by Riley Ferrigan
“Adam was my first crush, first boyfriend, and the first boy I ever loved. … When I look at him, I see the same young and innocent boy I grew up with. He is close in age with many of you … My friend is currently stationed in Kansas, and patiently awaiting his deployment to Afghanistan.”
Adam is nineteen years old; a boy who finds comfort in fishing, long aimless drives with country tunes, sunsets on the lake and one of my only friends left with a childish spark in them. Adam was my first crush, first boyfriend, and the first boy I ever loved. Adam is the type to grab your hand and slow dance with you in the living room. He is a boy of few words, and when words come short you can count on his eyes to give him away. When I look at him, I see the same young and innocent boy I grew up with. He is close in age with many of you, fresh into adulthood when you witnessed the horrors of the Vietnam War. My friend is currently stationed in Kansas, and patiently awaiting his deployment to Afghanistan. When he told me where he was headed, I asked him how he felt. He simply said, “I just don’t want to have to tell my mom.” I held back any tears I had and let him talk to me. Now, I am not here to tell you what you already know; I could never fathom what you all experienced. I am, however, here to ask some questions. How do I support my friend without supporting the system that needlessly sacrifices innocent lives? How do I help him when he comes home? Should I send him letters like I am sending to you today? What helped you those terrible days came and what gives you solace now? I hope that by looking back in time and reading pieces written by your brothers and sisters will answer these daunting questions, and I want to share this exploration with you.
I am not the first to ask you questions, to send you a letter. I have visited your walls once before and saw your names etched on smooth dark stone. I visited with Adam and the rest of our class. A girl in my class cried at the Holocaust Museum as well as in front of your solemn wall. Though, I think she cried for the families and friends that left flowers, notes, and mementos. I never read the intimate contents of the letters or touched what was left for you. I just brushed a hand along your names and tried to read as many as I could. I hoped that by reading your names I could pay my respects, maybe call you back to earth for a moment to see what they had left for you. I felt all of you deserved to be seen, felt, known. I remember looking at the boys on the trip, thirteen- and fourteen-year old’s, and hoping this never happened to them. Michael Uhl, one of the many WHO stood beside you, wrote something powerful I think should be shared again. “Entering the aura of the dead, our faces melt to 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 horrors of their war, crushed by the heaviness of the wound of survival they will carry to their graves” (I Knew Two of the Men pg401). Michael then confesses he too sobs at the wall, though usually void of tears. I fear that Adam too will carry scars with him after his war, visible and invisible. How can I console someone as they cry inconsolably? How could I aid him in his grief? Do you help the men who leave tears on your ground? Does it help them seeing your names and remembering your faces?
For as long as I have known him, Adam has wanted to serve in the United States Army. So, for as long as I have known him, I have supported him in that choice. Up until this past semester, my eyes have been virtually closed when it comes to war and violence. I never realized the extent to which we have harmed the men and women in our military. My father always spoke so highly of the Marine Corp. and whenever I see a decorated man or woman, a veteran, or an active duty solider, I make it a point to thank them for their service. I never truly realized what I was thanking them for. I know for a fact I will always show respect to those who have worked for our military. This is where I have gotten a little lost. How can I show these men and women respect without accepting the wars they fought in? Scott Camil lost a dear friend in Vietnam and says, “My country did not learn anything from our sacrifices in Vietnam and this is what causes me the most pain” (On April 18th of 2016 pg405). Though he also states if we had learned something from this war, then the sacrifices would have been invaluable. I hold onto the hope that we still can. I think that by lending these surviving men and women an ear, listening to their stories and passing them along, we can show them the respect they deserve and work toward a solution.
Brian Willson was drafted into the Vietnam War and for the first two years of his service, he felt fine. Then he was given orders and stationed in Vietnam. Here, he began to question the legitimacy of the war he fought. He refused bayonet training as he thought it was repulsive and cared for the Vietnamese people he met. When he finds a young Vietnamese mother dead after a bombing he speaks out to his superiors. “My God, this bombing, this war, is a lie. I’ve been living a lie. What does this mean? These people are just persons, just human beings” (In Vietnam 361). A part of me hopes my friend will come to a similar realization, and part of me hopes, selfishly, that he can remain untouched by the trauma of war. He has always spoken with so much passion about his commitment to be part of the US military and I have always cheered him on. Now that I have learned what war really is, I struggle to find a way to share this with him. I think of telling him of his fallen brothers and sisters and how they were used as pawns in a sadistic game. Would that help him, or should he learn from his own experiences? Do I continue to support him endlessly and without criticism? I know that I will continue to try my best and support him no matter what, because that’s what friends do. I will listen to his experiences without judgement, always. Politics should not come between relationships.
My professor says he and his friends prefer not to be thanked for their service in this most atrocious war. Therefore, I would like to thank you for your guidance and presence. Your stories and experiences have been documented; they help me learn from our country’s mistakes. I wish to take this newfound knowledge and use it. I will use it to help Adam as much as I can. I will show it to others and pass your stories along, so that our country can learn from this war that most hoped would be our last. I think we can still learn from the Vietnam War and change our country’s ways. I hope this bring peace to you, to know your lives were not lost for nothing. We should be spreading the stories of your lives, too early interrupted and the storied of the survivors who walk through each day crippled by the scars they hide. I will do my best to make sure our next generation does not face the same fate. And, if I may ask one more thing of you all, please look after those men and women that are owned by the United States. Please look after Adam.