war, and the violence that accompanies war wherever it occurs.
As I stand vigil in front of the Farmington Post Office each Friday, I see the face of that soldier. I owe him a deep debt. I take comfort in the presence of members of Veterans for Peace and in the companionship that all of us—despite our different visions of the world—bring to our desire for an end of war, of all wars. Those of us who stand, those of us who have created letters to be placed at the Vietnam Memorial again this May, must continue to speak and to write on behalf of those whose names and faces are etched in our memories and on that wall.
Letter to the Wall
This letter is addressed to Charles “Chugger” Jenson from Brillion Wisconsin. Brillion is my hometown and his parents owned a bar/restaurant. He died in the 60s or early 70s. He stepped on a landmine and never recovered. He called his parents one time and didn’t make it through to return home. A large monument and cross in his honor is visible as you pull into town from the North. He was our only loss during the Vietnam War.
You were older than me but I remember trying to tackle you at football practice. You earned your nick-name ‘Chugger’ due to the fact that you were extremely hard to bring down. You just went chugging along and that’s how you lived your much too short life. I was deeply saddened when I learned of your death. We competed for the same girl in our home town and you won her. We lost another friend in the fall of 2014. Bob Thurowwas a close friend of mine and one of your classmates. I visited Bob in September of 2014 and we talked on the phone many times before his death. He had pancreatic cancer and gave it a valiant fight. We spoke of you and I presume when he crossed over – you guys hooked up. The entire town still mourns your loss and you’ll never be forgotten.
I don’t know what you felt about the war. I can only presume that you were upset about the way in which our country failed us. We believed the Domino Theory was real and I for one went there believing that if we didn’t make a stand there – we’d be speaking Vietnamese. Well I was never the sharpest tool in the shed. It didn’t take but a few minutes to see that the war was bull-shit and designed to make money for the rich once again.
I’ve gone through some difficult times as a result of that damn war. I joined Veterans for Peace (VFP) and I believe that you would have joined if you had lived. However – we now have two endless wars and many operatives around the world. I’m putting a great deal of effort in promoting peace and using war as only the last resort when all else has failed. I’m doing it for you and all the approximately 58,000 men and women we lost in that war. VFP has become a big part of my life because they understand and they are now my family.
I close by telling you that you are missed, loved, and you will always be thought highly of by many. May your death not be in vain. I will continue to promote peace for you and all Vietnam Veterans. May you Rest in Peace always and forever! “ All gave some and some gave all.” You gave all Chugger and we respect that.
A ‘LETTER’ ON MEMORIAL DAY 2016
ANOTHER MEMORIAL DAY…
CALL IT FIFTY MORE YEARS OR SO
ON DOWN THE ROAD FROM Việt Nam
DOUG HAS SUGGESTED A LETTER
HE SAYS, ’A LETTER TO THE WALL’
OR, MORE PRECISELY, I SUPPOSE
SOME WORDS TODAY TO THOSE OF YOU
WHO LIVE ON BUT IN MEMORY
AND SOMEWHERE HERE INSIDE THE WALL
IN ALL THESE STARK ENGRAVED GRAY NAMES
SHARP CUT DEEP UNTIL FOREVER
INTO THIS COLD BLACK GRANITE STONE
IT’S JUST ‘A LETTER’, HE SAYS, BUT
IT SHOULD BE SOMETHING ‘FROM THE HEART’
IF I COULD, I’D WRITE MYSTIC WORDS
THAT WOULD ROLL BACK TIME ITSELF
TO FIFTY SOMETHING YEARS AGO
ERASING SO-CALLED ‘MESSAGES’
SENT BY THOSE FOOLS TO Việt Nam
BY WAY OF ALL OF YOUR BODIES
AND, IN THE END, YOUR VERY LIVES
IN THE EXPLICIT HARSH REPLIES
YOUR ALL TOO NEEDLESS DEATHS BROUGHT HOME,
AS WORD CAME BACK FROM OVER THERE
FOREVER PAST UNDERSTANDING
BUT, FOR ME, HERE, WORDS ONLY FAIL
BEYOND THE SAYING ONE MORE TIME
THAT I STILL WISH THE ALL OF IT
HAD NOT EVER EVEN HAPPENED
AND THAT YOU WOULD HAVE ALL BEEN SPARED
THE WANTON, WASTED, SENSELESS DEATHS
THAT CUT SO SHORT THE OLDER ONES
YOU WOULD HAVE, LIVING, NOW BECOME…
MAYBE AS TODAY’S MESSENGERS
WHO COULD’VE TAUGHT US ONCE FOR ALL
TO JUST STOP DOING IT AGAIN
SO, I GUESS THAT’S IT… THERE IT IS…
NOT REALLY MUCH OF A LETTER
BUT, AS I SAID AND SAY AGAIN,
WORDS SIMPLY FAIL ME HERE… ALTHOUGH,
THIS BRIEF MISSIVE TO YOU BROTHERS,
IS SINCERELY STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART
Ex-Sp5 John Buquoi
3rd RRU, Tân Sơn Nhất
‘Detachment ‘J’, aka ‘Trại Bắc’
Phú Bài, Republic of Việt Nam
Republic of Việt Nam
Pacific Architects and Engineers,
Captain Herbert F. Hardy Jr.
First Special Forces
I don’t know how to start this letter because I never gave you a specific nickname, and it feels inappropriate to call you by your first name. Most of the time I just refer to you as “my grandfather”. I was told about this letter project today in one of my college classes, and I immediately wanted to write to you. I don’t really know why. I know you won’t answer me. Maybe it’s because I feel like when I put these words down on paper you might be able to see them, and you might know that I’m writing to you and thinking about you. There are things you should know, but mostly I have a lot of questions.
You should know that Nanny, your wife Helen, stands up every Thanksgiving and thanks you for your sacrifice. Sometimes she cries. Everyone is always trying to hold in their tears anyway. Fifty-two years have passed since you died, but you haven’t been forgotten. I grew up knowing about you, and learning about you. I’ve been told about all of the brave and unusual things that you did. The gong that was given to Nanny in memory of you hangs up in our living room. It’s been in the background of every prom and family picture. I guess that means that you’ve been in the pictures too, in a way. Your children have been interested in you. Especially Mom. She found William Edge, and she talked to him for a few years before he died. After the war he was a pastor somewhere out West. Isn’t it crazy that time brought this man to you, and then when you saved him, you gave him time so that he could be brought to us?
We have pictures that you had from Vietnam and Cambodia. You riding an elephant, and holding an enormous snake. Did you ever imagine that the pictures you took would be the only way that your grandchildren would see you alive? I’ve read some letters you sent to Nanny. The monkey who lived with you, and how you shot off its tail. I’ve asked her about the time she spent in Okinawa. Her body might be failing, but her brain still remembers. Did you ever think that someday memories and stories would be the only way that your children and grandchildren would know you? I think you would be proud of your family for carrying on your story. I know that they are proud of you. I’m proud of you.
Sometimes I find myself wondering what life would’ve been like if you hadn’t died in Cambodia. Would Uncle Bob have spent all that time in prison? Would Uncle Steve be able to keep a job or a wife? Would Uncle Andy still self-medicate? How would Aunt Kathy be different if she had ever had the chance to meet you? How would my mom be different if she wasn’t constantly trying to piece together a father she can’t remember?
Would I even be alive today if you had lived? Would you have taught your grandsons to love the outdoors, fishing, and hunting like you did? Would you have come to our football, field hockey, and soccer games? Would you have sat me on your lap and read me stories? Would you look like the picture that’s been on my wall since I can remember? Would you smell like aftershave or soap? What would your voice sound like when you told me that you loved me?
I wonder if you thought that it was worth it in the end. Did you whole-heartedly believe in your mission and purpose for being there? Did you regret being there in your last moments? Did you regret anything in your last moments? I wonder what your last thoughts were. Did you think about your mom and dad? Your wife? Your four small children? Your unborn baby? Was there anything that you wanted to say? Was there anyone there to say it to? Could you have spoken, with the bullet in your neck? Did the person who killed you see your face? Did they even think for a second, before they pulled the trigger, about the hole they would be blasting through the lives of the people that you knew and loved? Could they have fathomed that your death would shatter a family for two generations? Did you ever think about that?
I know it wasn’t your intention to end up on a wall. I don’t think it was anyone’s intention. My mom always says that there’s a reason for everything. I think there are some things that you can’t find reasons for.
Your granddaughter Linsay