My long-ago-purchased DVD’s came today and being the short-attention-span person I am, I plopped in Episode 10 to see how it all ended. I won’t spoil it all for you, since I know that many of you are enjoying the suspense.
BUT, following a segment about veterans going back to Vietnam and hanging out with former enemy, the narrator intoned: “In Vietnam, the land has largely healed. Old animosities have mostly been buried. But ghosts remain. Americans and Vietnamese work together to clean up places where Agent Orange has poisoned the Earth. Unexploded ordnance half hidden in the ground still takes lives each year. Aged Mothers and fathers from northern Vietnam still roam the south seeking to discover what happened to their sons and daughters.”
So the continuing deadly legacies of Vietnam, AO and UXOs, get one short sentence each. Fuckers.
Episode 10: “The Weight of Memory” (March 1973-Onward)
The question for all antiwar movements is how to express the depth of antiwar sentiment and at the same time bring in as many as people as possible to the movement. The conflict between these two goals is perhaps most obvious in how the movement relates to the soldiers carrying out the war the movement opposes. There is an obvious tension between those who risk their lives and have an investment in military success, not to mention their own survival, however reluctant; and those who find the military endeavor immoral or profoundly wrongheaded. The problem is compounded when those with power and privilege have permitted some, including antiwar activists, to avoid fighting. The ruling class—the business and political classes—set the war policy, the brass develop strategies and tactics; and the soldiers follow orders and are brainwashed into thinking they are fighting for freedom. But to portray soldiers as mere tools denies them their capacity as thinkers and citizens. What do they make of their own lived experience of fighting a war where they cannot distinguish friend from enemy and where racism and disregard for civilian life are commonplace? In the case of the American war in Vietnam, the existence of a vibrant GI and veteran movement shows the capacity of soldiers in war to think and act for themselves. It would have been fruitful to sympathetically work through these tensions for an antiwar movement, but B/N’s interest lies elsewhere.
I think B/N’s refusal to outrightly condemn a war that they demonstrate so clearly was highly problematic in multiple ways is their desire not to denigrate the soldiers who, after all, risked their lives whatever the cause and because they see hostility to the troops as the original sin of the antiwar movement. When they pose the question “Was it worth it,” the answers range from “smart people in pinstripe suits” debate its rectitude to “guys in the white hats” don’t always win. No one is permitted to say that it was a complete and immoral waste. There is a limit to B/N’s multiple truths. They are content to somewhat puzzingly pontificate that the war was “a tragedy immeasurable and irredeemable, whose meaning can be found in …individual stories of courage and of comradeship and perseverance, of understanding, and forgiveness, and ultimately reconciliation.” As I’ve written elsewhere, “Antiwar people feared that an aggressive, and for some imperial, war was unjust and undermined American pretensions to democracy. We questioned whether such a destructive war – guided by an arrogant Presidency, enabled by a subservient Congress, prolonged by a military leadership infamous for its ‘credibility gap’– was compatible with democracy, or more harmonious with fantasies of empire.” (See https://www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org/index.php/worthless-balm-vietnams-unhealed-wounds/) There is no simple reconciliation between those who think the war was morally wrong and those who demur from that judgment.
I think this is in part why B/N don’t miss an opportunity to prove that the antiwar movement was anti-soldier. This is highlighted in this episode by the tearful confession of an antiwar activist that her greatest regret is not that the war wasn’t ended sooner or that subsequent wars similarly problematic were not prevented, but that she and others attacked returning soldiers as baby killers. The fact that B/N omit efforts to relate to soldiers by civilian antiwar activists in the setting up of coffee houses on or near military bases or the efforts many put into helping veterans integrate back into society, that demonstrations prominently displayed signs to Support Our Troops Bring Them Home and that many activists testify that B/N exaggerate or even invent instances of civilian/GI hostility—that real efforts were made to come to terms with the above contradiction; these can’t register as they undercut their central thesis that the core problem with the war was the betrayal of the soldiers by everyone concerned.
What crosses B/N’s line is to have solidarity with the Vietnamese national liberation struggle. This is the ultimate betrayal of the fighting man, even in cases where the cause of his enemy is more just. So Musgrave, who functions as B/N’s protagonist, is most appalled that VVAW members might celebrate the victory of those who he fought against, even though he has come to question the war. Waving NLF flags might be tactically questionable in winning over the American people, but Musgrave’s objection is not tactical; he is upset to the core of his being. He laments the saddest moment in American history.
The notion that the US didn’t keep its word to the South Vietnamese belies the fact that the South Vietnamese government, however tense its relations with the US, was the creation of the US government; so is it surprising that its failure and the failure of the US government in the war are linked? Gard points out accurately that continuing to honor such a corrupt bargain would only have meant more death and destruction.
Again and again the powers that be—Kissinger, Ford, Ford’s press secretary etc.—urge people to move on—no recriminations–and not learn anything from what transpired. In synch with this view, even as B/N renew our preoccupation with the war, there is no mention of ensuing wars or the fact that today we are engaged in multiple military adventures around the world. The war in Vietnam led a significant number of Americans to question America’s role in the world; should that questioning be condemned to the dustbin of history?
B/N are more balanced than Rory Kennedy’s Oscar nominated Last Days in Vietnam, in characterizing the fighting after the US withdrawal and they demur from her evocation of a postwar bloodbath. They are rightly unsparing in their criticism of the postwar policy to close or leave in disrepair the cemeteries for the ARVN and the instituting of the reeducation camps.
One of the most moving parts in the whole documentary is Bao Ninh’s depiction of his muted homecoming in Hanoi; his mother hadn’t heard from him in 6 years, but she kept quiet in consideration of the other women in her apartment house who had lost 5 of their sons. The cost of even victory is underscored.
While there is much to criticize in the direction of postwar economic and social policy in Vietnam, B/N do not fully represent the scale of the problem of rebuilding a country devastated by modern warfare for 30 years. While they disparage Nixon for misleading Thieu, they only mention the backing off of Nixon’s promise of reparations—citing it mainly to demonstrate Vietnam’s rigidity in the normalization process. And though they mention that Vietnam is pincered between China and what they describe tersely as a brutal Khmer Rouge regime; they characterize the overthrow of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime as “Vietnam’s Vietnam”. While in earlier episodes, they imply that the Cold War framework led the US astray in Vietnam; they replicate the error, and incidentally follow China’s line, by seeing the Vietnamese invasion as another episode in the Cold War (in this case anti-Soviet and not anti-China). It is true that the Khmer Rouge destroyed the Soviet embassy in Phnom Penh (unmentioned by B/N), but Vietnam had ample self-defense concerns, not to mention the virtues of overthrowing one of the worst regimes of the 20th century. B/N also don’t mention that the US (and China) materially supported the Khmer Rouge for many years, and supported their seat in the UN. To be clear, the US supported the Khmer Rouge regime in the name of anti-Sovietism. The Cold War framing left Vietnam more isolated globally in the 1980s than the DRV had been during the war.
Is part of PTSD not just shell shock, or even a reaction to the generic brutality of war, but connected to a deeper guilt, a moral injury as John Grant and others have put it?
Again I have trouble following the B/N thread. One moment they have Vallely (their senior adviser) calling the Vietnamese the architects of normalization followed by their lionization of Sens. McCain, and John Kerry and Bob Kerrey as its foremost advocates. Unmentioned is that Bob Kerrey admitted in 2001 that he and the team of commandos he led in the Mekong Delta in 1969 killed innocent women and children during a midnight raid in the village of Thanh Phong. Survivors said that 20 civilians were killed, including 13 children and a pregnant woman. Mr. Kerrey was awarded a Bronze Star after his squad falsely reported that it had killed 21 Viet Cong guerrillas.
Which is more unreasonable; the US demand for a full accounting of all MIAs (when the Vietnamese have 300,000 of their own) or the Vietnamese demand for reparations for the massive destruction of the war?
I’ll leave it to Susan Schnall and others better versed in the Agent Orange issue to critique the minimizing coverage of the issue that still haunts Vietnam as well as many US veterans. They certainly overstate the US role in Agent Orange remediation or the removal of unexploded ordnance. And I’ll leave ot to Doug Rawlings to describe Veterans For Peace (VFP) annual Memorial Day demo at the Wall. Suffice it to say that VFP pays tribute to the American soldiers and at the same time remind Americans of Southeast Asian deaths.
The war had terrible consequences for all sides; B/N make that clear. What has been learned from that experience?
THE WEIGHT OF MEMORY
So this is how it ends. Where the beginning meets the end. Maya Lin’s remarkable monument to the war — The Wall— begins with the first American death in Vietnam, then marches up ten feet and then panel after panel descends eastward into the ground only to rise back up again in the west, climbing, panel after panel to ten feet and then dropping down to meet the beginning, recording the name of the last American to die in that war. Death marches on, looping back on to itself. And this is to capture only the 58,300 American names of those killed; if the Wall were to include the names of the Vietnamese killed, it would stretch out for another nine miles. Visitors can reach out and touch a name, but all they take away is their own reflections. There but by the grace of some unknown force goes I, thinks the veteran; other visitors walking down that path are also ambushed, met by more than they ever could have imagined..
This episode begins with Tim O’Brien reading from his book THE THINGS THEY CARRIED and ends with O’Brien reading from the same passage. His exquisite melding of the literal and the figurative captures the crushing banality of this war and its deadly universality. The soldiers on both sides, on all sides throughout history, have carried, will carry, the same things into war — their past lives and their last breaths along with the trivial baggage of daily life. The only thing they are missing is their futures.
Meanwhile, the living stumble on — POW’s return home, politicians squabble over what they think is important, working stiffs get up and go to work, children move on to learn, and then unlearn, the basic truth of life on this planet — it all must come to an end. Should we, those who have survived this war, both the veteran and his or her loved ones (there are eight women’s names on The Wall), “Let It Be,” as the Beatles implore us to do? “This is Saigon signing off” is the last directive issued from CIA headquarters in Vietnam. Henry Kissinger tells us “to move on,” as if we were some loiterers gathering around, clogging up the flow of his version of history.
Or should we bear this horrible weight to our own graves? To what end? Who, after all, gets to hold the mirror of these years up to our faces? Who writes THE ILIAD again? How, possibly, could anyone get it all right? Despite the attempt to glorify this war, it ends in disgrace for the United States and utter disaster for the Vietnamese. Their land and their lives have been wasted on a level that boggles the mind. And as the crushing truth of this moment in history disappears into the mists around Dak To, we hear of a “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and the futile attempts of Burns and Novick and company to build it for us. It is not to be. But that does not mean we should give up. Their attempt has failed to complete its mission of healing, but it has succeeded on many other levels. It has opened many doors that we should not back away from if we want to insure that all those young men and women whose names are on The Wall have not died in vain. We owe that to our children and grandchildren.
To that end, Veterans For Peace has mounted a campaign to bring more voices to the table. Our Full Disclosure project includes an opportunity for anyone who was directly impacted by this war to write a letter to The Wall. We promise to deliver that letter to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Memorial Day. Over the past three years we have delivered 371 letters. At 10:30am on each Memorial Day we lay our letters, your letters, at the foot of The Wall in envelopes inscribed with “Please Read Me” across the top of each envelope. And people read the letters before the National Parks Service collects them and archives them for future generations to read. And they weep. And hug. And carry out of that memorial a richer, deeper sense of all that has been lost.
In some form or fashion each letter seems to say to those who died so young, “I am sorry. I am sorry that I did not do more to save your lives.” And we, the survivors, emerge from the experience of delivering these letters, from having written some of them, with a redoubled commitment to abolish war from this earth. You can join us by sending your letter firstname.lastname@example.org before May 15, 2018.
Here are some excerpts from previous letters:
> “…Here is the ultimate haunting question, I think: Did you die in vain?
Never mind if it was heroic. Forget if you should have been there or not.
The fact is that you were there — and you died there. So, did it serve any greater purpose? When they folded up that flag and handed it to your loved one, was there anything they could take comfort in?
I cannot answer that.
All I know with certainty is this: Beginning with that war — maybe even on the day you fell — I knew there was something terrible about this whole business, no matter what Walter Cronkite or any Senators or the President had to say.
War should never be glorified, or worse, glamorized. It cheapens life, I think, to try to convince anyone that killing and being killed is anything but horrific.
So if you did die for a cause, let it go down in history as this — a lesson in the sanctity of every life and the horror of every war. For that lesson, I thank you.
May you now rest in peace.”
“To Terry and Allen,
On this Memorial Day in 2015, I respectfully pay homage to you, my fallen brothers…. I lost a lot in Vietnam: a year of my life, my transition from student to adulthood, experiencing the birth of my son, my trust in my government and its leaders, and my generally positive outlook on life was transformed into a cynicism previously reserved for someone much older than I was when I returned home. You, my Brothers, lost everything. I’m sorry for that.
I still wake up thinking about Vietnam — 45 years after I was there. I keep coming to the same conclusion: that all of the deaths of the Vietnam War were a waste. I hate that thought. But I can’t escape it….
Terry and Allen, you did not die defending the United States. You did not die defending our freedom, our honor, our republic, our liberty. I hate it that you died for nothing of value and that your lives were wasted. I weep for you and the others on The Wall. I weep that you weren’t given the chance to live.”
” Dear Wayne,
It has been 53 years since I started my undelivered letter to you, almost twice as long as you lived…. Our greatest loss might be what the 58,000 of you might have achieved for the nation and mankind.
Now we are still engaged in wars undertaken for mistaken purposes. Due to our technology and weaponry, our deaths are very low compared to Vietnam or WWII (we kill the enemy remotely), but many of the living are returning without limbs, or with scrambled brains, or with PTSD and other nightmares, and we do not have any clear idea why we went there, or are still there.
Our record makes me wonder if yours was not the better fate after all.”
—- Again, rest in peace, Wayne (Sgt, 10th Special Forces Group, Airborne)
“Vietnam is just a country. We made it into an American Epoch….I am 71, now. I still think about it; too often. My fault….I did go. I did help make some Oriental people dead. I was part of it all…. I was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines south of Marble Mountain…. On that pre-Christmas operation in 1968 at the south end of our AO a name was added to this wall. He was a second lieutenant, platoon commander, who was new to the bush. His opportunity to become seasoned ended as he was shot skyward on top of an exploding 105 artillery round. The company command team wore your body fragments during the rest of the operation….
Your down payment was exceeded by the Vietnamese in the numbers of lives lost. But you are all part of the terrible waste of unlived lives. Only a small divot in the whole human endeavor but you could possibly become the first check point to ending the whole insane war business. What a nice memorial that would be.”
—- I salute your loss, with a heavy heart.
Semper Fi. Always faithful.
“October 21, 1967, my first visit to Washington, DC, and my first organized protest of the American War in Vietnam….. By March, 1968, I dropped out of college and found a ride to San Francisco in search of a berth on a merchant ship bound for Vietnam…. We crossed the Pacific in 21 days….We made Qui Nhon, a port city about half way between Saigon and the DMZ…. I was struck by the manner of a US soldier at the gate, brandishing his automatic weapon with a stagger or swagger of someone stoned or drunk…. The cruise back home was a grim and lonely affair for this 21 year old sailor….I resumed my anti-war protests with greater fervor. In January 1970 I refused induction into the army of Richard Nixon and became a fugitive from justice until I surrendered to the US Attorney in Detroit in January 1975….”
” DEAR AMERICA
I was the girl next door.
Remember when I was 13, America, and rode on top of the fire engine in the Memorial Day parade? I’d won an essay contest on what it meant to be a proud American.
And it was always me, America, the cheerleader, the Girl Scout, who marched in front of the high school band . . . carrying our flag . . . the tallest . . . the proudest . . .
And remember, America, you gave me the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen Award for patriotism, and I was only sixteen.
And then you sent me to war, America, along with thousands of other men and women who loved you.
It’s Memorial Day, America. Do you hear the flags snapping in the wind? There’s a big sale at Macy’s, and there’s a big parade in Washington for the veterans.
But it’s not the American flag or the sound of drums I hear – I hear a helicopter coming in – I smell the burning of human flesh. It’s Thomas, America, the young Black kid from Atlanta, my patient, burned by an exploding gas tank. I remember how his courage kept him alive that day, America, and I clung to his only finger and whispered over and over again how proud you were of him, America – and he died.
And Pham….. He was only eight, America, and you sprayed him with napalm and his skin fell off in my hands and he screamed as I tried to comfort him.
And America, what did you do with Robbie, the young kid I sat next to on the plane to Viet Nam? His friends told me a piece of shrapnel ripped through his young heart – he was only seventeen – it was his first time away from home. What did you tell his mother and father, America?
Hold us America . . .
Hold all your children America. Allen will never hold any- one again. He left both his arms and legs back there. He left them for you, America.
America, you never told me that I’d have to put so many of your sons, the boys next door, in body bags. You never told me . . .”
—- Peggy ( Captain and a nurse in Vietnam)
“Dear Vietnam Memorial Wall,
I served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. I also was a US diplomat for 16 years…..in 2003, I resigned from the US diplomatic corps in opposition to another war, the war on Iraq….I will continue to work for peace around our world…and continue to challenge our own country to end the threat it poses to our planet in our politicians’ thirst for war.”
Peace ole Wall,
“Dear comrades with whom I served and the Vietnamese people who suffered at our hands:
…I started watching the war more closely, the dead women and children, young girls in a society that values chastity who turned to prostitution to survive…. Fellow soldiers were suddenly not there any more, not only the dead but also those who left us maimed and in one case a vegetable with shrapnel in his brain. It was not the threat of death that ate away at me, even when a bullet creased my ear…. It was seeing us decent but lonely and disoriented young American men finding the worse we can be as human beings, doing things that violated the very core values that our parents, churches and schools instilled in us…things that can never be undone….”
” I wrote book reports in middle school to learn about the ‘facts’ of our arrival to the US. From family, I understood that we fled Cambodia as a matter of survival, not choice….. My mother had lived much of her life under war and uncertainty. The US government had been bombing the countryside and destroyed her home…..I remember feeling deep anger towards the US government and at my classmates’ ignorance surrounding this significant and devastating aspect of US history….
Our family has been here for 33 years….Let us acknowledge how our communities got here and commemorate the misguided rationale and collective human costs of this war as well as the acts of resistance demanding that humanity do better.
To a more just and peaceful future.”
My promise to you still stands that I will not forget you…. I started measuring my life in multiples of yours and others who were killed in Vietnam…. Measuring my life in multiples of yours keeps me aware of the importance of each day. This is your gift to me for which I can never fully repay you. Thank you Joe Henry Brown. Rest in Peace.”
” Dear Richard, millions of Vietnamese, and all the rest who died in Vietnam,
…all I can do is sit, think and stare at your photograph, my mother’s cousin, my second cousin totally unknown to me who died at only 20 when I was just 6. I think of the sadness our family, like so many others, felt when they received the tragic news of your death….I want you to know, the world to know, and the truth to be told and shared, that even though you died in vain, and you did, …you really did, just like all the rest who perished, to know that 50 years later … that there are a group of Americans all over this nation that still care, that give a damn, that want the truth to continue to be told….”
In loving kindness,
” It’s not easy to look into a mirror these days. The years and life have left baggage under my eyes, sculpted lines on my face and left grey ashes in my hair. But I can do it.
The Vietnam War Memorial is an unforgiving mirror that I turn to for self appraisal. Did I live a good life? Did I do right? Did I make the right decision? Why am I alive and my peers are not? Am I a good man? Am I a coward?
I chose to oppose the war and avoid the draft…. I still don’t know if my decision grew from roots of fear or conscience…. So I return to have those names judge me or help me judge myself and to be reminded of lessons learned….Did I do enough? Not nearly. But I still have the chance to do good. There is meaning to our lives because we can make a difference.”
… When I was 12, my oldest brother Pancho really rocked the boat when he quit school shortly after his 18th birthday and joined the army…. Dad was proud…. Unlike many of his fellow infantrymen, Pancho survived the combat zone and returned home…. When he came home from Nam he was sick at heart, and lost, in a country that seemed to blame him and his fellow soldiers for an unjust war…. now he found himself surrounded by strangers, in a family that didn’t know how to bring him back to wholeness…..
My middle brother had recently been drafted, and was evading the draft by traveling back and forth across the country…. It was becoming increasingly evident that this war was a mistake, and Danny was not interested in dying for it….
We were back in the suburbs of Washington, when we got the news of Pancho’s motorcycle accident and death. Danny was living with us again at that time….
It was a painful and lonely time for all of us, and a time when none of us could hide from the ways that our family felt broken….. Recognizing my oldest brother as a war casualty was a radicalizing moment. It shook me awake and I was filled with pain and loss…. How do we honor our war dead? I honor my brother by doing whatever I can to discourage more young people from losing their lives and souls in yet another US instigated, unjust war.
SUPPORT OUR TROOPS. BRING THEM HOME NOW.”
” To All My Relations whose names are on this wall:
…I promise you all… that I will endeavor to continue my efforts, along with others of like mind, ’til breath leaves my body, to end the use of war for any purpose on the Earth.”
” … I remained an interested spectator (of the war) until 1966 when I moved to Chicago for graduate school. There I joined SDS, eventually becoming quite active. In the fall of 1967, I met, along with other SDSers, with representatives of the ‘enemy’ — the National Liberation Front — at the Montreal Expo…. Later that Fall, I attended the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal in Copenhagen where I heard testimony about brutal US interrogation techniques, as well as the use of napalm, fragmentation bombs, and Agent Orange.
From then on, for better or worse, I became a staunch militant against this terrible war.”
” Hey Mac,
It’s now nearly 52 years since we threw our hats into the air in jubilation at our 1963 USNA graduation…. On the evening of January 4, 1966, I received the call from my parents. On a January 2nd bombing run over Quang Ngai province your plane had gone down….The following week I submitted my request for reassignment to Vietnam….
In 1998… I returned to Vietnam to participate in a transformative bike ride from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City — the ‘Vietnam Challenge’ was organized …to bring together disabled and able-bodied athletes to participate in extraordinary athletic events. My fellow travelers were veterans from both sides of the war, former mortal enemies, most of whom had suffered terrible injury during the war….
While I have written that your death, Mac, prompted my ‘service’ in Vietnam, it has been just as responsible for who I have become. At every vigil, every protest, every Congressional visitation, you, along with the 58,000 other Americans and 3 million Vietnamese, are with me.”
In lasting gratitude,
” To your name on the Wall and in your memory: I didn’t go to Viet Nam….I went from Officer Candidate to Seaman Apprentice, to deserter, to Courts Martial, to detention, to awaiting handcuffs for transporting to what I was told would be a brig in Viet Nam….
And now when I remember The Wall, and your names, and your innocence, I honor you and I cry for you…. But know that we are many who now insist on full disclosure vs. a patriotic gloss-over in telling your truths and shouting your questions. We will keep talking about what happened to you, and about what happened in Viet Nam….Most importantly, your names and souls live wth us.”
And finally there are the people of Vietnam, of Laos and Cambodia, who died in the millions in what they know as the ‘American War.’ And people in Southeast Asia are still dying from Agent Orange and from mines and bombs the US left behind. Some Americans have accepted responsibility for that and they work to help clean up the mess our country left behind. Most of them are Vietnam vets. I honor them.”
” We who served in Vietnam and came home stand before our Wall as survivors, and we are drawn inescapably into the world of our comrade spirits. Entering the aura of the dead, our faces melt in tears. It is not strange or exceptional to witness two aging men hugging each other, sobbing, shamelessly, inconsolably. They are still grieving the fate of a fallen brother, reliving the horrors of their war, crushed by the heaviness of the wound of survival they will carry to their graves. Me too. I have seldom wept as powerfully, as involuntarily, as profoundly intimately, exposing my most deeply buried existential sadness, as when I have stood before the Wall.”
It has been nearly 44 years since I first saw the hills around DaNang, since I saw the jungle at Chu Lai and the mud of the Mekong Delta. I was in the Navy, on the Westchester County LST 1167. I tried in my own way to honor your life. When the second Bush administration chose to go to war with Iraq, I marched, I wore ‘no war’ buttons….I tried, I still try to help get your message out that you were real, that you were young, that you had futures, that you were ‘so many’ left behind. I worry now that the wall is becoming a memorial to the Vietnam War and not you all who are on it. I worry now that as we, the people who remember, age out, the people left behind, the people rewriting history, will think or promote Vietnam as an honorable endeavor. I worry now that people will misconstrue your honorable, brave service and your forever sacrifice with an honorable cause.
So I am now asking you, ‘so many,’ to come haunt the hearts and minds of the young today to stand up and say no. Say no to a life ended too soon; say no to ‘so many’ with PTSD or TBI; say no to fighting an ‘enemy’ more misunderstood than threatening; say no to the war profiteers. If we don’t go, they can not war. So I am praying to you ‘so many’ please come change the course of this country so that this time we can choose NOT to go, not to war.
With that just remember
You ‘so many’ are never far from my mind and you are always in my heart. May God Bless You and Keep You.”
“To Whom It May Concern:
I immigrated to the US under political asylum with my mother and brother shortly after the fall of Saigon. After the war, my father, who was a Captain in the Army of Republic of Viet Nam, … had to report to a Vietcong reeducation camp where he was a prisoner for nine years…. My father came to the US with severe PTSD, and I grew up with that.
I have spent my entire life processing and healing from the American war in Vietnam. In the past few years, I have been writing poems which serve, to me, as a sort of letter to those lives lost in the war and the pain and suffering as a consequence of the war…. Hopefully, these poems reveal the devastation, still felt today, of the war and the necessity for peace.”
Best and warmest wishes,
— Teresa (hoa binh)
” I was 15 when you brave young men and women started to be deployed to Vietnam, but I was 25 when some returned, you did not…..I am so sorry for what you suffered, so very sorry. At 15, I didn’t know much but I knew this, we should not go…. Nothing about this war was right, nothing was won or really accomplished, as if winning even matters. Love matters, this is what matters, and I hope before you died I hope you were loved.”
” I am a veteran of the anti-war movement, not a military veteran.
As I reflected on the privilege and circumstances that kept me physically safe during the war and emotionally protected from personal loss, I remembered the death of my across-the-street neighbor in Indianapolis…..
In the last 15 years, I have had the incredible good fortune of visiting Vietnam many times to work on repairing war legacies….As the best memorial to him and all the others lost on all sides, I will continue to work in friendship with Vietnam and towards social justice in US policies and practices.”
” As the war in Vietnam began I was a student at the University of Illinois….When the teach-ins about the Vietnam War began in 1964 I attended them for the same reasons I attended large folk singing concerts: they spoke to my increasing concerns about American politics….(E)xempted from the draft as a husband and then as a father, (I) began working as a civil rights activist and as an opponent of the war. I have carried these values with me ever since…. I pay tribute here to those who died in the Vietnam conflict and to those who wish to insure that we retain an honest and accurate vision of that war.”
” On July 18, 1968 at grid square YD 385 157 in Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam, I dug up the grave of a North Vietnamese soldier.
I was, on that day, running the point element of a patrol of the First Cavalry Division which was then operating in the mountains of western South Vietnam. After hours of heat, leeches and wait-a-minute vines, I walked the patrol into a concealed bunker complex. It was unoccupied.
That man’s grave remains vivid in my memory but over time that memory has been overborne by a desolate realization. These mandatory desecrations of soldiers’ graves reveal what the US Army truly thought of its Infantry: expendable, 120 dollar a month privates, fit to endure any hazard, any degree of protracted misery, and any task however polluting and soul-corroding.”
” Do I love you? YOU BET.
Do I think the war was worth it? HELL NO.
Am I angry? HELL YES.
When I heard that a black granite wall was being constructed in Washington, DC to memorialize those who sacrificed the most during the Vietnam War, I felt nothing but anger. If anything, I felt that the memorial fund should have been used to put the lying war profiteers behind bars for the rest of their lives. Why shouldn’t THEY, who start the wars, be punished?
IF WE DON’T END THE MADNESS OF WAR, THE MADNESS OF WAR WILL END US ALL.”
— Mark ( US Navy Corpsman/3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, Vietnam 1968)
” This letter, posted at The Wall on Memorial Day, 2015…is framed in remembrance and respect for the two friends I knew best whose names are inscribed on this black granite memorial: Frederick Richard Ohler and Robert Randolph White, both killed in 1968 when all three of us were serving in the US Army in Vietnam. I was the one who came home.
I share these thoughts with all the rest of us who survive today — those who fought in a war that nobody wanted, which few try to justify any more; and those who protested and helped end a tragic policy that took the lives of 58,000 other young Americans, and more than three million Vietnamese…. (P)lease know that we continue our efforts, however feeble and inadequate, to learn and apply the lessons of your sacrifice. Forgive our failures, but know that we are trying, in so many ways, to mark and honor your untimely departure and to atone for the suffering, to help heal those who lost so much — Americans, Vietnamese especially, and people of goodwill around the world who labored mightily to stop the madness of that war.
Rest in peace, my friends. Look over us and our frail efforts, comfort us with the knowledge that your spirits guide us, and help us persevere as we strive to make your ultimate sacrifice a loss that was not in vain.”
” One of our first confirmed kills in Viet Nam was a 12 year old Buddhist monk. Our artillery was firing near a village and one round was fired with the wrong data…. As a combat veteran I have memories and perhaps a few remnants of damage from the stress of warfare. I sympathize with my fellow veterans who have PTSD but I never forget one thing about my service. I inflicted more stress than I suffered. We dropped 8 million tons of bombs on a nation smaller than California….So on this fiftieth anniversary year I calculate that the 12 year old Buddhist would be 62 years old. Perhaps he would be a wise old man, a blessing to his village, but we’ll never know. His voice was silenced but we can communicate his death by being honest witnesses. By being voices for peace.”
” None of us can quite get it right. We keep trying to figure out what our relationship to you should look like…. It may be impossible. But we keep trying. For your sake. For ours…. You see, we care about you. We want to keep you in the conversation. We want you to know that we still think you can offer us a great deal.
Personally, I wonder this: did any of you cross paths with me from July of 1969 to August of 1970? Up in II Corps, up in the Central Highlands, down by the Bong Son River. Do you remember? I went one way, you the other. I survived, you didn’t….
I’ll be back, again and again, to walk alongside you for a short while. I will listen for your voices. I will touch your names and force myself to swing back through these many years and put myself in the place and time where and when we may have met. I promise you that I will take this opportunity to meld our spirits together, knowing that I grow stronger, in the doing so. And I will use that strength to abolish future wars. To stop the killing of innocents. In your name. That’s the least I owe you. And the most. Rest in peace.”
— Your brother, Doug
You’re a wide granite gash in the earth, like the war itself, a man-made construction set within the order of nature….. Speaking to you is speaking to the dead, and like a good hospice caregiver must do, one first needs to respect the dying and the dead. Addressing you is different than addressing the flag. Your dead were all part of a massive historic enterprise; but the simple fact at the root of all religion is we die alone and the ultimate providence of those named on your surface remains an eternal mystery.
I was in Vietnam as a 19-year-old kid…. I made it home without a scratch and without a bit of trauma…. I led a charmed existence with violence and horror going on all around me that never touched me. I know friends who suffered terribly…. I’m a Vietnam veteran with survival guilt. It’s my lasting bond to the names on your reflecting surface….”
” I am the daughter of a US Marine who was killed on the beach-head of Guam July 22nd, 1944.
In 1967 after graduating college, I joined the US Navy Nurse Corps… And then began working at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in California…. I thought that I would become part of the healing process for the wounded; I thought that I would be able to undo the destruction of war and conflict in Southeast Asia. We had an amputee ward at Oak Knoll where the guys had their limbs attached to meat hooks, their raw, open wounds hanging oozing infections so bad you could smell the sweet, sticky odor when you came into the unit….
Like many others, Vietnam became a turning point in my life. It became personal, and I couldn’t live with myself and continue to be part of this death and destruction — done in my name, by my government. GIs and veterans were organizing a march for peace in the San Francisco Bay Area. 1968. And so I joined them….
The nightly news had stories of the US dropping flyers on the Vietnamese, urging them to go to ‘safe hamlets.’ So, along with a couple of friends, we loaded up a small plane and dropped flyers over multiple military installations in the San Francisco Bay area, announcing the GI and Veterans March for Peace — and thousands showed up on October 12th, 1968. We spoke out against US involvement in Vietnam; we demanded to ‘bring the boys home.’ We spoke about the old men in Washington sending the young to die. And we thought we’d stop the war. We really believed that the American people and the US government would listen to us.
The fact that the war continued, that so many millions of Vietnamese and thousands of American soldiers lost their lives continues to haunt me and make me question what else we could have done. How could we have stopped this insanity?
To all who have suffered, to all the family and loved ones who died and had their lives changed from the American War in Vietnam, I am so sorry we couldn’t have done more. We tried — and we’ll continue our struggle for peace and justice in this world in your name.”
” In early 2003, as war with Iraq became more and more likely, two friends of mine and I attended a founding meeting in Chicago of a group that called itself Labor Against the War. To my surprise, the meeting was held at the union hall of a local union of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. One of my traveling companions was a Teamster steward. The Teamsters are not noted for opposition to the government in its conduct of United States foreign policy. I sought out a couple shop stewards and asked them what was going on.
‘It was the Vietnam vets,’ they told me. ‘ They hit the mike at our local union meeting and said: We have seen this movie before.’
In the prose poem, ‘The People, Yes,’ written by Carl Sandburg, a little girl attends her first military parade. She asks who are the marchers. Those are soldiers, says her adult companion. The little girl reflects. Finally she says, I know something. The response is more or less: Yes dear. What do you know? She answers: ‘Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.'”
But of course none of this compares to what was being experienced by those who did go to Vietnam, whether willingly or through the draft. Or did not ever return. Still — and this persists fifty years later — I cannot talk about the war without choking up. It is my own private echo from that time, a sort of shadow PTSD that, like the real thing, is always there, mostly submerged amid the hurly-burly of life, but never quite forgotten by that part of my brain that remembers how bad it was, how insane and twisted, how unconscionable…..”
” 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 and Destroy’ (S&D) Mission…. 4 Star General William Westmoreland, after his WWII heroics, served with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, in the Korean 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 Guerrillas, and PAVN troops, when we could draw them into making ‘contact’ with us….”
EDITOR’S NOTE: what follows is a detailed description of how Bill’s platoon got caught up in such an ambush. I pick up the narrative here:
” I dropped into a prone position, and turned to my left. Just as 4 VC were charging out of the plantation’s 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 these four men…. I don’t care who you are, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ will forever weigh upon you….. I have spent the past 48 years opposing WAR and fighting for Equal Justice and Peace….”
” 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.
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 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