This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landing of U.S. ground troops in Da Nang, Vietnam. Many consider this to be the beginning of the American War in Vietnam. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the war the Pentagon is undertaking a ten-year, $65-million campaign to rewrite and whitewash the history of the war in Southeast Asia.
In response, Veterans for Peace has announced the Vietnam War Full Disclosure project to offer a more truthful history of the war. As part of the project, Veterans for Peace is asking all who were affected, directly or indirectly, by the war to write letters addressed to “The Wall” (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial) describing their experiences and sharing their grief over its devastating consequences. The project welcomes letters from both soldiers and civilians.
Letters can be emailed, but snail mail letters in hand-addressed envelopes are encouraged. The letters will be gathered and placed at the Vietnam War Memorial on Memorial Day 2015. For more information, go to www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org. To send a letter by email: email@example.com. To send in a hand written envelope: Full Disclosure; Veterans for Peace; 409 Ferguson Rd.; Chapel Hill, NC 27516 by May 1, 2015.
HERE ARE SOME LETTERS WE HAVE RECEIVED SO FAR
Letter to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall
Memorial Day 2015
By Dan Shea
1968 Marine Veteran of the American War in Viet Nam
I am having a difficult time this Memorial Day – as an anti-war Veteran & survivor of Vietnam, I find all the well-meaning tributes to our fallen, raw and painful for me and the families to whom we should be respectful of.
Yet it is their tears and ours that politicians with their pomp and circumstance and the retailers with Memorial Day sales shamefully exploit for votes and profits.
While those untouched by the wars are thankful for the holiday as an excuse for backyard barbecues and weekend vacations, the media; newspapers, radio & television news & every Tom, Dick & Jane speak with patriotic pride about the “Ultimate Sacrifice” these men and women laid down their lives for Country and Our Freedoms.
It is this hero glorification & martyrdom that perpetuates the lie and misdirects from view the truth that these young men & women were sacrificed on the Bloody Altar of War for the failures of Greedy Arrogant Men to learn how to share, compromise and make peace.
On this Memorial Day there is no mention of the millions of lives lost by those who felt our monstrous unmerciful killing rage. What of their families, oceans are made of their tears.
This too must be told – I found this very profound post which put a chill up my spine as it tells a legacy of war that never ends.
Please read and share – this link
Memorial Day Letter to Charles D. McCann
It’s Memorial Day, 2015, forty years after your return from Vietnam. Wow! You brought a Vietnamese wife, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, 2 sisters-in-law, a son and a daughter. You moved into the house Bernie and Linda vacated for you!
We graduated from Chofu High School on Kanto Mura Housing Annex in Tokyo, in ‘68, and ’69, respectively. You joined the Army in ’69; I joined the Air Force in ‘70. We volunteered for ‘Nam, and planned to be ‘lifers’. You went to Cam Ranh Bay; I received orders to Da Nang AB. Glad I didn’t go there, where they were spraying Agent Orange like crazy!
Our paths diverged. My military time led me to oppose U.S. militarism. After thirty days in the stockade, I received an undesirable discharge for resisting. You returned to civilian life, but re-enlisted a short time later. On your 2nd tour, you met Edrina in Italy, and remarried. Your three boys (Charlie, TJ, and Nathan) joined son Tham and daughter Mary in the world.
You drank yourself to death (2005), though that mission took decades to accomplish. Tham lived with me on numerous occasions before he passed in Miami, a year after you. I was happy to be his uncle, and a source of support. He had called me from Texas, complaining. I invited him to live in Miami with me. Before his death at 33, he had finally gotten it together. He moved from my place to live in a place where he was paying his own rent for the first time, ha ha!
Tham inherited alcoholism, diabetes and being overweight. We Irish-Catholic males seem genetically predisposed to this condition, but it killed you and your son. I am crying now as I type this letter, and I’m so angry at our government and the war corporations who dominate and control it.
Nobody knew you better than I, except Mom and Dad. We grew up in the same room; the next 3 boys shared a room. I’m upset you and Tam lived so briefly; it’s been a decade since you passed. Now your daughter Mary (named after our mother) suffers from terminal cancer (related to chemical pollution in Vietnam where she was born?). She is stoic as she seeks joy in life now. I cry for her, too.
I repeat the eulogy from Mummy’s memorial ceremony, prior to her internment in Brockton, Massachusetts, where you were born. At the ceremony you laid down your fatigue jacket (which I now wear), thanking her for keeping you warm when you needed help most. I repeat these words now for you.
“Just like the Wind” from Luciano’s Where there is Life album
Just like the wind, people come and go
Staying a while on the face of the earth
Until tomorrow when it’s time to go…
…we didn’t come here to build brick and stone
And the earth is not a permanent home
We’re only here on a building journey
Today we’re here and tomorrow we may not be.
But do good things and you will find
You can attain a peace of mind.
Just like the wind, people come and go.
To Terry & Allan,
On this Memorial Day in 2015, I respectfully pay homage to you, my fallen Brothers. To be truthful, as a Vietnam vet I think about both of you often—very often, not just on Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day. Thoughts of Vietnam are never very far below my level of consciousness & rarely does a day go by when I don’t think of it. And when I think of it, I think of both of you specifically & the 58,000 other names on the wall, generally.
Terry, you were a couple of years older than I & became a mentor to me in high school. You were the “all-American” boy—-smart, handsome, varsity letterman in 4 sports, class president, student council, newspaper staff, prom king, etc. Everyone liked you & knew you had a great future. After college, you enlisted in the Marine Corp & became an officer. You were the first to die in Vietnam from our hometown. I was in that cruel time warp between college graduation & my draft induction into the Army when I read about your death in our hometown newspaper. I had trouble comprehending it. I didn’t realize until later how indiscriminate combat can be when men die. The felon who serves to avoid prison time and the “all-American” boy are indistinguishable to the enemy who’s trying to kill them. I still grieve for you, my friend.
Allan, you were several years younger than I & we didn’t know each other well. But I knew/know your older brother & you lived just three houses away. You were a teenaged SP4 when you were killed while walking point on a patrol just southwest of Da Nang in January 1971. I read about your death a short time after I returned from Vietnam. Seeing you in your dress uniform in your casket & seeing your grieving family had a profound impact on me. You see, while we were in Nam, we became conditioned not to think much about death—not to fear it too much, not to dwell on it when we saw it, not to respect it—even though it was all around us. But after trying to re-enter life as we knew it before Vietnam, the lives lost in Vietnam had an enormous impact on me. Especially when I found your & Terry’s names on The Wall for the first time. Seeing all those names! Again, I had trouble comprehending it. When I first walked along The Wall more than 30 years ago, my first reaction was to take a deep breath & then tears started rolling down my face as I thought of all the men & women who died and I thought of their grieving families. My reaction hasn’t changed. It’s the same every time I visit The Wall.
While I was in Vietnam, I wrote a letter to my Congressman, protesting the expansion of the war into Cambodia. Much later I received a form letter in response, thanking me “for my interest & for taking the time to write.” The response did not address the reason why I wrote. My letter could just as easily have been a birthday greeting to the Congressman. Since Vietnam, I’ve never trusted the Government nor any politicians.
When the U.S. involvement in Vietnam ended in 1975, war protesters felt they had won a great victory and the sense of relief by American people—both Hawks & Doves—was palpable. There was a general feeling that we’d never again get involved in a conflict where our security is not directly involved nor in a conflict we’re not committed to win.” But I felt Americans had short memories and American politicians had the attention span & memory of gnats and I predicted to anyone who would listen, that the United States would be involved in another Vietnam somewhere else in the world in about 20 years. Sadly, it didn’t take that long.
Unfortunately, the leaders in the U.S. learned nothing from the Vietnam experience, or they’ve chosen to forget it. Everyone in Congress should have to read Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, which was first published in 1939 (prior to WW2).
I’d like to believe there are men & women of good conscience leading our country. But the fact is, it’s easier to send someone to war than it is to have to fight it yourself—or than it is to have to send your own kids to war. Politicians are not leaders. They are politicians. They will say & do anything to get elected. And they only do what is politically expedient for them to get re-elected. In the guilt over the treatment of Vietnam vets, the American people have not blamed the troops in more recent wars for the decisions made in Washington.
My struggle, Terry & Allan, is to find meaning in your deaths. I want to believe that you and all of the others have died for sometime of value, something meaningful. It’s just too terrifying to think that so many had their lives taken from them, for nothing more than some false geo-political doctrine (i.e. the “domino theory”), or some vague words like defending freedom or democracy or liberty. But it’s been 50 years since the start of America’s part in Vietnam, and I’m still searching for the meaning—for the value—and still I can’t find it. During & after Vietnam, mostly only our close relatives and other vets thought or cared about us. Most Americans, it seemed, were embarrassed by us and just wanted to forget about us. We weren’t treated well.
Forty years after we came home, people in this country started acknowledging us—& differentiating between the soldiers and the war doctrine. Still not much is ever said about the rightness or wrongness of the Vietnam War—because there is no justification for it and the politicians had for years quit trying to put a positive spin on it. But in their guilt over the way they treated the returning veterans then and in their zeal to justify continued wars of no meaning in far off lands, the politicians are now trying to spin Vietnam as an honorable event in our past and the troops as heroes. As I said, Americans have short memories. My fear is, they’ll probably start believing this crap. 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 & its leaders, & 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. Is the United States or Vietnam any better or worse off, for having fought that war—other than having lost 58,000 dead Americans or the millions of dead Vietnamese.
In the 1960’s our government put us in a position to make a decision to accept induction into the military to fight an unjust, immoral war & to possibly die—or to go to prison, or to leave the country with the prospect of never seeing our homeland nor our families & friends again. Years after the war, what was clear to our “leaders” during the war, became clear to the rest of the citizens: our country had only the vaguest of objectives and no clear strategy to win. Our leaders then, like our leaders today, believe the U.S. is the “city on the hill” and that everyone else in the world looks up to us and wants to be us. They were wrong in the 1960’s and they’re wrong now.
Terry & Allan, 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 & 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.
SP5 Don C. Evon, Jr.
“B” Battery, 7th/15th Arty
LZ Two Bits, Binh Dinh Provence
March 25, 1962
Sgt. Wayne E. Marchand
US Army Special Forces
Da Nang, Vietnam
I realize that you are not in Da Nang but rather out in the hills somewhere, but I suppose the army has to give you an address where they can reach you, but which doesn’t tell where you are.
How are you finding the country and the people; as individuals with individual goals and desires, as a good Special Forces man would, or are they “Gooks” to you as they are to most other American military people? I can’t see how we can win the hearts and minds of the people so they see the military and political perspective as we do, if we cannot think of them as humans with dignity, purpose, human worth. How are we to make them see our goals as their goals if we continue to distain them as mud under our boots, mattering little whether they live or die?
We say we are there to help them with democracy and independence but there is nothing democratic or independent in our treatment of them, their families, their farms, their country. We are there for our purposes, our goals, and treat them, their ideas and actions with distain when they differ from ours. Will our appeal to a vague democratic future weigh anything beside the communist appeal of their own country, with shared wealth and well-being, one and all? We have seen how that turned out in Russia and China, but can they see that? And even in China and Russia they are mostly better off than they were before. Still, we can try to hope it will turn out well in the future.
I shouldn’t be lecturing to you, who are on the ground and face difficulties and dangers I can barely imagine, much less understand. Are you making any progress; do you see any hope? Here, we are hoping you have both, and safety in the bargain. I’ll finish this later, but for now take care of yourself. I’ll tip a beer for you and hope you have the chance to do the same for me. . . . .
Oh God! Since setting this aside I just read in Time Magazine that you are the first American killed in combat in Vietnam, along with a buddy I didn’t know, and SFC Quinn has been taken prisoner! DAMN! You were still in your early twenties, with 50 or 60 years ahead of you, and now, . . . nothing! I never told you how good a man I thought you, how much I admired your skill or professionalism. There was always plenty of time for that . . . . I hope some of my attitude rubbed off on you, so you at least understood some of the respect I felt.
If this affects me so much, who only knew you a couple of years and haven’t seen you since I was sent to Berlin, what must it be for your mother, father and family? Besides your family it must be a shock to everyone in Chadron. Probably most people there must have known you. I can picture the shock in my small town if it had been me or one of my high school buddies. For us all the world has changed and your bright future foreclosed.
I can only hope that something better will come of this and that our presence there will give Vietnam a brighter future that not too many people have to die for, and hard as it is to think of, that you will only be the first of a very few, not a long line of dead. When I reflect on our recent wars, the outlook is not good. A “Peace Action” in Korea became a bloody mess and we ended up about where we started.
This line of thought is too depressing. Rest in Peace, Wayne. I salute you, and miss you.
Very sadly, Daryl
May 19, 2015
It has been 53 years since I started my undelivered letter to you, almost twice as long as you lived. What kind of future would you have had, what attainments would we celebrate if you had lived? We can never answer that, but unfortunately we can see that your life and that of 58,000 other Americans and one or two hundred thousands of Vietnamese were in vain. SFC Francis Quinn’s name is not on the Vietnam Wall (You don’t know what that is, do you? It is a wall of polished black granite that has the names of the 58,000 American dead in Vietnam inscribed. And I hoped you were the first of only a few!) Well, Quinn is not listed there, nor can I find any record of him among the returned POWs. Just another MIA, I suppose the Army would say.
Nothing came out of the war that was useful to anyone, and a great deal was destroyed. That includes the innocence of naïve young men like me, the destruction of much of the country with our bombing and defoliants, and hundreds of thousands Vietnamese, hoping for a better life like you or me. Well, like me, anyway. Strangely, the Vietnamese do not seem to hate us. I wonder if I could be so forgiving if the shoe had been on the other foot. Our greatest loss might be what the 58,000 of you might have achieved for the nation and mankind. The Vietnamese must have had their talents, too. What would they have done?
Now we are still engaged in wars untaken 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 one wonder if your’s was not the better fate after all.
Again, Rest in Peace, Wayne.
Very sadly, Daryl
Formerly SGT Daryl K. Sherman © 2015
10th Special Forces Group, Airborne
Detachment A, Berlin, Germany
to my compatriots on this wall
and the many I met
During the War
After the War…
Oh, and you late comers to the death this wall does
not record; you know,,, the ones who offed
yourselves when your drug of choice stopped
working for you or turned on you and you committed
(late casualties of war).
Vietnam is just a country. We made it into an American Epoch. It consumed our news, movies, books, arguments, parades, demonstrations, parties, preaching, art, dreams, night mares, day mares, drinking, women, children, grandchildren, parents and all the relational people in our lives; so; OK our whole culture.
I am 71, now. I still think about it; too often. My fault; I guess. I did acquiesce. I did go. I did help make some Oriental people dead. I was a part of it all. If you were in Vietnam, you helped make it all happen. If you were in the US military, you helped made it happen. In fact, it you were in the US of A, you helped made it happen.
For long periods of time after my part in the craziness, I could not resist reading any bit of news about whatever latest killing America was doing for whatever given reason, which I expected would be less than useful or kind. My country never failed me in this area.
I was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines south of Marble Mountain. Our area of operations (AO) went from there to the Korean Marines south of us and from the beach, in-land to Highway 1. More than half of the battalion casualties came from booby traps each month I was there. I was the battalion press information man [a journalist for the crotch (as the Marine Corps is known to many)].
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 that operation. Moments later when you landed your first lieutenant, company commander stepped over to your blast powdered torso, checked your neck for a pulse, finding none, he reverently put his hand over your heart and bowed his head for a long moment. One of the more profound acts of honesty in the insane situation that was our war in Vietnam. There is a back story to this particular booby trap.
To what extent would you have gone to end the violence, which took your lives too, too early?
Some read your names from casualty lists before the war ended. They read them on the steps of Congress, only to be arrested. The next day they were back reading your names again and were again arrested. But, there were some Congressmen, who having immunity continued reading your names. Even read the names of you dead into the Congressional Record. The war didn’t miss a beat.
A President was elected on an anti-war platform. He was elected not just once; but twice, in a row on a peace is at hand platform. The war didn’t slow. It even got expanded. He changed the focus and came up with a great, new concept… Vietnamization. In other words, now that we have done our part in creating havoc; we will turn it over to the Vietnamese, who would have voted to unite the country nearly twenty years before in the 1950’s. The minority, non-Buddhist Vietnamese, who had converted to a European religion in order to be in-charge under the French had no chance to succeed. Their experience was in administration, not governance
Another lieutenant who was blown-up was standing up when he rode an exploding 105 round so he was able to sire two daughters and to write a best selling book, before his drug of choice returned to his use and he offed himself. But he’s not on this wall.
Then there was the lieutenant in my military occupational specialty, who was in charge of the office in Hue City when it was over run during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Eight of his men were executed behind their office and he was walked north through the whole 3rd Marine Division between Hue and the demilitarized zone (DMZ). He came home with the prisoners of war (POWs) long after I got out of the Marine Corps.
I have lately wondered about the depth of his shock when North Vietnam Regulars walked in and took them all into custody. What comes to mind is disbelief, a deep sinking feeling with fear.
I wonder how come their office was in the city of Hue rather than at 3rd Marine Division headquarters in Dong Ha? Our main office at 1st DIvision was just down the hill from the general’s command bunker. I guess until that morning in 1968, the war was in our pocket and hubris was in command.
Last year I showed my wife around the 1st Marine Division’s AO with Veterans For Peace. We took in the titanic, earthen, electric oven current US of A funds have constructed to attempt to dispose of the Agent Orange which didn’t get sprayed on the crop and woodlands of Vietnam. It had leaked into the soil where it was carelessly stored at the Danang air base.
The oven is only marginally smaller than that huge, blocks-long scrap pile of war waste stacked along the Main Supply Route (MSR) back from the beach between Monkey and Marble Mountains back in the day. One wonders how that load of steel tank bodies, gun tubes, blown-up trucks and towers of unidentifiable iron finally got back into the human supply chain.
Speaking of waste, isn’t that what we said about those who died, so, we didn’t have to say that the people who had been with us earlier were dead and that we might join them at any moment. So, perhaps this is not a memorial wall but a wall of waste. A black mark on our country, which wasted your lives to act out our national McCarthyism on the international stage, which most of the Vietnamese didn’t understand or care about.
Some few Vietnamese souls had been led down the primrose path of divide and conquer and bought the “but he’s a communist,” bullshit about Ho, the actual father of their country, who aided our military in the “big one,” but got lost in the peace.
Enough waste to go around and around kicking up dust to obscure clarity about the deep emptiness of our Vietnam War; their “American War.”
Many of the Vietnam veteran stories I’ve heard echo those of other wars. They are not widely circulated. After all, it is hard to raise a group of heroes-to-be, if they are conscious of these kinds of outcomes resulting from their service and sacrifice.
When other veterans have told me their stories they often tell of their military service as just like what their fathers had done in World War II. Well, my father was one of those who were held back to keep the country running while the war was on.
He worked for the city of Virginia, Minnesota, Water and Light Department. They also provided steam to heat all the houses in town, a public utility company. His uncle had been in WWI.
Perhaps, his uncle had a less than jingoistic attitude as a result of his service. My dad told a story that his uncle had asked him when he was fourteen if he could keep his mouth shut while listening to war stories. When dad said, “Yes,” his uncle had him join a couple his war buddies and himself in the wine cellar one night.
A story from that night which stood out for my father was that one man’s unit became surrounded and driven back into a swamp. Then he said the German’s set up water cooled machine guns to traverse the swamp. The man reported seeing soldiers losing their grip and standing up to assault, only to be cut in half by the bullets, the top part of their bodies going one way and the bottom another way. My father’s conclusion to this story was that both of these men had drunk themselves to death within a few years of returning from WW I.
On another occasion, when our family was traveling from Bismarck to Minneapolis for a holiday; dad spent most of the trip in the smoking car where a chaplain from a veteran’s hospital some where related stories about the veterans who were getting care. Apparently, a few of the patients had been with “raider groups” in the war. They were perfectly free to come and go as they pleased during the day. But, at night, they always returned to be locked in their bed rooms for the night; so they wouldn’t hurt anyone.
My father also asked inconvenient questions like, “How come there were no aircraft carriers at Pearl Harbor that day in December?” I haven’t heard an answer to that question.
Just stories. And questions.
But, so informed and with all that I read on my own about war confirming it’s pointlessness, cruelty, deep inequity and massive waste; plus with nuclear arms on the table, there seems to be a relentless dance with the extinguishment of the whole human endeavor.
You, here named, have died. I am sorry.
I have attempted to “do” my part.
When I helped opposed the MX Rail Garrison System, we stopped that military waste. They didn’t build the ten bunkers for each missile, but they did get the MX missile and the peace community could be blamed for preventing the construction community from getting more Department of Defense (DOD) funds. The fortuitous ending of my job with the Veterans Administration a couple of days later was unrelated.
I am sure.
But I keep pitching.
Back when I took the oath of enlistment in Minneapolis on my way to boot camp in San Diego, I swallowed hard saying my name and all the words before, “to uphold and defend the constitution,” at which point I had a great sense of “Yes, that I will do. The Marine Corps motto steers this eternal democratic task.
Your downpayment 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.
A Letter to the Vietnam Memorial
(NOTE: The following is my contribution to a letter writing campaign initiated by Veterans For Peace to deliver reflections to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC this coming Memorial Day, May 25. Anyone interested in sharing expressions of how the war affected them personally may submit a letter to Veterans For Peace, 409 Ferguson Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27516, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
October 21, 1967, my first visit to Washington DC, and my first organized protest of the American War in Vietnam. My friend Bill and I had driven all night from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and arrived at dawn to see a rosy sun rising above the monuments and monumental architecture of the Capitol. An estimated 100,000 people marched on the Pentagon that day. Bill and I, sleepless as we were, got pressed into service as marshals, walking alongside the mostly young college kids.
Later in the afternoon I found myself on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in conversation with a pro-war Vietnam vet. I was a smart-ass, know-it-all college punk, with a monopoly on the truth. He finally tired of arguing with me. He turned his back, and left me with these words: “If you haven’t been there, you don’t know what you’re talking about!”
His words haunted me. 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. By a stroke of luck, we stopped for gas somewhere in the middle of Indiana just in time to see President Lyndon Johnson’s face on the screen of a small black and white TV in the gas station. It was March 31st, and Johnson declared that he would not seek reelection as president. The Vietnam War had scuttled his presidency, and it was widely anticipated that his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, would run for the presidency as a peace candidate. The four of us on that all night ride from Ann Arbor to Kansas City were euphoric at the prospect of ending the war.
We woke up in Las Vegas a few days later, to see the headlines that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot down in Memphis. It was April 4th, exactly a year after his historic speech “Beyond Vietnam” delivered in New York City’s Riverside Church. Two months later, on June 5th, Bobby Kennedy was gunned down after winning the California Democratic presidential primary. The two assassinations shattered the optimism that had followed President Johnson’s speech, and we sank into a deep depression.
The SS Whittier Victory was a vintage WW II supply ship pulled out of mothballs and crewed by a motley assortment of seasoned sailors and inexperienced ordinary deck hands like myself. We made a coastwise run to take on cargo, then sailed from San Francisco. We crossed the Pacific in 21 days. I stood the 4—8 watch, which meant relieving the bow lookout at 4:00am, standing watch until dawn, then again from dusk to 20 bells (8:00pm). One night the lookout was changed from the bow to the flying bridge, because the entire forward deck had been freshly oiled. Sometime around dusk the ship’s engines cut out. In place of the low rumble and vibration of a ship under way, there was a quiet and a sense of wallowing, bobbing like a cork, without direction. Before long our engines started and we were again on our way.
We made Qui Nhon, a port city about half way between Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and the demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and the crew was given shore leave.
I was struck by the manner of the US soldier at the gate, brandishing his automatic weapon with a stagger or swagger of someone stoned or drunk. His slurred speech was deep south, as was the pidgeon English of the Vietnamese prostitutes who populated the bars just outside the gates of the military base. The entire economy of Qui Nhon appeared to be in the service of the US military occupation. I’m reminded that of an estimated 4.5 million refugees created by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, as many as 50,000 displaced Iraqi women and girls were forced into prostitution in order to feed their families.
One brothel nearest the post provided packs of machine rolled marijuana cigarettes.
The cruise back home was a grim and lonely affair for this 21 year old sailor. We were 28 days steaming from Vietnam to Panama. Twenty eight days contemplating the destruction my country was inflicting on a poor Asian nation. , 2 days in the canal, and another 5 days to cross the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, the Whittier Victory’s home port. After my flight back to Michigan 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. After 2 years of Reconciliation Service in Michigan and North Carolina, I received a letter from the Director of Selective Service indicating that my commitment had been fulfilled and the federal indictment against me dismissed.
It has been 47 years since I set foot on Vietnamese soil, and 2015 finds me working on campaigns for an honest commemoration of the American War in Vietnam and ending the current cascade of wars launched by the US in this young century. Veterans For Peace are encouraging those affected by the Vietnam War to write a letter in memory of the names of the US KIA as well as those unnamed Vietnamese victims. Letters can be sent to 409 Ferguson Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27516 or emailed to email@example.com, and will be collected and posted by Memorial Day, May 25, 2015. (More info at www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org.)
For those who want to work to end our current wars and prevent future ones, you can support Sam’s Ride for Peace. Sam Winstead is an 89 year-old WW II Marine Corps vet and retired farmer from Person County, NC. On May 9, Sam w launched his 4th annual Ride for Peace from Raleigh NC to Washington DC. See http://igg.me/at/2015worldpeacechallenge for details.
A poem for Memorial Day… A poem for Peace….
Written by Peggy Akers, who served as a nurse in Vietnam.
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 . . .
To All Those Named on The Wall (and the others who may not have died in country but also didn’t survive Vietnam):
I’ve looked at photographs of “the Wall”. I’ve never actually seen it. I can’t bring myself to visit because whenever that monolithic black granite structure enters my dreams I see nothing but the horror of the unnamed: the thousands of children, their skin ablaze and oozing droplets of napalm; the untold number of women who were raped, then murdered by young American psychopaths dressed up in military attire; the staggering number of grandparents, their lungs burning from Agent Orange, who somehow managed to survive the onslaught of the colonial French only to die trying to protect their families. They took cover in ditches and rice paddies as B-52’s out of Thailand dropped more tons of ordnance than were used during the entire Second World War. Then there’s the “guerrillas”, those who fought with the Provisional Revolutionary Government and those who traveled down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in their national struggle to rid their country of the invading imperial armies of Western democracies. Let’s not forget the people of Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand who served as the backdrop for soldiers looking to spend a few bucks while on R & R, the bar girls, the hookers, the rickshaw drivers, pimps and the drug dealers whose lives were forever altered by the swaggering arrogant invaders.
58,286 names pale in comparison to the unnamed. This fact doesn’t diminish your memory, rather it places your existence within its proper historical context, among millions of dead people who died at the hands of politicians without morals and corporations intent on profits. I remember the chants on the streets of Washington in October, 1967 — “Rich men lie, GI’s die” — and it’s the same today as it was then. We haven’t learned a fucking thing. Today we know that women can pull the trigger as easily as men, that gays and lesbians can shoot straight, and that Latino, Native American, and Black soldiers can die as easily on the streets of Baghdad and Kabul as they can in South LA, or Pine Ridge and Ferguson.
Memorial Day has always been an difficult time for me, a weekend of fury watching endless news stories about graveside salutes wrapped in red, white, and blue. There aren’t any memorial days for the unnamed. There aren’t any memorial days for the thousands of deserters and draft resisters who refused to participate in the slaughter and yet are vilified as traitors and cowards. No one says “Thank you for your service,” to those of us who spent years in prison or exile.
I’m sorry I won’t be with you this weekend. I just can’t do it. There are too many ghosts hidden behind each of your names and even after fifty years I just can’t shake their memory.
May 14, 2015
Dear Vietnam Memorial Wall,
I am writing to you to express my sorrow for the pain and agony inflicted 50 years ago on the Vietnamese people and on the American people by the elected leaders of the United States.
While you The Wall reflect the names of 55,000 United States military who died because of U.S. military action in Vietnam, you remind me also of those not named on The Wall–those six million residents of Southeast Asia who died during these military actions.
I served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. I also was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and was assigned to U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. I was on the small team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2001.
I was a part of the U.S. government for most of my adult life. However, in 2003, I resigned from the U.S. diplomatic corps in opposition to another war, the war on Iraq.
After I resigned, I joined Veterans for Peace to be with fellow veterans who believe that dialogue and diplomacy are the keys to conflict resolution instead of war.
I wish I could be at The Wall on May 25 for the Memorial Day observances, but instead I will be in North Korea with a group of 30 international women, including two women Nobel Peace Laureates, who will be speaking with North Korean women about peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.
After our days in North Korea, we will cross the DeMilitarized Zone (DMZ) by foot, only the third group in the 70-year history of the DMZ to walk across it. Once across the DMZ, we will be met by 2,000 South Korean women and then have several days with them discussing peace and reconciliation.
You have seen so much here at The Wall–families crying for their loved ones, buddies crying as they find the names of their friends, and persons who don’t know anyone whose name is on The Wall, but who wanted to come to the Vietnam Memorial to remind themselves of the folly of war.
We think of other countries as “conflict countries” and provide programs for these countries.
We never stop to think that our own country is also a “conflict country” with a traumatized population whose younger generation knows nothing but war. I strongly believe that individually and as a country, we need assistance in stopping the propensity of our elected leaders to decide that war and occupation are the best ways to resolve their perceptions of threats to our country.
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,
MEMORIAL DAY 2015
To Those Whose Names Are Here Memorialized:
You came from small towns and big cities; you came from different socio-economic backgrounds (though tilted, of course, toward the lower end of the income spectrum); you came from different ethnic and religious heritages. Some of you enlisted enthusiastically, believing you were saving “The Free World” from a communist menace; many of you, like myself, enlisted in order to “beat the draft”; but undoubtedly the majority of you were conscripted: “Take this rifle, son, or…meet your cellmates for the next few years in this Federal Penitentiary.” A few of you were women, serving in a medical or perhaps clerical setting. Death, the Great Leveler, has here united you all.
But Death is not the only thing that binds you together. You were all victims of a national sickness, a belief that the United States of America has a God-given mandate to rule the entire globe, to its own economic benefit. You were all victims of a chain of monstrous lies which led to your deployment to a strange land that most Americans didn’t know existed prior to the 1960s. The first of these was the fiction that there was a separate, sovereign nation called “The Republic of South Vietnam” that needed you to defend it against “aggression from the north.” Democrat, Republican, it mattered not: our national leaders lied to us again and again and perpetuated one of the most criminal wars of modern times. Not a single one of you should have been deployed to Vietnam in the first place. Not a single one! And thus, as surely as the uncounted millions of inhabitants of the region killed by US weaponry, each and every one of you is a victim of US military aggression. And no one in the leadership of the war machinery, at any level, has ever been prosecuted for their roles in this criminal undertaking. Not a single solitary one.
If resurrected from the realm of the dead you could be, what would you make of the state of the world today? Sure, the advances in technology would wow you at first. Such wizardry! Hey, what became of the USSR? And is that a black man in the White House?!? That would be a shocker, no doubt. But after examining what is recent history for us in this present era, I hope you would be alarmed and ultimately outraged that American troops are still deployed all over the world in the effort to maintain economic hegemony, and that they kill and occasionally get killed or maimed…for what, exactly? To “defend freedom”? While our own dwindling freedom here at home is in mortal peril of being extinguished, in the name of “our own protection”! While the streets of our cities and towns are patrolled by cops wearing full combat gear, generously donated by the Pentagon. And that very Pentagon is spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a campaign to persuade the generations following ours that the war that took your lives was far, far from the monstrous crime that it was. I hope you would be sufficiently appalled that the USA learned not a damned thing from its defeat in Vietnam that you would be moved to actively resist current government policies. But that is a struggle we, the still living, will have to pursue. Continue to rest in peace, brothers and sisters. Your fighting days are over.
Spec. 4, Medic, US Army May 1967-July 1971
Dear comrades with whom I served and the Vietnamese people who suffered at our hands:
I went to fight in Vietnam to defend Freedom and Democracy. It took me too long to question what I
was doing and if it really had anything to do with Freedom and Democracy.
On one mission, we were in a helicopter flying over a “free fire zone” near Cu Chi. I looked down and
saw two Viet Cong. There were few times I could be sure who was and was not “the enemy”, but these
two guys were carrying AK47s and running for cover. I punched the pilot, but as we circled I lost them.
(Later I learned about all the tunnels in the area.) Where they had disappeared, I saw a destroyed
hamlet… rubble house foundations pocked by bullet and shrapnel holes, ancestors graves blown apart by
bombs, rice patties with cratered dikes and sprayed with defoliants, nothing but destruction as far as I
could see. I thought, “You know, if I was a Vietnamese peasant I’d probably be out with the Viet Cong
fighting the Americans.” What the hell had I just thought?!
I started watching the war more closely, the dead women and children, young girls in a society that
values chastity who had turned to prostitution to survive, street urchins who stole a watch from my arm
for pennies, suffering and displaced people who had no idea what “capitalism” and “communism” meant.
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 and mortar shrapnel bounced off my helmet. 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 saw the phenomenal waste in military operations and “aid” to the
Vietnamese… brand new equipment being shipped back to the U.S. to be rebuild under military
contracts, and once even being told to dismantle operational howitzers to meet the recoil mechanisms
quotas. I kept thinking, “This is stupid! Just stupid!”
I finally decided that this war had nothing to do with Freedom and Democracy. For decades now I’ve
been trying to understand why we got into this war… and who really benefitted (it certainly wasn’t us
soldiers or the Vietnamese or even the American people). As calls for new wars began, I started seeing
the same rhetoric and lies, with “terrorism” taking the place of “communism”. A few years ago, I went
back to Vietnam. I met many gracious Vietnamese and saw a thriving society. I kept thinking if we had
just left them alone they would have gotten here thirty years sooner. I also thought, “Oh my God…
we’re doing the same thing all over again in Iraq.”
My fellow soldiers and Vietnamese whom we assaulted, how can I express my sorrow and pain? I really
regret that we did not know enough to question what we were doing. But now it cannot be undone, and
the dreams that ruin my sleep and disturb my soul are still here.
The only way I know how to deal with my experience in Vietnam is to learn the lessons of the past to
use for the future, so we can find the positive and constructive alternatives to resolving conflicts. I
haven’t been very successful, but I will keep asking the critical questions, challenging the assumptions
and myths, and trying to help others see what I did not see when I volunteered, thinking I would make a
career of the Army. For your sakes and for those Americans and Vietnamese and other people around
the world who have come after us, I will keep trying to search for and promote peaceful alternatives to
Memorial Day 2015
April 25, 2015
A Letter to The Wall:
I wrote book reports in middle school to learn about the “facts” of our arrival to the U.S. From family, I understood that we fled Cambodia as a matter of survival, not choice. We came here because of the Khmer Rouge, a radical arm of the Communist Party whose policies led to the deaths of millions of Cambodians. I still didn’t understand why. How could our people kill our own people? I the learned that even before the Khmer Rouge came to power that my mother had lived much of her life under war and uncertainty. The U.S. government had been bombing the countryside and destroyed her home, as a result, they were constantly fleeing in search of safety. These bombings created a political vacuum that the Khmer Rouge was able to fill. I remember feeling deep anger towards the U.S. government and at my classmates’ ignorance surrounding this significant and devastating aspect of U.S. history.
It was in college that I began to learn about the role of the U.S. antiwar movement, the suffering experienced by young men drafted to fight this unjust war, the poor treatment they received by their government when they came back home. I also learned of the acts of resistance by veterans in protest of this imperialist war and its toll on them and Southeast Asian families. As time has passed, I also learned from my family about acts of resistance waged by everyday Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge regime to maintain their humanity.
Our family has been here for 33 years, the larger Southeast Asian community close to 40. 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.
Dear Joe Brown,
My promise to you still stands that I will not forget you. This Memorial Day, Veterans for Peace has provided me an opportunity to put it in writing and hand deliver this letter to the Vietnam Memorial where your name is inscribed.
Two days ago my wife and I travelled through Jackson, Mississippi, your hometown. When I told her about whenever I see the name or hear about Jackson, I think of you and we both started to tear up. In the last few years I was twice given an opportunity to offer remarks on Memorial Day and on both occasions mentioned you by name and how I started measuring my life in multiples of yours and others who were killed in Vietnam. Currently it stands as 3 X + 2. It sort of puts things into perspective and keeps me from falling into the trap of each successive day just like the day before it. When that happens there is no point in counting further when one day is just like another. 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.
President, VFP Chapter #161
Iowa City, IA
Hello, 2 West,
I would have addressed this letter to The Wall, as requested by the Full Disclosure campaign, but, let’s face it, this corner of Constitution Gardens has never meant more than Panel 2W to me. Since I first stood on the cobblestone near the vertex of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, transfixed, late at night in 1984, my focus has always been 2 West. In fact only a millisecond of blind luck, much later at night, prevented my name from being one of the 685 exploited service members immortalized on this particular slab, chronologically arrayed behind my aging reflection.
Like all war tributes though, the Wall and future walls will omit the victims – innocents caught in fields of fire; the millions of demonized “others” who will die to expel US invaders; and the countless casualties on both sides, living and dying for decades to come, like discounted detritus.
But 2 West, my friend, we’ll always have our special bond, sharing it only with aging family members and acquaintances. I’ll see you soon, but again don’t expect tears. Grieving never seems to help.
5/3/15 11:35 AM
This letter is just one of many letters to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall being delivered by Doug Rawlings, a Vietnam Veteran and founding member of Veterans For Peace (VFP), who will deliver this letter and many others on Memorial Day, May 25th, 2015. I am an associate member of VFP and assist with volunteering my time to administer to www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org. This website was created so that those who died in vain in Vietnam, those that survived, and those who want to know the truth about that fucking war and what led up to it can read an honest FULL DISCLOSURE historical accounting of that war as opposed to the whitewashing website that the Pentagon has created to commemorate this war and it’s soldiers. I am thankful to speak truth to power any day but especially this Memorial Day, 2015. And this is why I’m just now writing my letter to an unknown soldier, my unknown cousin, Richard Seglem. I must say thank you Doug Rawlings and all the others in the Full Disclosure group for allowing me in, for taking me as I am, a 50 year old “green” gal who hardly knew much of the Truth about the American War in Vietnam. But I’m learning thanks to you and so are many others. And for that, I write and do what I do.
Dear Richard, millions of Vietnamese, and all the rest who died in Vietnam,
It’s hardly fair that this is all I know of you.
I have your photo too.
You were a good-looking young man from a Christian family. And yet, even though I do not know your beliefs, I imagine you were the good Christian boy our family expected you to be. And, as you lay dying, I imagine you questioned God as you lost your young life. Perhaps like millions of others. And perhaps, that is an unfair assumption. Maybe I shouldn’t think it, but I do.
I can imagine that if I were fighting in some fabricated war, (unbeknownst to you at the time I’m quite sure), that I would wonder why I would have signed up at all. I think ego had a lot to do with it and self-preservation. The irony kills. I think maybe pride and not looking like a pussy too. But I imagine your religiosity made you do it. I could be wrong but I know how it is stressed in our family. And I’m really sorry. I wonder if you thought that, like many others perhaps, God had told you too. I wish you knew then that you didn’t have to, nor they, give your life for a fucking lie.
No, you didn’t get to live your life. And, I’m sure since you were killed within three months of being there that you didn’t know that innocent millions of Vietnamese perished too. That was the goal right: To kill the commies, to stop the dominoes from falling, to win. Unfortunately, you were just one of nearly 58,000 American soldiers who died in Viet Nam.
And 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; their beloved son had died in the war. And you, like so many, who died by friendly fire. Did you know? Did you see it coming? I know you saw plenty. I believe you did. You saw tragedies that your mind didn’t want to see, or believe was, happening. I hate you did. I hate that anyone did. I hate that American politics – the powers that be– did this to all those Vietnamese, to so many millions, to you and others just like you. We are still killing Richard but from afar with drones that drop bombs from computers manned by people at desks. It is quite incredible to think how far we’ve come and how much we’ve learned to destroy people to continue to spread American Democracy.
I’ve learned over the course of my life, amongst the many lies in our “great nation”, that the average age of American men that died over there was 21. It’s mind blowing. I can’t even begin to relay the continued onslaught of what the American military killing machine has continued to do all around the world, but if you and I could talk, I’d want you to know that we’ve had more than just one Vietnam and that the US war machine is a fucking killer. It’s sickening to say the least.
But Richard, (my mother and family called you Dick I’ve heard), 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 after the beginning of that dreadful war that there are a group of Americans all over this nation and world that still care, that give a damn, that want the truth to continue to be told. We will do so by honoring you and all those who died and those that continue to be affected, impacted and killed by that war’s legacies of Agent Orange and Unexploded Ordnances by sharing the historical Truth, so that you will not have perished without a noble and honest effort to commemorate you with the Truth.
In loving kindness,
 The Full Disclosure campaign is a Veterans For Peace effort to speak truth to power and keep alive the antiwar perspective on the American war in Viet Nam — which is now approaching a series of 50th anniversary events. 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. From www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org
Reflections Fifty Years after the Escalation of the American war in Vietnam
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 make the right decisions especially the most difficult one of my young life? Walk the wall and you see in the polished surface those who died far from home, family and friends staring back through the flat reflection of your external form. Those names summon memories that command us to look at our real selves, the thinking, feeling self and command us to consider our actions. 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 chose to live. I chose to give peace a chance. I became a teacher. I was ready to go to Canada but a sympathetic doctor helped me avoid service and stay close to my family. Others were much braver than I’ll ever be. I still don’t know if my decision grew from roots of fear or conscience. History tells of a futile effort to preserve a government in the south of Vietnam , atrocities, obscene loss of life, calls to patriotism, a divided country, chemical warfare that still scars people and places, psychological damage, political awakenings and permanent damage to American world leadership. But the war did end. The protest movement speeded our withdrawal.
So I return to have those names judge me or help me judge myself and to be reminded of lessons learned. I am no longer naïve. My vision extends beyond the political boundaries that divide us. Calls to patriotic action do not move me. I know that war is not to be entered into lightly. Most of all I know that we must follow our convictions with actions. Did I do enough? Not nearly. But I still have the chance to do some good. There is meaning to our lives because we can make a difference.
40 Years Later, Remembering the Legacy of the Viet Nam War
By Dik Cool
The PBS documentary, “Last Days in Viet Nam” is an excellent piece of cold war propaganda. What could be better than to show two hours of Vietnamese fleeing the (gasp!) advancing “communist hordes.” The map drips red, the people flee and the talking heads intone that Saigon is “falling to the communists.” But wait, aren’t the communists also Vietnamese and isn’t this their country? So Viet Nam has fallen to the Vietnamese? Isn’t the US the invader, the occupier, the imperial force that has tried to subjugate a nationalist movement? In 1776, didn’t we fight to expel the occupying British? A more accurate description would be that the capitalist invaders had finally been driven out by Vietnamese forces committed to freedom and independence for their country. Their only sin was that they believed in a different economic system, communism, for their country.
Perhaps a brief history will bring perspective to all this.
During WWII, U.S. flyers shot down by the Japanese were frequently rescued by Ho Chi Minh’s guerilla force, the Viet Minh, the only reliable ally that the US had in the area. After the war ended, at a million-person rally, Ho declared Viet Nam’s independence from France, using language from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a document he revered. The United States, led by anti-communist zealots, chose to betray Ho Chi Minh and support France’s re-colonization of Viet Nam.
In 1954, at Dien Bien Phu, the Viet Namese defeated the French, by then 80% financed by the United States. The Geneva Accords temporarilydivided Viet Nam into north and south, with elections to be held in 1956. The United States refused to support the elections because, as President Eisenhower admitted in his memoirs, “Ho Chi Minh would win.” Washington proceeded to install a series of puppet dictators in the south, claiming it was defending democracy and freedom.
By 1967, the United States had 500,000 troops in the south, was regularly bombing the north and using the carcinogenic herbicide Agent Orange over vast areas. The anti-war movement – military and nonmilitary – grew rapidly. Immolations, the ultimate protest, occurred in the south and in the United States.
The Pentagon does not want you to know any of the following information: The G.I. movement against the Viet Nam war was perhaps more important to ending the war than the civilian peace movement. By 1971, with 500,000 troops in Viet Nam, the US military was on the verge of collapse and the brass were panicked. Officers were being fragged, whole units were refusing to fight, drug use was rampant, black GI’s had coined the phrase “no Vietnamese ever called me n—–,” and antiwar GI coffeehouses and newspapers had sprung up at most US bases around the world. In April, 1971, several thousand Viet Nam vets, in a powerful, moving demonstration, threw their medals on the steps of the US Congress. Vets symbolically occupied the Statue of Liberty. US soldiers realized they had been lied to by a country they trusted. They came to understand that the people they were killing had done nothing to the US; they simply wanted to control their own destiny. The veterans then and now had to bear a double burden. They had fought a war and then had to fight to stop a war they realized was unjust. The toll this took on our soldiers is staggering. Over 150,000 have committed suicide, far more than died in the war, and the suicides continue to this day. Veterans also have had to fight to get the VA to acknowledge the effects of toxic Agent Orange and PTSD. They deserve better. Much better.
Mass demonstrations, draft resistance, civil disobedience, tax protests and lobbying involved millions in the United States and millions more internationally. In 1970, students were killed at Kent and Jackson State while protesting the US invasion of Cambodia. Most campuses went on strike. The United States signed the Paris Peace Agreement in January, 1973. US forces withdrew and prisoners of war were returned. The agreement guaranteed US aid to rebuild a devastated country. The United States violated the agreement, instead imposing a trade embargo. The war’s horrific toll: Viet Nam – 2 million dead, 3 million wounded, 13 million refugees, 200,000 missing in action; the United States – 58,000 dead, 304,000 wounded, 1,900 MIAs.
Frequently the war is described as a “tragic mistake,” an aberration in US foreign policy. As the Pentagon Papers showed, it was not a mistake, but a calculated attempt to suppress a popular movement that was unfriendly to capitalism and western domination. Similar actions against Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, Iraq and Afghanistan, show US foreign policy is not guided by democratic ideals. But if they said it was guided by corporate profits who would support it?
As with US veterans, the war’s legacy continues to exact a horrible toll on the Vietnamese. Since the war’s end, 40,000 people have been killed by unexploded ordnances (bombs, grenades, mines, artillery shells) and another 65,000 maimed. There are millions of these killers still in the ground. In areas heavily sprayed by Agent Orange (produced by Monsanto), birth defects are an epidemic as are neurological diseases. From 1961-1971 about 20,000,000 gallons of toxic herbicides were sprayed on southern Viet Nam (The Nation, 3/16/15). Many US veterans have returned to Vet Nam to help repair this devastation. They have also helped push the US to do the right thing, and finally the Obama administration has begun to do so.
What are the lessons of Viet Nam? The Pentagon and its PR firms learned to never again televise a war – it breeds opposition. Witness the almost total censorship of the Gulf War, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. We the people learned a painful lesson – that our government lies to us, and that its agenda is almost always aligned with the rich and powerful, in spite of assertions to the contrary.
We also learned that all authority must be challenged and held accountable to the needs of the people – and that this process never ends. Whether it is the US government, multinational corporations, the Pentagon or state governments, the need for vigilance, resistance and community-building is essential.
In late 2014 retired general Nguyen Van Rinh was asked how the US could make amends for the war. He said, “Admit the truth and acknowledge that a great crime was committed here.”
Bio- Dik Cool first opposed the US war on Viet Nam in 1964. He was imprisoned in 1967-68 for draft and war resistance. In 1970 he joined the staff of the Syracuse Peace Council and spoke against the war at colleges, schools and community groups. He is the founder and publisher of SyracuseCulturalWorkers.com, a national publisher which, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the war’s end, has just republished an iconic Ho Chi Minh poster. Ho, like George Washington, is considered the father of his country.
Greetings, Here is a letter for the full-disclosure-project and your plans for this May 25 in Washington DC. I wrote this letter and published it as a letter-to-the-editor in a local newspaper in 2005 as we were blasting Iraq into oblivion.
Naming the Dead
I felt a welcoming warmth at the sound of Mair’s voice on the phone. Though
we don’t talk often, we’ve been through a few chapters together in the nearly 20
years that we’ve known each other. I was eager to hear her latest call to action.
Last year Mair had felt the need to walk from the Canadian border to Kittery for
peace, which she did despite her 50+ years and creaky knees.
“Listen, I have this idea, and I was wondering if you could help me with it”, she
began. I knew I would say yes to whatever, since I trusted her sense of
adventure, and recognized her to be a fellow truth seeker. Her plan was to read the
names of the American soldiers killed in the Iraqi war once a week on the Camden Village Green.
It was a two person job, with one reading and one offering a solemn drum beat after each name.
As I considered the reading it began to take on a much more personal meaning
for me. As so many aspects of this current political climate have, this one brought
me flashing back to the Vietnam years. I am 40 years older than I was when my
family was torn asunder by that war, but the memories are still fresh.
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. We were not a military
family, per se, but my father had done the same thing at the same age during
World War II, and perhaps Pancho was unconsciously honoring that rite of
passage passed on from father to son. My parents were not opposed to the war,
though they were worried for Pancho’s safety. Dad was proud. His wartime
experience had been profound and disturbing. It had felt so much Bigger than
anything he had previously felt in his life, and he was still talking about it.
Unlike many of his fellow infantrymen, Pancho survived the combat zone and
returned home. As he told my father in one long drunken night of sharing, he had
worked very hard at staying alive. Pancho seemed to have a resilient soul. He had
a great imagination, and was fond of writing stories as a kid that featured bizarre characters of his own making.
He had names for himself in his different personas; one of my favorites was Kelpy Whamo. It seemed like a part of him was always looking
on from outside the game, and from there he usually found life pretty humorous.
Pancho was passionate about his interests. He was a natural scientist, and at 6
possessed a collection of butterflies that was the envy of much older boys. After
we moved to California from the midwest he switched to collecting snakes. There
was one road trip to the midwest where we traveled through an area where
dozens of snakes were sunning in the roads and getting run over. Pancho was
12 at the time, and beside himself with grief and helplessness. Soon we were
stopping for him to remove every dead snake from the road amidst angry tears.
When he came home from Nam he was sick at heart, and lost in a country that
seemed to blame he and his fellow soldiers for an unjust war. I arrived home
from school one day and there he was; a tense, well muscled young man.
We had moved to the East coast from our old neighborhood in California while he
was in the army, and now he found himself surrounded by strangers, in a family that
didn’t know how to bring him back to wholeness. After casting about in
Connecticut with us for a few months, he set off for California on his own, looking
for a way to restart a life of possibility. Before long he had a girlfriend and
had enrolled in college. If you didn’t look too hard, you could assume he was
doing OK, and considering everything on my family’s plate, we weren’t looking
My middle brother had recently been drafted, and was evading the draft by
traveling back and forth across the country and waiting for Selective Service to
catch up with him. It was becoming increasingly evident that this war was a
mistake, and Danny was not interested in dying for it.
At the same time our family was caught in the economic reality of moving every
couple of years following Dad’s jobs. 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.
My parents received the news while they were in New York exploring our next
move. I had taken the call at home from the California State Police who told
me nothing and asked for my parents contact info. My parents were located in the
city, and told the painful news.
We had no family in the area, and no time tested friendships. Pancho had never
visited us there. There was no one to share our loss with.
My parents decided we could only afford to send one of us, my father, to California to see my
brother’s body and to spread his ashes off the Huntington Pier, where my brother had spent many youthful days fishing.
It was a painful, lonely time for all of us, and a time when none of us could hide from
the ways that our family felt broken.
It was many years later that I heard the statistics on how many Vietnam vets
died of either accidental death or suicide within a year of coming home. Pancho’s
motorcycle accident had been unexplainable, nobody’s fault but his own as he breezed
through a stop sign and slammed into a car. Like many other vets he had come
home with a fondness for certain drugs, and I’ve always suspected that there were
drugs involved in the incident.
Recognizing my oldest brother as a war casualty was a radicalizing moment. It
shook me awake and I was filled with pain and loss. It was so painful that I forgot,
and lived in that place of forgetting for many years, until our invasions of
Afghanistan and Iraq shook me awake again.
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 U.S.
instigated, unjust war.
It’s interesting that those of us who openly oppose this current war are accused of
being unpatriotic. I oppose this war as an American, committed to America being
the just and democratic country that it claims to be.
Reading the names has brought me full circle. Recently we were approached by a concerned mom and her teenage
son after a reading. She asked, ”Is this a memorial, or are you protesters?” And I answered, “We are both.”
SUPPORT OUR TROOPS. BRING THEM HOME NOW.
Letter to Those Listed on Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC
To You Who Lost Your Lives in Vietnam,
Fellow Americans, I, too, am a casualty of the War in/on Vietnam. Although I registered for the Selective Service Draft when I turned 18 in October 1968, having already received an educational deferment for beginning to attend college that Fall, fear of being drafted affected some of my friends. I also got to know some Vietnamese and realized that our politicians consistently lied to us about the whys, the hows, and the wherefores of that war. The war stole my innocence, my patriotism, an my sense of honor in being an “American.”
Granted, the costs to me (and others like me) pale in comparison to your willing or unwilling sacrifice. My nonviolent protests against the war (beginning in 1969) were, in part, an attempt to bring you home – safe and sound rather than in a body bag or coffin. I became a Draft Counselor in order to try to help other young men find legal ways to not contribute their bodies or monies to the war effort. Ultimately, I risked my freedom by participating in civil disobedience against that war one month before Saigon “fell” to the military forces opposing the South Vietnam regime. That arrest was a beginning for me to take seriously my responsibility to act nonviolently in trying to be a responsible citizen in what I now recognize as an imperial actor around the globe.
I am dismayed, yes, and outraged, – but not surprised – that the Pentagon and some politicians see this anniversary time as a venue to scrub the moral filth of this war, its lies, and shame it has brought our nation in an attempt to “whitewash” it as a noble attempt to bring democracy to others. Hearing the first-hand stories of friends who served as nonviolent aid workers among the people of Vietnam has convinced me that this war was a tragedy for peoples on all sides. I have come to the belief that all wars are immoral and counterproductive. It was the televised pictures from Vietnam that helped me face the realitly of war rather than the propaganda from our government and its self-serving lies.
I grieve for the loss of your life. I grieve for your families. I grieve for our nation. But I also grieve for the millions of Vietnamese on all sides who lost lives, limbs, livelihoods, lands, and loved ones. I fear we really need another “wall” to list not only the Vietnamese dead, disfigured, and displaced but also for all the US military who’ve committed suicide and/or suffer from PTSD from the moral injuries they both received and committed. We all need to heal and to join voices like my friends in Veterans For Peace in calling for an end to war.
Sincerely and in Solidarity,
Associate Member, Veterans for Peace
To All My Relations whose names are on this wall:
We faithfully fulfilled our governments calling to train for war and go to Vietnam to stop a communist takeover of the government by their native inhabitants. This “calling” was a fabricated lie designed to enrich the merchants and corporations who would then exploit the resources of Vietnam leaving little for the people who live there. It was a serious and compelling lie that nearly ruined up the fabric of American cultures, political and otherwise. We were all fooled, overruled, and coerced to do, and in your cases to die for this atrocious injustice. In the process of prosecution this war we caused the deaths of millions of Vietnamese citizens, destroyed their livelihoods, poisoned their lands, and failed at our given mission. I am so sorry. Sorry I didn’t know it was wrong, Sorry I didn’t take a stand against my/our forced participation. And most of all, sorry it took your lives causing great grief among our families.
The only thing I don’t regret now is that because of the American War, I took up study of all the American wars and found nothing justifiable about any of them. I learned that war is always based on lies, deceit, coercion, and greed. I learned that what “good” that does come of war is only incidental to its true purposes. I learned that war is but a tool in the hands of imperial nations used to further its colonial exploits. I learned that armies, navies, and air forces are primarily developed and put in place to protect the colonial exploits of forceful nations ruled by the greed of merchants and corporate organizations. And I learned I could stand up to these abominable forces and do my best to educate my fellow citizens of the utter futility of war.
I promise you all, living and dead, that I will endeavor to continue my efforts, along with others like mind, till breath leaves my body, to end the use of war for any purpose on the Earth.
Veterans for Peace
Letter to the Vietnam Wall, 4.27.15
You are so dark and so mute. Won’t you tell us how deep your cold stone wings are buried? How far East? How far West? Do they go to the bedrock? To the core of the earth? To hell, or the other side?
Where do the names begin and where do they stop? Are more being added where we cannot see?
The names of dead young men on your surface are being slowly eroded by acid rains. If the earth too were washed away would we see more? Would we see details of their unlived lives? Could we read the name of other lives touched, with ripples of despair, by the violence that took them?
Or perhaps would we find the names of millions of Vietnamese and their loved ones whose lives and land were laid to waste? The mothers and fathers and other survivors? The wounded in body, heart and soul? Those who went and came back? Those who wished they didn’t and committed suicide? Those who could not, would not, felt they should not? The guilt-ridden and tormented?
Yet we only see the Americans, and we only see the soldiers who served and died in combat, and can no longer say what they thought about the war. And we also see the simple beauty of the monument being eroded with platitudes of politicians, and plans for a new gash in the earth for a ‘Vietnam Education Center’ (or ‘Re-Education’ Center?) which will likely tell us it all was ‘The Price of Freedom.’
And who am I, to question the meaning of these losses? I, who was too young to worry much about being drafted, or whether I should enlist, or resist. The worst I suffered was war nightmares, in black and white, from watching coverage on the family Zenith TV. And, of course, the ongoing cycle of violence and waste that has followed. But most veterans and survivors suffer similar sentiments – that they suffered less than someone else. Are only those who ‘paid the ultimate price’ entitled to question comforting myths about war? Those who did, of course, can’t speak. In a matter of decades all the survivors too, will have passed. You are a wall that both heals and conceals.
And the propaganda of those who profited and continue to profit from war, suggests the main crime was that soldiers were not given more support when they came back. And while theyshould have received more support from beginning to end, who is at fault and what sort of support should have been provided? What sort of support should be provided now?
One form of support, especially for those who still suffer from moral injuries – where survivors often suffer feelings of anger, guilt and betrayal – is to create more opportunities for healing and reconciliation. Instead or repressing dialogue with ‘patriotic’ platitudes, to provide veterans and other survivors– when and if they are ready – a chance to bear witness to the fullness of their experience. Some believe the war was good and necessary, and are proud of their role. For others only one or neither of these things is true, and they don’t want to pretend otherwise. Most, I believe, are seeking peace in their hearts, and deeply wish to do something to prevent others from suffering war’s trauma.
So Wall, one day I suppose the part of you we now see rising above the earth, will also be buried. But perhaps, if we are willing to listen more deeply, and if we are able to imagine what lies beneath your surface – which surely includes the unnamed dead and wounded soldiers and civilians on all sides of war – you may reach your full potential as “The Wall That Heals.”
Roger Ehrlich, Cary, NC
10 Days Difference- In Memory of SSgt. Walter J. Dart, Jr. USAF.
I met Walt in 1966 at Webb Air Force Base in Big Spring, Texas. Webb was a pilot training base, and neither Walt nor I were pilots. We were support, and we both worked in the personnel office, keeping the records straight for the young lieutenants who would fly off to fight the air war in Vietnam. Truth be told, many of us had joined the Air Force to avoid being drafted into the Army or Marines for the ground war in the jungles. I certainly did. We thought we’d be safer.
We were a couple of fish far out of water in barren West Texas. I was from Chicago, Walt from New York and we both could not wait to get out of there. We were bored, but we were safe. During our free time, we traveled the Southwest and made several trips to Mexico, where as 20 year olds we could carouse legally with no interference from our military masters.
One of our other diversions was to take classes at the local college. One night, Walt and I were in the library together and we met two local girls. One would become my wife and the mother of my two daughters. But in 1968 before my love could blossom, Walt and I had both volunteered for Vietnam. We were the same rank, same job description, but one point was critically important; time in service. Walt had come into the Air Force 10 days before I did. He went to Southeast Asia, and I stayed in Texas, marrying the woman I met at the library that night.
Walt was off to a place called Phan Rang on the South China Sea, an old airfield used by the Japanese in WWII and by the French during their attempt to reestablish their colonies. Now the Americans held it, and it wasn’t a safe place. But Walt persevered and did his time. The tour in Vietnam was a year. On June 7, 1969 Walt had been there 11 months, and was a short timer, with less than 30 days to go. As one of his fellow airmen recalled, it was the classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Daytime rocket attacks were usually random events meant to harass rather than do any significant damage. Just a couple of rockets, which Walt, working at the office, would have had no idea were coming. His life ended that day.
Walt’s little brother Frank later told a particularly horrific detail of when the family was notified. “When a Chaplin from Stewart AFB came to the house to inform us of Sonny’s (Walt’s) death, my mother saw the dress blue uniform on the front porch and thought it was Sonny coming home a month early to surprise us.”
I left the service, got my college degree and life went on. In 1988 I was honored to have an AIDS education film I produced premier at the Kennedy Center in Washington. It was my first visit to the city, and I knew I had to see the Wall.
I found Walt at Panel 23W Row 098, and seeing his name started crying. But as those who’ve been to the Wall know, I was not crying alone. Others were also there decades after the fighting had stopped, and were crying for other young men and women whose lives would be cut so tragically short. And the question I could not answer was why me? Why did I get an additional half century of life, have two successful daughters, and a marvelous granddaughter. I got to do work which I enjoyed, and traveled the world telling stories on television and in films. But seeing Walt’s name on the Wall changed something inside me, and made me forever skeptical of politicians promising that something good can come of war. I don’t believe them.
Back in Vietnam, a building was named in Walt’s honor. As one of his friends from Phan Rang, Chief Master Sgt. John Reeves told me, there is no question that Walt was a hero. I could not agree more, and think the same of the other 58thousand plus on the Wall with him. As John Reeves said, we all gave some. Walt and the others gave their all. And so did their families.
One final note. Today, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam controls Phan Rang.
My Letter to the Soldiers Who Died in Vietnam
It is with sadness that I write this letter to those soldiers who died tragically in Vietnam during the Vietnam/Indochina War. I say “with sadness” and “died tragically” because most of you died young and were overwhelmingly from working class and economically disadvantaged backgrounds and disproportionately from racial minorities. Your lives were cut short by a tragic war, in a place of which few of you had any awareness, and in an unnecessary and immoral conflict not of your voluntary choosing.
I am also thinking not only of almost 60,000 of you who are officially recorded as dying in Vietnam, but also of the many times that number who later died from suicide and war-related physical and psychological devastation and should also be listed as our Vietnam War deaths. Finally, during the actually “official” fighting until 1975 and in the past 50 years, I think frequently of approximately 3,000,000 Vietnamese deaths and perhaps 4,000,000 total Indochinese deaths and the countless others who continue to suffer and die to this day. For me, they are the main innocent victims of our U.S. war on Vietnam.
My personal relation to the Vietnam/Indochina War was as a nonviolent antiwar resister. This dominated my life for over ten years and was the key formative influence that has shaped my values and peace and justice commitments to this day. Working with so many others, I dedicated my life to lessening the suffering of the war, bringing our troops home, changing the militaristic and imperialist priorities of our nation, and workingfor the self-determination of Vietnamese abroad and our own citizens at home.
The specific key antiwar commitment for me occurred during my first full-time faculty position at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale from 1967 to 1972. The Center for Vietnamese Studies and Programs at SIU, funded through a US Agency for International Development grant in 1969, was in many ways a continuation of the infamous Michigan State University CIA project, exposed by Ramparts magazine and others. SIU had received two big US contracts to do work in Vietnam during the 1960s intended to restructure Saigon’s educational and security programs.
The ambitious Vietnam Center funding in 1969 was part of Nixon’s policy of Vietnamization. The purpose of the funding for the Vietnam Center was to assist the war effort and especially, assuming that the US would win the war, for postwar reconstruction. Wesley Fishel and other key individuals from the Michigan State project joined the SIU program. As outlined in the AID grant and other documents, SIU would perform services for Washington, the military, and others involved in US imperialist policies and would then be rewarded with massive postwar funds to restructure Vietnam’s educational, legal, economic, agricultural, technological, police and security systems.
This became one of the most intense and one of the most successful antiwar struggles at any university in the United States. This “Off AID,” antiwar, anti-Vietnam Center movement functioned on a range of levels: doing research, uncovering documents and working with insider whistleblowers, and then publicizing the findings through talks, teach-ins, articles, and books; working with the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars to organize a very effective international scholarly boycott of the Vietnam Center; organizing a dramatic “Vietnamese invasion of Carbondale” with courageous antiwar Vietnamese coming from throughout the US; organizing major conferences at which Gabriel Kolko, Noam Chomsky, and other antiwar scholars and activists came in solidarity; and organizing ongoing protest activism through rallies, marches, sit-ins, and other actions.
There was a price to pay. In May 1970, about 400 of the antiwar protestors were arrested, and another 100 were arrested one night in May 1972. In May 1970, we lived under an armed occupation, with about 1,000 National Guard and several hundred state police as occupiers, with huge military vehicles and people with guns surrounding classrooms and other campus facilities. And yet militant antiwar and anti-Vietnam Center protests continued every day until the authorities lost control, and SIU was permanently shut down one month before the end of the semester. With guns fired, beatings, and mass chaos, we could have easily had an incident like the killings at Kent State or Jackson State.
I was alerted by an SIU administrator that my classes were being infiltrated with fake students who were informers and that I should tape-record every class. Subsequently I was fired twice on blatantly political grounds, and I was then blacklisted. I was very fortunate that I always received widespread support and solidarity from the overwhelming majority of students and faculty, all of the professional associations, the American Association of University Professors, which investigated and placed SIU on its National Censure List with major consequences, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a successful suit in Federal Court on my behalf.
When I communicate with former students, faculty, and antiwar comrades from those years, they often assume that this was a terrible time for me and others, since there was so much local repression and suffering. (Of course, some of us were fully aware every day that the real suffering and death was being inflicted on the Vietnamese.) I often give the opposite response: I look back fondly to a time when every day seemed so intense with so much at stake, in which you had a deep sense of community and solidarity, and in which you could act on your antiwar, peace, and justice values and make a difference. And, most importantly in terms of the antiwar anti-Vietnam Center struggle, the Center, for all of its money and power relations, was totally unsuccessful and never achieved any of its objectives.
In 2015, we find renewed efforts by the disgraced Vietnam War planners, the Pentagon, the aggressive “patriotic” militarists and military contractors, what Fulbright called the military-industrial-academic complex, and the corporate media to rewrite “official” history and undo the real lessons of the Vietnam War. We, who learned the painful and tragic lessons of the Vietnam War must resist this mythic false rewriting of history, set the record straight, and work for a world of greater nonviolence, compassion, peace, and justice.
Professor of Philosophy
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469 U.S.A.
To Don MacLaughlin
Panel 4E Row 51
It’s now nearly 52 years since we threw our hats into the air in jubilation at our 1963 USNA graduation. The war was just then barely on the horizon, the U.S. Marines having arrived there in April of 1962. You were off for Navy flight school, I to become a weapons officer in the Air Force. It was not surprising that you graduated high in your flight class and won your wings as a Navy fighter pilot. You were unquestionably among the best and the brightest—Don MacLaughlin, All-American lacrosse and soccer player, recipient of the Naval Academy sword presented to the top athlete in our class, and always on the Superintendent’s list for academic excellence. I was proud to call you teammate and best friend.
Two years later the Vietnam War was on its way to becoming an intractable mess. In late 1965, you were assigned to an A4C Skyhawk Squadron on board the carrier, USS Enterprise off the coast of Vietnam. I was fat-catting as the commander of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment at March AFB in Southern California. By then I doubt either of us or, for that matter, any of our 876 Naval Academy classmates harbored the least suspicion that the endeavor in Southeast Asia was anything less than necessary, righteous, and honorable; not if we were going to stop Communism by preventing a domino from falling. I know I didn’t. As the war heated up the commonly held sentiment in E.O.D. was that, “Vietnam was a small war, but our only war and it was the only place where real E.O.D. work was being done.” Several of my men found the siren call of glorious war seductive and volunteered.
In a letter you sent in mid-December of 1965, you wrote of the challenge of carrier-landings, and the adrenalin-charge of your missions over suspected Viet Cong strongholds.
On the evening of January 4, 1966, I received the call from my parents. On a January 2nd bombing run over QuangNgai province your plane had gone down. The wreckage of your aircraft had been found and your body spotted. Due to ground fire your “remains” were never recovered and were left to enrich Vietnam’s soil.
The following week I submitted my request for re-assignment to Vietnam. Your death was the singular most motivating factor, but the preceding 21+ years had determined my course. Typical of those of our class, my opinions had been shaped by cultural forces that encouraged, in fact, nearly demanded unquestioning faith in the goodness of our country and the infallibility of American leadership.
In that letter written in your last month you had also said, “I only hope that what we are doing here will bring a better life to the people of Vietnam.” Close observation of theconduct of the war would have exposed that to be an improbable out-come, but it was a fantasy I shared and, though secondary to my grief, was part of the rationale that prompted my volunteering. I recall my internal dialogue. “I need to test my man-hood. How would I measure up? Who am I to question America’s leaders? They have the intelligence? I need to see for myself.”
Since then, Don, many truths have led me down a path distinctly divergent from that which the vast majority of our classmates, if not most Americans, have taken. I now see how the rationale that led me to war as embarrassingly specious. I’d like to think your perspectives from the hereafter, should there be such, would place you on my side of the divide.
I came home from ‘Nam troubled by what I’d been a part of, but it was three decades later before I “found my way”— as I like to characterize the journey. Closer study of the war and of American foreign policy in those intervening years launched the transition, but a pivotal event occurred in 1998, when I returned to Vietnam to participate in a transformative bike ride from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City— the “Vietnam Challenge” was organized by World T.E.A.M. Sports, an NGO dedicated to bringing together disabled and able-bodied athletes to participate inextra-ordinary 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— amputees, para- and quadriplegics on hand-cycles, blind on the backs of tandem bikes. Each day’s ride was punctuated with tearful admissions and heart-wrenching recognition of our shared humanity. The pain for at least a few of us Americans on the ride was compounded by awareness that as “soldiers” under misguided and duplicitous leaders we had forsaken our humanity. My personal disgraceful failure had occurred within my first few months in-countrywhen needing to prove my manhood and out of boredom (E.O.D. work, like flying, could be described as hours/days of monotonous training, interrupted by seconds/moments of terror) I volunteered to fly back-seat as an observer in an F-100 Super Sabre. For what was little more than a lark, I went ‘along for the ride’ as we dropped napalm on remote jungle villages along the Cambodian border. I have concluded that not seeing, and thus not knowing with certainty that there were victims beneath those bombs is infinitely better than knowing, but guilt persists. I now know that U.S. napalm and other ordnance destroyed 70-80% of the Vietnamese homes in Quang Ngai province! And my cavalier joy-ride seems more to me to have been an unforgiveable, reprehensible lack of humanity.
Mac, it may be clear to you in the hereafter, revelations since the war verify the abandoned humanity and criminality of Americans and our leaders in Vietnam. Truths ignored and, in some cases denied in the face of mountains of irrefutable evidence, would include:
- The Gulf of Tonkin resolution that gave Congressional approval to the escalation of the war was based on an alleged incident never proven and most certainly fiction.
- The deaths of over 500 mostly elderly men,women and children at My Lai was not an isolated case of a few GIs gone berserk, but was a sanctioned way of doing business.
- The U.S. sprayed 20 million gallons of Agent Orange over an area of Vietnam equal to the state of Massachusetts, essentially seeding the countryside with a toxic contamination and leaving a legacy that includes 2-3 million Vietnamese institutionalized, incapable of taking care of themselves. Today the contaminated soils and waters of Vietnam assure the defoliant’s continuing legacy just as does the genetic code carried by first and second generation victims, Vietnamese and American alike.
- Fifty-eight thousand Americans were offered up to the alter of “spreading democracy.” Among them were 130 Naval Academy grads, 12 of our classmates, and two other teammates.
- Our way of war, bombing from the heavens, in particular, took 2-3 million Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian lives, many of which were civilians.
- From 1965-1973, 8 million tons of bombs were dropped—300 tons for every Vietnamese man, woman, and child. South Vietnam, our ally, was struck by nearly twice the number of bombs dropped by the U.S. in WWII.
- Over 20,000 Vietnamese prisoners died in the Tiger Cages of Con Son, victims of torture by Vietnamese police, trained by and operating under the influence if not direction of the U.S. military.
- The implementation of a “body count” metric to “prove” American success led to the murder of thousands of innocents—losses of epidemic proportions as proven by author Nick Turse’s search in the National Archives.
- By the end over 5 million of our South Vietnamese allies, nearly 1/3 the population,had been made refugees, driven from their land.
This is merely a sampling of the criminal behavior of our country—a record that ought to convince Americans that we had gone horribly off course. In fact, even by 1971, 58% of the public believed the nation was fighting an immoral war. More than half of all draft-age men took steps to avoid the draft, 500,000 deserted the military. Many rejected the idea that military service was always honorable and heroic. In 1972, the noted historian, Henry Steele Commager, perhaps perplexed that even more weren’t rising up against the war rhetorically wrote, “Why do we find it so hard to accept this elementary lesson of history, that some wars are so deeply immoral that they must be lost, that the war in Vietnam is one of these wars, and that those who resist it are the truest patriots?”
The really discouraging reality is that the record since, in spite of the stench of Vietnam, is equally criminal, equally devoid of humanity, makes a mockery of American convictions, and speaks of lessons unlearned.
Why do I say this? Very briefly:
- A recent report asserts that up to 1.3 million people have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the first 10 years of the so-called war on terror.
- This included an estimate by the University Collaborative Iraq Mortality Study of 405,000 Iraqi dead due to the war thru 2011.
- Targeted assassinations by drone.
- Abu Ghraib
The noted author-activist, Brian Willson, documents 390 overt U.S. military interventions between WWII and 2008, with at least 20 million killed. Note: That’s exclusive of the toll of covert operations!
Knowing this record it is not at all surprising that a 2013 WIN/Gallup poll found that in the eyes of the world the U.S. is the greatest threat to world peace.
Beginning on Memorial Day of 2012 the Department of Defense launched a Vietnam War Commemoration Campaign. The campaign will terminate on Veterans Day of 2025. Its seemingly reasonable and innocuous objectives, in abridged form, are:
- To thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War
- To highlight the service of the Armed Forces during the war
- To pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front
- To highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine related to military research during the war
- To recognize contributions by allies
Seems all fine and good. What’s not to like? Well, Mac, Veterans for Peace, of which I’m a member, sees the campaign as a perpetuation of the failure of our government to acknowledge the costs of the war as suffered by the Vietnamese and will serve to continue to, “sanitize and mythologize the Vietnam War and thereby legitimize further unnecessary and destructive wars.”
Veterans for Peace has launched its own counter-campaign at Vietnamfulldisclosure.org. It represents a clear alternative to the Pentagon’s current efforts to legitimize further unnecessary and destructive wars.
There are direct lines that run from My Lai thru Nerkh in Afghanistan (where innocents were again slaughtered), from Agent Orange victims thru the deformed babies of Fallujah, from the Tiger Cages thru Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, from the bombing of Hanoi thru the drone bombings of wedding parties in Pakistan and Yemen. Inhumanity is a common denominator.
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 2-3 million Vietnamese are with me.
No other nation on earth has intervened with armed force as America has. Though we know the fault lies with our leaders and a complicit media, we, the public is not blameless. Our silence makes us morally complicit and assures a future of American violence and inevitable blowback.
Knowing the truths and committed to speak out, I will visit you again soon at Panel 4E Row 51.
In lasting gratitude,
P.S. Written at a time when the Congressional leaders are calling for bombing Iran.
“Mourn the dead, but fight like hell for the living” said Mother Jones.
My father and my uncle both served in World War II and received their decorations, though neither ever spoke of the war, nor did I ask. As a boy, I played war with my older cousin who went off to Vietnam. Our idol was Audie Murphy; we both had his 3rd Infantry Division patch painted on our helmet liners.
So I was primed at a young age, ready to serve my country, a willing but unknowing patriot, dedicated to protecting and serving with honor my country ‘tis of the flying red, white and blue. I had a feeling of pride and glory, thinking I was doing the right thing to stop the spread of communism. The domino-theory prevailed, and I knew so little…. “Be a good citizen… trust your government.”
So, as the sabers rattled and the flags unfurled for the almighty USA, I was one of those young men going off to war. I was 17 and, like so many others coming from low-income families, the military held promise… a hopeful opportunity to gain knowledge, experience for future jobs, and the prospect of the GI Bill. High on my list was a chance to step away, exit from the insanity of my family. Sign me up, Uncle Sam!
I was stationed on the USS Duluth LPD 6 (landing platform dock), the last ship ever to be commissioned in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The ship joined Amphibious Ready Group Alpha, US Seventh Fleet off Vietnam South China Sea in May 1967, and departed in November back to Subic Bay. With three companies of Marines, helos, and landing craft assault vehicles, we participated in seven Amphibious Assault Operations. And according to Rear Admiral W.W. Behrens, USN, we “made a major contribution to our ever growing success in the war… Congratulations on a job well done.”
Well, get your rubber boots on and roll up your pants, for this is more of the BS we continually get from those who spin the truth into propaganda, more disingenuous lies. Let us not forget that the “The first casualty when war comes is truth” (US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson)
Do I remember the napalm strikes, the Medevac flights out, the 16-hour-a-day workloads, the smells, the heat, the prison-like confinement of being on a ship in close quarters day in and day out? Of course. Yet there is no one glaring event, rather a montage of images, a confluence of memories that flow down the river, all weaving that tapestry I call Vietnam.
What I remember most are the stories of those I have encountered. Here are but a mere few:
My colleague Ron, a psychologist, full colonel Army Reserve, who died of Agent Orange complications, leaving behind two young boys from his second marriage, now without a loving dad…
Tommy, served on ship with me, unable to manage, loses his home, living now in a small trailer provided by the church, his wife sobbing to me on the phone that disability benefits continue to be denied, yet our ship is listed on the Agent Orange: Mobile Riverine Force Alphabetized Ships List…
Russ, after a heavy firefight entering the village, picks up a small infant who dies in his arms, wondering what madness this is… Now he is a tireless witness for peace, working to stop the drones, to stop the killing of innocents…
My loving friend, Bill the ironworker, two-tour ‘Nam Vet. We spent 15 years in men’s group together, did Bamboo Bridge… I cried a lot of tears with you, Brother. Haunted by the continual memories of the war, caught in the cycle of addiction unable and to break free, gradually losing his mind, and living with his sister, unable to care of himself…. I haven’t spoken to you in three years. You may be dead by now, dear friend, I don’t really want to know… My heart aches…
Jim B., you fearless fighter for 9/11 Truth and Depleted Uranium, I miss your passion, your conviction for speaking the truth… locks himself in the bathroom and with shotgun unloads his troubles…
The funerals of veterans that I have attended, the stories heard from veterans and families, many offering the countless stories of suffering, carnage, suicide, addiction, homelessness, soulful injury… and the list goes on and on….
So I still carry some survivor guilt, for the message I received was that if you were wounded, that was a partial sacrifice, but the only ultimate way to truly fully serve, was to not come back at all. That level of insanity leaves little room for forgiveness and self-acceptance for the service that one was able to give. Of course, the participation in war needs to be reconciled with the cultural betrayal, the misdirected choice in submitting to such a misleading enterprise. “WAR is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” (Smedley Darlington Butler)
So what I walk away with is opening my heart to carry the sorrow of all the stories that I’ve heard… the suffering of humanity. I don’t always feel that sadness but it is there, a low moaning wail of grief that never quiets itself, a manifestation of what we have done to grandmother earth and all our relations, not just the two-legged.
I go to the top of the hill, leave tobacco, and say prayers for my helpers, the spirits of the land. I use the sweet grass to clear my mind, with Chanupa in hand, the sacred prayer pipe; I say my prayers to the great mystery, to grandmother, the four directions. I ask that my mind, body, spirit be strengthened in all ways, to serve, Mitakuye Oyasin, all my relations in a good way. Let it be so.
I keep my boots on the ground, I keep my head high, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with others who want to see peace and justice prevail in a world filled with darkness. I will continue toward this end with the hope that the seven generations, those yet to come down the road of life, will have a better way.
For all of you who have come down the road or rest in the fields, I will burn some extra sweet grass, sage, cedar and perhaps copal. Gently smell the sweetness, shake your weariness. May you take a breath of sweet mercy. I am On Belay,
Douglas H. Ryder
President, VFP Eisenhower Chapter 157
Another Truth About Viet Nam, USA, and The Wall
By Jack Gray, Seaman Apprentice, deserter, detained and released, 1966-68
To your name on the Wall and in your memory:I didn’t go to Viet Nam. But I have as much sadness when I see your image, as when I first went to visit you shortly after your construction. I almost went to war, because like so many times of war, including now, we are told that it is the right thing to do, and for a while I believed them. And of course when we dared to question, our government, for greed and for power, would lead or drag us down this destructive path in its draft. Those in power would determine the only exceptions. I enlisted.
I enlisted in the Navy-USNR in 1966, so that I could finish college, perhaps become an officer, and eventually be able to choose a non-combatant service. This I so glibly swallowed at age 20, from my local recruiter. My folks were pleased and threw a party…….. complete with cake. My picture went into the local paper. Shortly thereafter I was off to Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, a long way from my small town in Washington State.
I was lucky. As I talked with others who, like me, enlisted, and to others who were drafted, I could only learn that this war was not making sense, in so many ways. Amidst the lies, deceptive propaganda, and oppression by military and government, questions were popping all around me. Answers and choices seemed all bad. For each answer would talk of death, by them or by us, or perhaps to prison. I chose to desert and to think. It was just one of those bad choices among all the other bad choices.
And so I went from Officer Candidate to Seaman Apprentice, to deserter, to Courts Martials, to detention, to waiting handcuffs for transporting….. to what I was told would be a brig in Viet Nam. But then by some fortuitous trail of gossip and spreading of the word, a lawyer volunteered his service, as did War Resisters League. And after months as a detainee, I was released. Government lawyers were preparing their request for seven years at Leavenworth. But a Federal District Court Judge believed what I was saying and accepted my beliefs despite my lack of religion, as a conscientious objector. I actually had no hope and then my world changed. I didn’t feel a lot of honor and, given a different day and no support, I easily may have chosen to cooperate. I was lucky in the midst of giving up hope.
And now when I remember The Wall, and your names, and your innocence, I honor you and I cry for you, and every part of your lives and the lives of those maimed and dying around you, before you and after you.
I’m still sad this war happens, and that it happens for all the bad reasons as proclaimed by other vets having experienced harm and real truths around Viet Nam. These truths are glaring, even though many in our government still wish to bury them in their proclamation of “support our troops,” and yet vote against legislation that would ease the pain and suffering of those who survive. 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, because we know what happened. Most importantly your names and souls live with us.
With humility, Jack Gray, veteran and deserter from Washington State
I set out with pen and paper
to write something poetic
about this black monument and
its neatly chiseled list of names,
only to be confronted with the
dead silence of so many voices
(plus millions in Southeast Asia)
and the unspeakable crime
of the American war in Viet Nam.
My last conversation with my neighbor Kenny was out in front of his house. We were both standing there in the driveway and he says, “I heard from the Draft Board. I’m classified 1 – A.” I said, “What’s that mean?” He explained, “It means I’m ripe for pickin’, gonna get drafted for sure. Probably go to Vietnam.” I didn’t know enough about Vietnam to ask a simple question about it. He didn’t know enough about Vietnam to answer even if I did ask. Neither one of us could find Vietnam on an unmarked map, so we started talking about his car. Growing up he was a few years older than me and he worked his father’s dairy farm and ranch in Willits, California. My house was across the road from his and our mothers knew each other well, exchanging gossip from time to time.
Kenneth Allan Butler, Jr. is inscribed on Panel 51 – Line 38 on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in our Nation’s Capital. He was killed in Vietnam in 1968 while driving an Armored Personnel Carrier when it hit a land mine. He was in the US Army for less than a year. He was 20 years old.
Against the advice of all my friends I went in to see an Army Recruiter in December 1970 to enlist. I said, “I want to be a gunner on a helicopter.” The Sergeant said, “We aren’t recruiting for that MOS this month.” I asked, “What’s a MOS?” He explained, “It’s your job. Everyone has a Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS. It’s a specific job that you are trained to do.” All along I thought everyone did what they thought they were good at in the Army. In the movies you just got into a jeep and took off. When the shooting started everyone just picked up their rifles and pitched in and did their best to shoot back. It wasn’t like a job with a title. So I said, “What about tanks?” He suggested a MOS in electronics so I could learn a skill and after the Army I could get a good job. I said, “Nope. I want Tanks.” He agreed to that, but I would serve “based on the needs of the Army, most likely Germany, because we don’t have many tanks in Vietnam.” So I said Okay.
I came home on Leave after Armor Advanced Individual Training in Fort Knox, Kentucky and my mother said Kenny’s mom wanted to talk to me. I didn’t have the courage. Talk to Kenny’s mom, about what? About being in the Army? I liked it. I had been promoted to Private First Class upon graduation from AIT, I was selected Supernumerary in Guard Duty and received a letter commending me from the Executive Officer of the Training Brigade; a Major signed it. I liked the Army and I liked driving tanks and knocking down trees, driving through mud. It was a good move for me to enlist. How could I tell her that? I was 19 and I did not have the knowledge or the words for that kind of responsibility. I would say the wrong thing and make her feel bad. I didn’t go.
I went on to make Sergeant, then after college and ROTC, I became an Officer in the Signal Corps and retired as an Army Major. If Kenny’s mother were still alive today I think I now know what I would try to say to her. It would be something like this:
I am sincerely sorry for your loss. Kenny died so young and he missed so much. He missed not having children, birthdays, weddings, and reunions. He missed growing old with his wife and friends. Other classmates of his have died way too soon as well; a motorcycle accident by following too close, untreated cancer, drinking and driving, a drug addiction, etc. While those losses are tragic, they are without Honor. Kenny died while serving his country, doing what he thought was the right thing to do, like so many who have gone on before him, answering the Nation’s call. He bravely served doing his duty and his name will always be associated with honorable and selfless service in time of war. His name is etched in stone for future generations to see on The Wall and pay tribute. He is with good company. So Mrs. Helen Butler, you are the mother of a very special man whose memory and place in history will go on after the rest of us are long gone and forgotten. Take comfort.
DENNIS W. MINER
April 18, 2015
Dear Joe-or Bob or John or maybe Susan (…how many, many names…they seem to stretch forever on this wall).
I was probably just learning to write my own name when you died. Born in 1964, it was a confusing time to be a little girl. I am sure it was far more confusing-and frightening-for you to be in Vietnam.
I wondered about you back then. Who were you, this young man on my TV, running through tall grass and jungles, carrying a gun? Or perhaps you were a nurse treating the wounded. But why were they wounded? Why were they there? Someone must know, I thought.
I tried to ask my mom these questions but if she gave an explanation at all, I still could not understand it. The one thing I was sure of was that some of these men were killed. My oldest brother was of draft age and I was terrified to think he might have to go. I cried one day, asking Mom if he would be killed. Again, there was no sufficient answer, no reassurance.
That brother did not get the call. He is sixty-two now, alive and well.
But you had to go-and you died. You were somebody’s brother or son or sweetheart.
As much as I tried to figure out “war” back then, no one-not even Walter Cronkite-could make it seem right. It was simply a nightmare no one could wake from. “That’s the way it was”, as Walter would say.
I am fifty now. You might think in all these years that I would have made sense of it, that I could finally believe it was more than just senseless death and destruction. Wasn’t I taught that we were always “the good guys”? The powerful, the wealthy and elite, many in the halls of Washington, are still trying to spin it, to put it in some sort of good light. But if I bought that, if (even worse) I repeated that lie, I fear it would be one more betrayal of you.
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 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall
So many of you whose names are on this Wall were young, so very young when you went off to war. My friend, Ron Phillips, was a combat Marine in Vietnam (2nd Bat., 3rd Marines). He didn’t die there, but came home wounded in body and spirit. After Ron returned, he applied for a position in the Waco, Texas Police Department and was told he was too young to be a policeman because he was too young to carry a gun. Too young to carry a gun in Texas, but not in Vietnam.
Ron died of heart disease 20 years ago, at age 45. He had finally been granted his PTSD claim, after seven years of appeals to the V.A. Before he died, he used years of his life and the pain of his experiences in Vietnam to reach young people, to tell them that service in the military is not the grand adventure portrayed by military recruiters.
It wasn’t easy. Talking to students required Ron to remember the pain he had buried while he was in Vietnam. Once he told me about retrieving the weapon and going through the belongings of a dead Vietnamese soldier. He may have been the one who killed the man. He wasn’t sure. He hadn’t been the only one firing. In the dead man’s clothing, he found his wallet and in it a picture of the man’s wife and child. For a moment, Ron felt the full humanity of the man, the horror of his death, the sorrow his family would know. But only for a moment. Then he had to shut those feelings down, deep down. Marines are not supposed to cry. And he would have to fight again.
It would be years and many hours of therapy before Ron could confront his experiences. And it took writing a lot of poetry. When Ron went into high school classes, he read his poetry and the poetry of other veterans, and he talked about the war. One teacher always asked her students to write their responses when the class met next, and she shared those with Ron. A young man wrote, “Thank you for helping me understand my father. He fought in Vietnam but he doesn’t talk about the war. He doesn’t talk much at all.”
Ron also coordinated the Alternatives to Militarism project. He wrote, designed and distributed leaflets, showed films, and organized anti-war events. He had a chance to make a difference, and he used that chance – even though it meant reliving the dehumanization and horror of his own experiences as a Marine.
You whose names are on this Wall died in Indochina, and so you never got a chance to mature and to make a difference as adult members of society. Our country has never been enriched by all the talents you might have brought to us. Our society has never benefited from all the work you might have done. We have been deprived of your stories, your music, your smiles, laughter, tears, and perhaps wisdom. Your loved ones never had the chance to watch as you tossed a ball back and forth with your children. Your children – those you left behind or those you never had – didn’t have the chance to see you bounce your grandchildren on your knee. You likely would have had grandchildren by now.
There is simply no way to measure the loss to your comrades in arms, to your friends, your family and to all your fellow citizens. I wish I could believe that you died in a righteous cause. I do not. The only way we can bring meaning to your deaths is to remember you and to strengthen our resolve to work against war as an instrument of foreign policy.
And truth to tell, there ought to be another wall, a wall bearing the names of those who came home from Vietnam, but ultimately didn’t survive the war. That wall would need to contain an even greater number of names, to include all those who committed suicide or who, because of drugs or alcohol, or depression or reckless driving, died as a result of self-destruction.
The name of my former brother-in-law, William Douglas Barnes, belongs on such a wall. A light-hearted young man before he went to war, he loved life and he loved good food. Billy would come in the front door of the family home in Connecticut and head directly to the kitchen to examine the contents of the refrigerator.
After the war, Bill moved to Oregon with his second wife. He earned a Masters degree at the University of Oregon, fathered a daughter, held a socially-useful job, worked on his house. He coped. He was still genial and quick to laugh.
Bill didn’t talk about Vietnam when we were together. Except once. He was stoned. Then he talked about being blown out of his bunker. He talked about being abandoned in the jungle, Vietcong nearby, how very near he did not know, when the helicopter that came to evacuate them after a fire fight couldn’t lift off without leaving someone behind.
In a way, he and so many other Vietnam veterans were abandoned again when a government that had sent them to war learned all the wrong lessons from that war. America launched another war in another country which we did not understand, and in which the U.S.utterly lacked the potential to bring its people a decent future. The Iraq War put Billy and so many other veterans over the edge. He couldn’t continue to cope. He couldn’t keep it together. They said he died as a consequence of alcoholism. His family knows he died as a result of his military service. His sister speaks of the heartbreak of watching a loved one slowly suffering and dying from carrying the weight of the war daily.
The only way we can bring meaning to 60,000 or more delayed deaths is to remember those who perished after the war because they did not come home from Vietnam whole in body or spirit, and sooner or later could no longer cope. They, too, should strengthen our resolve to work against war as an instrument of foreign policy.
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.” It took twenty years after the war ended on April 30, 1975 for the U.S. to stop punishing Vietnam, to lift the embargo, to normalize relations. Now we wear clothes with labels that say, “Made in Vietnam,” and Vietnam is a tourist destination. But people in Southeast Asia are still dying from Agent Orange and from the mines and bombs the U.S. 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.
I knew two of the men whose names are engraved on the Vietnam Veteran Memorial. The first, Artie Klippen, I saw a lot of that season in ‘63 when we both played Lacrosse at Georgetown. We had one of those anarchic undergraduate arrangements where we briefly shared a car, a beat-up old Chevy with the gear shift on the steering column. Compared to so many guys at that age who are callow and two-faced, Artie was a straight-up, warm and friendly guy, qualities that make him continue to stand out in my memory, even though we never got to know each other well. After that year, I seldom saw Artie again. I had been in Brazil all of ‘64, but came back with too few credits to graduate with my class in ‘65, the year Artie did. Having completed ROTC, Artie got his lieutenant’s butter bar along with his sheepskin. I was still at Georgetown, having stuck around an extra year in ROTC myself to avoid the draft, when I heard Artie had bought it in Nam as a platoon leader with a leg unit.
I read somewhere that the odds to survive a tour in Nam were a thousand to one. On average. The life expectancy for a grunt LT like Artie was averaged against that of a chaplain’s assistant in the rear, a two-star general well behind the wire in his air conditioned trailer, a spoon in the mess hall who hugged an M-16 at night in a bunker to guard the perimeter, or a spook like me patrolling in harm’s way by day, but generally secure overnight in a base camp. So Artie already faced poorer odds compared to most of us. But a soldier’s superstition held that, no matter where you found yourself in Nam, if there was a bullet in Hanoi with your name on it, you weren’t coming home. We called that blind luck, and Artie didn’t have it.
I don’t recall how Artie died exactly. It might have been a bullet; more likely a booby trap. Out on patrol where you stepped, and where you didn’t, made all the difference. But given the routinely barbarous acts American GIs perpetrated on innocent Vietnamese civilians, I feel confident that Artie made his unit play by the rules of engagement to whatever the degree that was even possible in a peoples’ war. He would not have been gung ho or reckless. Artie would have put a premium on the welfare of his men, even as he had the moxie to lead them in a deadly encounter. And if I were to learn Artie died bravely to ensure someone else might live, that would be consistent with the character of the man I knew. Even in an evil war like Vietnam, I want to believe a man like Artie Klippen could be a hero.
The other young man I knew whose name is on the Wall, wasn’t even close to being a hero. But he was a tragic loss, and just as chosen by misfortune as anyone else whose name is inscribed there. I believe that Stanley Reed was not yet twenty when he died, right in line with the ‘nineteen year, ten month average age of all American soldiers who served in Vietnam. Stanley was average in other ways too, I guess. An average smart ass, authority-allergic American teenage white boy, likely from a blue collar background in which a college deferment was not an option, and who enlisted for four years to avoid being drafted into the infantry for two. The Army trained Stanley to be an interrogator.
When I took command of the 1st Military Intelligence Team of the 11th Infantry Brigade, Stanley was already there in the interrogation unit. I had been trained as an infantry officer at Ft. Benning, then in a school for spooks in a compound near the Baltimore harbor. In the MI team, I ran the counter-intelligence unit, while interrogation was under the supervision of another lieutenant junior to me. The interrogation center was off site from our compound, so I seldom dealt directly with the interrogators, except after hours when all the team members filled our little club to drink beer over cards or ping pong.
I recall getting a whiff of Stanley’s attitude a couple of times when he attempted to bait me in some childish test over authority. It was irritating, and I probably put him in his place. But I didn’t spend a lot of time defending my military dignity. I detested the Army. Moreover I did not relish being officer-in-charge of anything, much less a team of fourteen American intelligence agents and as many South Vietnamese Army interpreters. In my mind I wasn’t supposed to end up anywhere near the Infantry. It was a fluke. Like Stanley I had joined something bad to avoid something worse. But here we both were anyway on LZ Bronco with the 11th Infantry.
My section, CI, was out in the bush a lot, working the fringes of the Phoenix Program. But the interrogators had no business going on patrol. Stanley got restless I suppose. Said he didn’t want to go home without having some small taste of the field. When the squad came back at dusk, I got the news. They’d made contact. In the fray, Stanley had been wounded, maybe a rocket from one of our own gunships, friendly fire. After a few days a couple of us flew down from Duc Pho to Qui Nhon to visit him at the evacuation hospital. The damage to some internal organs was serious, but he was expected to recover. Stanley was in good spirits, and he and I actually made real contact. I look back on that moment as redemptive. Two weeks later, the land line buzzed in my office tent when my colossal asshole boss up at Division called to tell me Stanley was dead.
That night Charlie pounded us relentlessly with mortars and rockets. The team huddled in the bunker to escape the shrapnel. Otherwise we were well protected from anything but a stray round, since the enemy’s main target was the landing strip to our front. The news of Stanley’s death had cast a spell of fatalism over all of us. No one felt safe that night. No one talked. No one played cards. Each individual was preoccupied with his private grief, his private thoughts. Who next among us might be disgraced by fortune? If Stanley could buy it, then why not me?
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. In one sense, that’s what it means to have beaten the odds.
I was born in 1944 and was of draft age during the Vietnam War. I opposed the war at its earliest stages based upon my religious beliefs. However, being a Catholic did not qualify me as a conscientious objector to the war. Since I was a top science student in college I instead was able to defer my induction through a series of student and marital deferments which lasted until the war’s end. Not so fortunate were the mostly low income, minority boys who made up the draft pool in Bergen County, New Jersey.
This war profoundly affected me and the way in which I view my country. It opened my eyes to the warning President Eisenhower left office with about the threat posed by the military-industrial complex. It became the foundation upon which I judged the many military interventions that have occurred over my lifetime. What has followed this tragic war has been a never-ending series of equally tragic military blunders that have enriched the few: Halliburton, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Lockeed-Martin, Dow Chemical, etc.
I have worked since then to promote peace rather than war because it was the right thing to do. I no longer believe that peace has a chance. I have witnessed the unstoppable war machine that has become our principle method of foreign policy. What sickens me is the trail of the broken lives of some of our finest young men and women that have served as “ambassadors” of that foreign policy. If that were not terrible enough, I live with the dread of the millions of nameless civilians who have perished at our hands.
While I am convinced that our fragile democracy has been another casualty of letting corporations control our political process, I cannot stay silent about this latest attempt to whitewash the Vietnam War. The veterans of this war have my deepest appreciation for their efforts to keep this story from being manipulated. I hope that my statement can add to the many other voices for peace.
Dear: So many:
There are more than 58,000 of you on this Wall, “so many.” I remember the first thoughts of building a memorial to Vietnam Vets and I am so grateful for Jan Scruggs and the many others who made it possible. I contributed cash but they made it happen, so that future generations could see the names of “so many.
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. To my knowledge I was a replacement for one of the crew who was killed by a sapper’s mine the previous November 1, 1968. I didn’t want to be there. I never wanted to be there, but I was so grateful to my Mother for making sure I was wearing Navy blue versus Army green, like so many of you.
My service was not yours. I was rarely in harm’s way, sitting at the mouth of the Mekong River Delta providing support for huey gun ships and PBRs. I was close enough to hear the roar of the fighter jets, the endless rhythm of those damn helicopters and the gut wrenching thud of some far away bombing run. I was close enough to see the tracers, the sparkling trail of VC rockets, and the eerie motionlessnees of flares. I was close enough to be a spectator but you all were there. “So many” of you were there. And yet it haunts me everyday.
I left the Navy after three years, nine months and eleven days, a number I will never forget. I went to college, got a job, got married and had children. I had a good life working in offices in and around Washington DC. Every Veteran’s Day after The Wall was built, I would visit you all, look at the names of “so many” who I did not personally but who I would cry out for and ask why. Why were you now just a name etched on a stone black wall, while I lived on? “So many,” 58,000 etchings that seemed to go on and on and on. Why was I the lucky one to be left off the wall. Why was I the one who would continue to go to ball games, enjoy a beer, drive a little too fast with the radio turned way up, make love, be a dad and a husband and now a grand father. You the “so many” would never hear the call of G-PA.
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. After years of war I helped organize a vigil in Asheville to remember those young people who were now joining you the “so many.” When I became a teacher, I would show the students my picture of the Wall with “so many” names. I would try to bring it home to them by showing them the list of you from North Carolina. I would bring it down to two of you, Ricky Propst and Ricky Lowder who had learned in classrooms where they now learned, walked the halls where they now walked, played on the fields where they now played, lived in the community where they now were growing up and died before their time. There were always two or three of my students who would notice that Ricky Propst died on his birthday. They would also notice my voice would crack and a tear trailing down my cheek.
I tried, I still try to help 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 their 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.
Dear Doug Rawlings to To Whom It May Concern,
Thank you for your work in Vietnam: The Power of Protest conference and and your work for Veterans for Peace. I immigrated to the U.S. 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, working as a judge in the Ministry of Justice, had to report to a Vietcong reeducation camp where he was a prisoner for nine years. I first saw my father when I was nine years old because he was taken away when my mother was pregnant with me. My father came to the U.S. 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. I strive to gather my fractured pieces as a result of the war, as in kintsukuroi art where broken pieces of pottery are glued back together with gold, and mend myself, to feel some kind of wholeness which I have strived for throughout my life through compassion and through doing what I can to bring awareness to the affects of the war in Vietnam.
I am attaching my poems (also pasted below) which you are free to share. I would be honored if these poem-letters can be placed at the foot of the Wall in Washington, D.C. I wish I could be there with everyone, but I will be there in spirit.
With infinite gratitude…
Best and warmest wishes,
Teresa Mei Chuc
To those commemorated on the wall
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. It wasn’t as you imagined, how could it be, especially this war, it was unimaginable to so many. 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, that was clear to me and so many of those around me. We really did try to get them to see the error, marching, speaking in loud voices which could be heard, but we were not heard.
Ten years later some came back, you did not. Then when some came back, not you, they came back to a country without a soul, they were blamed for the terrible atrocities of this war, how could that be, they were doing what they were told to do. Then more of them ended the nightmares and severe depression by taking their own lives then all those that were killed in combat. That is what wars like this do to our minds, it degrades the extreme value of life.
That happened to them not you. No, many of you were taken at the start of your lives, maybe before you got a chance to really live, and then to die without your family at your bedside. I hope you made your family new during your ordeal, bonding with those who were in hell with you. I hope you died with them at your side. Nothing about this war was right, nothing was won or really accomplished,as if winning even matters. Love matters, that is what matters, and I hope before you died I hope you were loved.
CLOCKWORK: With machine like regularity and precision. (Or imprecision.)
I was nowhere near combat while in the Army during The Vietnam War. I was, however, over in Thailand during 1969-70 with the 219th MP Co., 40th MP Bn., USARSUPTHAI. Part of the support troops in the rear. So, in indirect and direct ways I and my fellow military police provided support to the U.S. Air Force. They were stationed at a number of Royal Thai Air Force bases. Some of it was MP’s escorting munitions convoys from the port at Satahip to ASP’s (Ammunition Supply Points). I wasn’t personally involved with these convoys; I did stuff like work shifts as a gate guard at the nearest ASP to Camp Friendship where I was stationed for most of my tour. And I worked shifts at the Main Gate into Camp Friendship with two other MP’s and three Thai Guards.
Right next door to the Army camp was the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base with plenty of U.S. Air Force planes. In short order I became aware that these jets were making bombing runs primarily over Vietnam; and also dropping some tons on the Ho Chi Minh Trail; and other bomb deliveries to Laos and Cambodia. This was like a clockwork deal. The jets flew seven days a week, night and day, month after month. It was the routine.
The days clicked by, the bombs continued to be delivered, and the war lingered on. Yeah, I found it to be disturbing. There were others I knew who had the same reaction. God, it was just these endless tonnages.
I just don’t think I ever really got over it; such relentless delivery of death, with the certainty of “collateral damage.” But as we used to say: “Fuck it. It don’t mean nothing. That’s what’s so sweet about it.” Yeah; the human waste, the material waste, the money burned up in one-way bombs. So there it is and there it was.
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE: “It is an old Cockney slang phrase, implying queerness or madness so extreme as to subvert nature.” –Anthony Burgess
FOR THE DEAD WHO LIVE ON, ON THE WALL
First let me say that I am very glad to continue to be a living veteran of the Vietnam War. I didn’t serve in Vietnam; I was stationed in Thailand. My Tour Of Duty was June 1969-August 1970. So; today as I reflect on being a survivor of the war, I recall being enmeshed in “THE GREEN MACHINE”. I was entangled, involved in, caught in, and ensnared.
I believe that my military duty caused me to receive a moral injury. Before being drafted and inducted, I was already against the war. I went in the Army because I couldn’t seem to flee the United States, nor openly refuse induction. Perhaps I believed dumb luck would keep me safe; or I even might not be sent to Vietnam. Then; off to Thailand I was sent.
So; I believe that war is always a crime. A fellow named Jonathan Shay introduced the moral injury concept as “an injury to an individual’s moral conscience.” As if becoming an anguished soul not necessarily experiencing a psychological disorder.
What can I say now? Maybe all I can do is continue to judge myself with some mercy, compassion. With gratitude that I’ve made it this far and have had a life after my own experiences as a support trooper during the Vietnam War.
I can’t bring back the dead, nor live with hatred for those who perpetrated an unnecessary war that inflicted so much pain and suffering on so many. Perhaps, by my own humanity, I will always believe the Vietnam War was wrong; that it truly did subvert nature.
Robert L. Schlosser
28 March 2015
Durham, North Carolina
As a citizen in support of the Full Disclosure project, I have personal stories to share.
Active participation in CALCAV (Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam) was one of the activities that brought my late husband, Francis and me together in 1968. (Then, as a married couple having left the clergy, we were so sensitized against war, that we became conscientious war tax objectors in the early 80’s.) So when the opportunity arose to tour Vietnam, we immediately signed up. It was called a “Friendship Tour for building global community through cultural understanding.”
This three week tour, however, was not a conventional one – not specifically because it was led by Tom Fox, editor of National Catholic Reporter (NCR) but because our guide, Tom, had volunteered as a civilian to work with war-displaced refugees immediately after college graduation. International Volunteer Services had flown him to Saigon for a month of intensive Vietnamese training, after which he had been sent to a camp in Tuy Hoa. He was a 22 year old, in the middle of a war. It was 1966. All at once, he was a Saigon-based journalist, a correspondent for NCR, and a stringer for TIME magazine and The New York Times.
It is difficult to refrain from saying more about Tom Fox, for example, how he had survived Vietcong shelling during the Tet offensive by lying low on a hotel roof in Tuy Hoa, and how he had met and married, Kim Hoa, a Can Tho, Mekong Delta-born social worker with the Committee for Responsibility. (The committee transported seriously war-injured Vietnamese children to the United States for treatment unobtainable in Vietnam.) Readers can learn more from NCR archives here: http://natcath.org/NCR_Online/archives2/2005a/012105/012105h.php This link includes a photo of the young couple, Kim Hoa and Thomas C. Fox in 1971: http://www.twhalloran.info/page67.html
The presence among us of two Vietnam Veterans, Tom McNamara and Sam Luna, also gave our tour a singular flavor.
I took extensive notes, some written reports, and many photos during those three weeks. Once returned to Portland, I gave a one hour slide presentation to the Audubon Society’s Travel Club. To share my most memorable stories from our Friendship Tour of Vietnam, now, I’m using excerpts from those notes.
Tom McNamara, a former Catholic chaplain in the Army, came to see how things were 30 years later. To Sam Luna, the tour was cathartic. He was able to talk to Vietnamese veterans of the war and achieve a sort of closure. In fact, Sam fulfilled what he said at the end of our tour about planning to share his experience through writing, and “to help vets experience some of the peace I have been blessed to experience.”
He founded “Vet Journey Home.” www.vetsjourneyhome.org/ and was honored for it along with 11 other veterans on May 24, 2012 by Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Sollis. He was cited as one of the White House Office of Public Engagement’s “Champions of Change” – “for his extraordinary efforts to end veterans’ homelessness, boost veterans’ employment, address problems with substance abuse and develop treatment programs for those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Vets’ Journey Home Texas Inc. is a nonprofit organization that provides a free weekend retreat to veterans and active duty military personnel. The weekend is a safe place where participants can learn about what their war experience did to their bodies. http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/opa/opa20121067.htm
I didn’t need the presence of Tom and Sam among us to experience grief of my own while touring the country our government had ordered bombed, thirty plus years earlier. Francis’ and my objections to that war went deep. Only months before our wedding in 1972, having written an MA thesis on the Just War Theory versus Ghandian non-violence, I had represented the Catholic Church on a panel discussion about the war. It was aired by a TV channel in Portland, Maine. On his part, Francis, when still a priest in the midi-60’s, had stood at court before Judge Gignoux in support of two young men. They then became the first Catholics in Maine to be given CO status exempting them participation in the war.
So it was not surprising that tears spontaneously welled up in me several times while talking with some Vietnamese people. I made note of four instances: While talking with Huong, our guide, during breakfast at Cat Ba Island, after a memorable boat ride through Halong Bay. She mentioned the 1964 and 1972 US bombings of a 1902 bridge, but added that it had since been rebuilt for bicycles and trains. (We travelers had many occasion to appreciate the ingenuity of the Vietnamese people: they made use of the bomb craters to keep and harvest fish.)
A second one occurred during a conversation with two young clerks at a bank in Saigon where Francis and I gone to get cash. One young man’s face softened when he saw my concern. “Many died,” he said. But a young woman said she blamed governments, not the US people. “Like in Iraq too,” she explained. By then, all the tellers were caught up in our conversation. “The whole bank is engaged with us!” Francis whispered to me. Before we left someone took a photo of the two clerks, one on either side of me.
Francis’ and my visit to the “War Remnants Museum” (like my whole trip to Vietnam, actually) was unforgettable. http://www.travelfish.org/sight_profile/vietnam/saigon_and_surrounds/ho_chi_minh_city/ho_chi_minh_city/619
I lingered in a few parts of it, especially the “Historical Truths,” namely, the photographers’ section, and the Children’s Paintings on War and Peace section.
I took two photos that tell a story. One is a 3-4 foot statue of a mother bearing a deformed child with her hands covering her face. The other is a large children’s painting releasing doves of peace into the heavens.
“They represent for me,” I wrote “the light and dark of my own experience in Vietnam, first sorrow at the suffering we heaped upon the Vietnamese. And then, gratitude. The children’s art represents for me the attitude of the Vietnamese who recognize the sad past is over now, and we Americans are their allies in helping their rehabilitation.”
In fact, our Mekong River guide, Trang, sounded the same note after I engaged her in conversation. She told me that her father had been a nurse during the Vietnam War. Her family had to live in the cellar at that time, she said. She also explained that five people had to sleep in one bed but that a sniper’s bullets came through and killed all five people. Then she assured me: “That’s a sad story, but it’s past now.”
The most moving exchange I had, however, happened when I bought Graham Greene’s The Quiet American from a man without hands. His open face and sense of dignity moved me so deeply, I reached to take his stump of a hand to shake it. He offered it to me twice. He received my expression of regret for the Vietnam War – which they rightly call The American War – with such warmth and dignity, I felt ennobled.
One day we visited a special hospital for handicapped children. Tom had told us that the authorities were not eager for us to visit this Medical College, but that he had made way for us to go anyway. We walked up several flights in an old hospital building and gathered around a long rectangular table. Dr. Nguyen Viet Nhan, MD, PhD a slight middle aged man with an open, kind face welcomed us warmly. We sat riveted to hear his story.
He told us about his work in his Hue Medical College which (I believe) he founded to help poor children who suffer from various disabilities allegedly caused by Agent Orange or result from birth defects due to Agent Orange. Such disabilities, Dr. Nhan told us, skyrocketed after the Vietnam War. Dr. Nhan works here as a volunteer in addition to his other regular job as a Chief of the Department of Medical Genetics. His “Office of Genetic Counseling and (for) Disabled Children,” (OGCDC) helps poor patients who suffer from brain tumors, heart and eye problems hydrocephaly, cleft lip and palate, Meningitis, Septicemia, blindness and physical deformities of all kinds. To prevent further devastating suffering, Dr. Nhan emphasized the need for surgery as early in the victim’s life as possible.
While he talked a young woman, perhaps in her early 20’s, came in and gave him papers, perhaps copies of his Newsletter which he distributed. With our permission, she also took a photo of us for a souvenir. Tom had told us ahead of time not to give money while there but encouraged us when we returned home to donate over the web if we were so moved. I did. Their web address is still up and active: www.ogcdc.org.
Only days before the end of our three week tour, Tom had a treat in store for us. An octogenarian, Vietnamese scholar, a friend of his and Hoa would be giving us a lecture on the history of Saigon. Hoa was our interpreter. We sat in the garden eager to hear the professor.
He talked in detail about the history of Saigon, how originally there had been a wall to protect the city. But with a civil war, the French rebuilt a smaller city which made it easier for them to occupy. He said the French destroyed community villages in Saigon and remodeled the area as a French city in Europe. He then described how the city grew. . . .
I could include all the information in my notes here. They’re details I only vaguely remembered, but for the notes. And I could share them with anyone who’s interested. But what I did not forget, and want to relate now, is the following: During the question and answer period, Sam inquired whether or not any good had come from the Vietnam War. The professor did not hesitate. “No,” he said. I saw and heard the anguish in Sam’s voice when he pressed, asking again, “Nothing?” “No,” affirmed the Professor. But then he paused, smiled, and added – “Well, maybe the marriage between Hoa and Tom.”
I have too many stories to share. I would like to say much more about that Mekong River boat ride, and our overnight stay at the Bha Hung family’s delta-style compound. For accommodations, we slept in a bamboo house on stilts over the river. . . .
I would love to tell the story what happened during our private boat tour of Halong Bay, a World Natural Heritage. And there is so much more to say about the Vietnamese people. It’s their open, eager faces, more than any thing or place, I’ll never forget. Their graciousness was instinctive. They are passionate to learn English. In both Hoi An and in Saigon, I found myself repeating for two young women the correct pronunciation of words to which they pointed in their dictionaries.
When I prepared to give the slide show presentation of our tour of Vietnam, I made time to delve a little in the fascinating history and their culture, for example, not just the varied influences that shaped this unique, beautiful country – such as Confucianism and Buddhism, but also, for example – Caodaism whose temple we visited. This religion is an excellent example of Vietnam’s religious syncretism.
Visiting the CHAM Museum in central Vietnam was another high point for me. Cham art, influenced by Hindu art, is also similar to Ankor Wat.
For this Aubudon talk, Francis wore a handsome silk shirt I had bought for him in Saigon, and I wore a custom made dress.
I’ve saved a sweet story for last. (And all this was written then, in 2006):
“Picture me, an American woman being led across the suicidal streets of Saigon, each hand held by a child’s hand. Small for their age, Hung is a 10 year old girl, and Long, an 11 year old boy. Our mission? I had agreed when asked, “Will you buy me some milk?” My heart swelled with joy and pride as we crossed two streets to reach a large department store. Wondering where the lunch counter was, I was taken aback when Hung stopped at an unlikely counter and pointed to a large cylindrical container of powdered “Ensure”. “$20.00,” the clerk asserted. Simultaneously stunned by the whole surprise and price, but equally shocked at what this meant – especially when Hung explained this would last one month in her family, to which Long added it would last even longer in his since he didn’t have as many siblings as she, I eagerly handed over my credit card to buy a carton for each of them.
We then returned to their spot on the sidewalk where Hung sells postcards to tourists, and Long, his mother’s cards hand painted on silk attached to glazed paper. When we hugged goodbye, Long reached higher and kissed me on the cheek. That kiss is seared there forever.”
March 7, 2015
The photo Francis took of me standing between Hung and Lang in front of the Continental Hotel in Saigon is on page 163 of my second book, SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – A Love Story. Seven pages in that book (including two other photos) are devoted to the remarkable tour of Vietnam Tom Fox led for us. Its memory will never leave me.
I urge any and all – and especially Vietnam Veterans – to look up Thomas C Fox – Vietnam Tours. He began writing for the National Catholic Reporter almost, or virtually, at its founding, in 1964. Then Tom became its editor for many years, and is now publisher of NCR. But he is still, also, leading his friendship Tours to Vietnam. Look here: http://ncronline.org/tour-vietnam-ncrs-tom-fox
2 March 2015
Response to the War in Vietnam
As the war in Vietnam began I was a student at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana. Having grown up in a Chicago suburb I was on one hand an upper middleclass kid for whom politics were not at all important. On the other hand my high school was one of very few racially integrated suburban schools and that, plus a few years working at a local establishment restaurant with a multi-racial staff, had made me increasingly aware for the complexity of American politics. I listened to Studs Terkel on late night radio, sang along with Joan Baez as her folk songs eased from our living room speakers.
At Illinois I learned Dylan songs, increased my exposure to racial and other politics through roommates who were, sequentially, Jewish, German, Iranian, African-American, and Japanese/Hawaiian. The seventy males in my housing unit came from twenty-six nations. 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.
Nothing, however, prepared me for the international condemnation of the U.S. that I encountered when I began a year’s study at the Universität Tübingen in West Germany. When a massive march protesting the war moved through the center of the city I watched carefully, stunned by the realization that these Europeans did not regard our political action in Southeast Asia to be either justified or wise. I had assumed the Vietnam War was our problem. It was not. The information provided on handouts and by speakers revealed more fully to me the dangers and the unjust nature of the war itself, the methods the U.S. was using to fight it, and the mechanisms for recruiting soldiers that fueled our actions.
I returned to the U.S. one year later, continued my education at Duke University (exempted from the draft as a husband and then as a father), began working as a civil rights activist and as an opponent of the war. I have carried these values with me ever since. My first trip to the Vietnam Memorial, where I saw the subtle power of Maya Lin’s design as I descended into the darkness at the foot of the wall, brought me closer to all those who died in that conflict: Americans, Vietnamese, and many others. The experience deepened my grief and my respect.
I have returned several times since.
I prefer to state my positions in a positive rather than a negative fashion. I value peace and wish that our nation could and would foster peaceful, diplomatic solutions to local, national, and international conflicts. Much of my work in the past thirty years has been in China, serving as an unofficial ambassador between our two countries, teaching, lecturing, assisting artists and writers who envision a world without war. I admire and strongly support the values and the accomplishments of the Veterans for Peace. 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.
Memorial Day 2015
Full Disclosure Project Letter
Veterans For Peace
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.
Consisting of a broad oval of bunkers and fighting positions, it centered on a large meeting area, covered in thatch. Some distance away was what looked like a grave: six feet of mounded earth and at one end a flattened sheet of metal, probably from an ammunition crate. Holes punched into the soft metal spelled out something in Vietnamese, someone’s name. This was reported to battalion headquarters and we were ordered to confirm the grave: dig it up.
It did not occur to me to disobey this order which was relayed to me by the company commander with something of a wry smile. I gave this repulsive mission to one of the squad leaders but soon pitched in to help. The shallowly buried man was wrapped in a thin sheet of black plastic and dressed in dark green fatigues. After weeks in the ground he was the consistency of cold, left over stew. Since his belt buckle was a fancy variation of NVA issue we established his rank as “Gook NCO”. And that is what I reported to the company commander. I didn’t have to tell him the body was badly decomposed; he could smell that.
Dig ‘em up orders: the radio logs of our battalion ( Second of the Fifth) and briefly that of another battalion show that 8 graves containing 18 bodies of North Vietnamese soldiers were opened during the period of July 1 to September 19 in 1968. I do not know if this practice was standard throughout the division (or throughout the Army) but given the reverent attention to body count during the war in Vietnam, I suppose it was. Nor do I know how long this practice was followed but on the apparent principle that body count trumps desecration, for that is what it was, I would guess that it was along-term standing order.
No one bothered to write down the name that was punched into the metal sheet at the head of the grave I helped to dig up. I suppose there are people still alive in Vietnam who would like to know that name but it is not recorded in the radio log.
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 soldier’s graves reveal what the U.S. 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.
February 26, 2015
Dr. Jon Oplinger
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, D.C. 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? There will always be war as long as THEY are allowed to get away with it?
IF WE DON’T END THE MADNESS OF WAR, THE MADNESS OF WAR WILL END US ALL.
US Navy Corpsman/3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, Vietnam 1968
Lifetime Member of Veterans For Peace
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
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 U.S. 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 lies of 58,000 other young Americans, and more than three million Vietnamese. Many of us fought and, later, protested also.
Rick and Bob, I remember the 1968 Tet Offensive, when your names were added to the list of American casualties, in April. And I remember that day seven years later, in April, 1975 when the war ended as the tank crashed through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon. Amid a swirl of conflicting emotions, that day for me was unforgetable because of a clear hope that rose from the depths of my being: a new unshakable confidence that welled up from all that sadness and loss, that America had learned our lesson, that we would never embark again on such a misbegotten foreign venture, that we would never make such a tragic mistake, ever again. That lesson learned, for me, helped to make the pain of your loss, and the suffering of millions of others, somehow more bearable. I think that may have been true for others who had survived.
Now, as your names and the polished stone reflect back at us, the survivors – a steady stream of family, friends, sympathetic visitors sharing more than three decades of loss and remembrance since the Memorial was dedicated in 1982 – please 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.
Know that we continue to try, as futile as the endeavor may seem, to bring America back home and to restore the soul of our nation. Since you died in 1968, our government has wandered the globe in search of a false security built on military conquest and economic domination, when Americans have known, deep in our hearts, that we should be seeking peace.
Today, four decades after the U.S. war in Vietnam ended, believe me when I say that we will continue this quest, to rightly assume responsibility for the devastation we have left in America’s wake in Vietnam – tons of unexploded bombs, and the toxic poison of Agent Orange. We pledge to continue our efforts, though shamefully inadequate, to help heal Vietnam. And to sustain American veterans and their families who are stilll suffering the consequences 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.
U.S. Army SP5
519th MI Battalion
Vietnam June 1967-68
Dear brothers and sisters:
None of us can quite get it right. We keep trying to figure out what our relationship to you should look like. Psychologists, sociologists, historians, poets, painters, musicians, sculptors have all thrown their hats into this ring of fire. It may be impossible. But we keep trying. For your sake. For ours.Along the way, we put you into the hands of a brilliant young student, Maya Lin, to build us a wall. She has come the closest. Along the way, some have wrestled with concepts like “survivor’s guilt,” “PTSD,” “moral injury” to seek some clarity if not solace. They come close, too.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.
Along the way over these years, along the way, I wrote this for you:
Descending into this declivity
dug into our nation’s capitol
by the cloven hoof
of yet another one of our country’s
Slipping past the names of those
refuse to heal
Slipping past the panel where
my name would have been
could have been
perhaps should have been
Down to The Wall’s greatest depth
where the beginning meets the end
Staring through my own reflection
beyond the names of those
who died so young
Knowing now that The Wall
has finally found me –
58,000 thousand-yard stares
have fixed on me
as if I were their Pole Star
as if I could guide their mute testimony
back into the world
as if I could connect all those dots
in the nighttime sky
As if I
could tell them
the reason why
So, okay, you would have thought that the grief from your loss and the many Southeast Asian lives lost would have compelled us to put an end to war. That we would no longer send young men and women into ill-begotten conflicts to appease the blood thirst of some self-appointed armchair avengers bent on protecting their warped version of the American way of life. You would have thought.
I’ll spare you the details of wars mounted in our name since you left us. Trust me, though, that some of us have worked to stop them. We work to protect our children and grandchildren, to protect families we will never meet in lands far from here, to use your deaths as a means to say “no more.” We have formed Veterans For Peace, partly in your memory, with the very lofty ambition of abolishing war. We oftentimes work in your name, for you. I’ll admit that many times we feel like we are howling alone in the wilderness, but we will not desist. We owe that to you.
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.
TO THOSE WHO CALL FOR FULL DISCLOSURE FROM
THE VIETNAM MEMORIAL WALL
Louis J. Geneseo
DET A-414 (MOC HOA), A CO, 5TH SF GROUP, USARV
Army of the United States
September 18, 1936 to July 24, 1969
Panel W20, Line 39
Nothing can be said about the Vietnam War that will ever fill the empty holes left in the chests of those you left behind, regardless of their race, color, nationality or religion. The war you fought was motivated by greed, obsessive power, false premises, lies, ideological arrogance, religious intolerance and self-serving propaganda. It was not worth even one of your lives, let alone the tens of thousands of other American, Korean, Australian, New Zealand, Thai and Laotian Hmong lives, or the millions of Vietnamese lives that were mercilessly wasted, the countless limbs torn from bodies, the eyes permanently closed to the light of the world, the sanity lost forever, and the tangled, knotted and garbled genetic instructions of generations of living organisms exposed to Agent Orange and similar poisons provided by Dow, Monsanto, Bayer and other corporations whose stockholders profited from the carnage.
The war mongers are now busily engaged in revising the history of our war in Vietnam, but there was absolutely nothing gained by this obscenity short of financial profits and electoral votes. You were all expendable, and they offered your lives without shame or remorse as others similarly motivated have done since the dawn of human reason and will go on doing if most good people continue to do nothing to stop them. Your parents did nothing to stop them. But can you imagine the magnitude of the rebellion if the government had taken their televisions instead of their children?
I personally knew only one of you. He was my brother. And the hole that is left in the middle of my chest can never be filled. Yet, we who were left behind are the lucky ones. You lost your lives. Time and every meaningful event that your family has shared since your death was taken from you. Financial profits and electoral votes were far more important than the lives you could have helped to create, cure or save; the amazing inventions you might have patented; the books, poems or music you might have written; the buildings or bridges you might have designed or built; the young minds you would have helped to shape as a role model, parent, or teacher; the pride in and pleasure of contributing in so many ways to your family, friends, community, society, profession or team.
I’m sorry I did not raise my voice in protest sooner, and I’m sorry that when I finally did it was not as loud as it could and should have been. You all did what is considered the honorable thing to do. I understand, for I also served, though the price I paid was insignificant compared to yours. Now it is for those of us who were spared to persuade the corporate stockholders and politicians that they too must do what is considered honorable or be held accountable. That is the least we can do to hopefully one day be able to attribute some measure of meaning to your sacrifice.
You died to protect your country, though it has never been established that your country was at risk. You died for your constitution, though as a member of the military you were denied many of its rights. You died for the principles of democracy, though the United States opposed elections in Vietnam when it was learned that Ho Chi Minh would easily win. You died for personal and cultural values commonly held by the working and fighting class, though they are values seldom found in the circles of the ruling class. You died for me, though every god in the heavens knows I wanted you all to come home alive and in one piece. But you died nevertheless. And I’m sorry. I will never forget you. And I will do everything in my power to remind those who would revise history of the shockingly horrible toll the Vietnam War took on those who had nothing to gain and everything to lose. I will do everything in my power to prevent your names from disappearing beneath the surface of the black granite that will forever silently hold the truth of your collective sacrifice.
A Letter To The Wall
By John Grant
NOTE: I’m a member of a group of Vietnam veterans affiliated with Veterans For Peace called the Vietnam War Full Disclosure project. We would like to see a more historically accurate representation of the Vietnam War as presented by the pentagon in its 50 Year Commemoration of the war, which is scheduled to begin with the 50th anniversary of the March 1965 Marine landing at DaNang. The government wants to commemorate the war as about “the defense of our nation’s freedom,” whereas Full Disclosure sees the anniversary as an opportunity for a national dialogue. The Vietnamese did nothing to us that required an invasion and occupation; all they wanted was independence from, first, the French, then from the United States. This is not a unique struggle for us in this country. The new government in Japan is becoming more militaristic and is suddenly making an effort to quash generally accepted historical accounts concerning imperial Japan’s policies in the 1940s with the so-called “comfort women” in Korea and China. The Dutch a few years back went through a national dialogue concerning their brutal military occupation in Indonesia. As part of its mission, Full Disclosure has launched a Letter To The Wall campaign. Below, is my letter to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial; it’s an effort to see my service for what it was. The letters will be gathered and placed at the Vietnam War Memorial on Memorial Day 2015. For more information, go to the Full Disclosure website.
Dear Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall:
You’re a wide granite gash in the earth, like the war itself, a man-made construction set within the order of nature. As I look back 49 years, I understand the war was a much more rude and shameful event than the grace of your shape in the earth might suggest. But you’re what you are and where you are to recognize sacrifice divorced of politics. 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 joined the Army and became a radio direction finder in the Army Security Agency. Once trained in DF principles and practiced in Morse code, I volunteered to go to Vietnam, as did my older brother, a lieutenant in the Army infantry. I went with a company by troop ship from Oakland; it took 17 days and the ship anchored off shore of Qui Nhon. In the morning, the entire company was loaded onto a large LCU, which chugged toward the beach. I’d watched John Wayne hit the beach at Iwo Jima, and I had no idea what to expect. They’d given us a clip of 7.62mm ammunition for the wooden stocked M14s we had been issued.
The LCU hit the beach with a long WHOOOOOSH. The high bow plate was slowly lowered, and we saw men in bathing suits sunbathing and several blue air-conditioned buses with steel grates over the windows to take us to the Qui Nhon airbase, where they would load us onto a C-130 for a flight to Pleiku. I recall two things about the trip to the airbase. One, the teeming movement of people and poverty I had never seen before. The heat was no issue, since I’d been raised in south Florida above the Keys. The other thing I recall was looking out the window and when the bus stopped for traffic noticing a young kid, maybe ten, out the window. He seemed older than his age. When he saw me, he flipped me a bird.
Our company ended up attached to the 25th Infantry Division based in Pleiku. In an odd coincident, the second day I was in Vietnam, the 25th Division flew my brother back from an operation out by the Cambodian border; I hadn’t seen him in two years. I was soon sent with seven other direction finders to firebases in the same area as my brother, all part of Operation Paul Revere. We were three teams of two given jeeps equipped with PRD1 DF radios that we had used to learn DF principles at Fort Devon, Massachusetts. We had been told the PRD1 was an obsolete WWII piece of equipment. When not using the jeeps, our teams were dispersed in the woods in armored personnel carriers or by helicopters. We envisioned ourselves romantically as foul balls sent to the boonies from the main company — a squad of rogues. We were kids and part of a huge army, and we felt we were special.
Our job was to spread out and locate tactical enemy radios, which amounted to a Vietnamese radio operator sending five letter coded groups of Morse code with a leg key along with a comrade working a bicycle generator. If we were lucky enough in the incredible mountainous terrain to get a tight fix from three bearings, we’d pass it on to division intelligence, who would process the coordinates and send out Air Force F4s, an artillery barrage or a unit of infantry. The Vietnamese knew we were looking for them, so the radio operators did their transmitting away from their dug-in headquarters. Over time, locating the same operator every day for a month, a pattern would become evident. We located them; others did their best to kill them.
We were REMFs — rear echelon mother-fuckers. On one operation, when my team partner and I were dropped by chopper onto a huge rock atop a mountain overlooking the border, I felt I was really out there. The half-squad of “grunts” also dropped onto the rock looked at the job of protecting these two REMFs as vacation duty from the normal task of humping the boonies.
After a year of this, I made it home without a scratch and without a bit of trauma. As I look back, considering all the names on your shiny black granite surface and what my brother and other combat veterans went through, in the spirit of confession, I have to say sometimes I feel unworthy to be called a “Vietnam veteran.” Of course, I know that’s not true, and I am a Vietnam veteran. 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’ve met vets who did horrible things and suffer for it. A friend earned a silver star for an act of incredible bravery. I’m friends with an African American veteran of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley serving a life-without-parole sentence for a 1975 act of violence clearly rooted in PTSD. A federal judge ruled his conviction for First Degree Murder was a “miscarriage of justice” when what he was guilty of was manslaughter. The district judge was overruled, and Pennsylvania political leaders don’t have the courage to address such an injustice. For some reason I remember a captain commanding an infantry company I spent time with. This CO was respected, even loved; he seemed like an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation. One of the grunts told me how the captain had crawled out under fire to save one of his men, only to find him dead — and how they had later found the man in tears embracing the dead man.
I’m a Vietnam veteran with survival guilt. It’s my lasting bond to the names on your reflecting surface. Oddly, I do not know any of the 58,000 people attached to those names.
At a firebase I was at, the lieutenant colonel in charge of the battalion dropped leaflets daring the NVA to attack his firebase. He had mines dug in all around the camp. An NVA push was moving through the area. A guy on the perimeter let me look through his night scope, and you could see them as moving white shapes. I was pretty scared and got all my magazines lined up for a big attack. When the NVA decided to pass us by, the colonel ordered all the mines removed. One of the young privates assigned to that job blew himself to pieces just outside the perimeter near my little bunker. I watched a chaplain’s detail pick him up in pieces and put him on a stretcher. I don’t know his name, but I presume it’s on your granite surface, even if his death was caused by his own team.
The closest I got to knowing a name on your wall was when, back in base camp, someone radioed me from the field that my brother had been killed. Friends fed me warm beers as I eulogized him; his wife had just had a baby. I was going to escort the body home. Four hours later, the Red Cross called to tell me it was another Lieutenant Grant. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. My brother became a lawyer.
Writing to you like this turns my mind to inglorious things. So I should tell you about base camp life and the whoring in Pleiku bars. Later, when the 25th moved north and we were attached to the 4th Division, a little constructed village of bordello/bars was set up outside the wire of 4th Division headquarters. Girls as young as fifteen worked there and were inspected regularly by division medics to avoid any down-time due to the clap. I was young, and at times the trysts with these girls felt innocent, even sweet. But now I know different; now I understand the erotic masculine power of being part of a massive imperial Army in a poor place like Vietnam. The Tale of Thuy Kieu by Nguyen Du was published in 1820 and is considered the national epic poem of Vietnam; it is about a young woman who, in order to save her family, works as a prostitute — before she goes on to become a guerrilla fighter. It was not only REMFs; whoring was an epidemic in Vietnam, literally and metaphorically. Sometimes sexual tension was expressed in terribly abusive fashion, like the time a drunken infantry staff sergeant shot up a laundry/bar outside Pleiku and wounded one of the girls. Sometimes in the field, the mixture of this tension with fear and adrenaline led to violent rape. I sometimes see myself and my comrades in Vietnam as the worst kind of cliché American tourists in the world. Instead of cameras, we had guns.
As I imagine your long gash in the earth with all those names etched into your stone, I think of how I read Graham Greene’s famous little novel The Quiet American when I was in high school. Besides my gung-ho militarist father, more than anything, I think Greene’s vision of a sexy colonial world seduced me to want to go to Vietnam. It was a desire to “see the world,” like the recruitment posters used to say. I had nothing against the Vietnamese, north or south. My ignorance was complete. I didn’t want to kill anyone; what I wanted was to see an exotic place and meet people different than myself. I really think this was the case. The fact the huge historical enterprise you memorialize ended up consuming 58,000 American lives, several million Vietnamese lives and destroying much of Vietnam is, for me, the major tragedy of my time.
And I was there. I was a part of it.
In 2002, I visited Vietnam twice and made an 82-minute film about a wounded US Marine veteran living and working there. The experience was as powerful as my first trip. I now realize the film is really about what can only be called my love affair with Vietnam. Some psychiatrists will tell you love relationships are really complicated love/hate relationships. Given the history of US/Vietnam relations going back to fighting the Japanese with our Vietminh allies during World War Two, I think this is the case with America and Vietnam. The Vietnamese loved us in 1945, but something went terribly wrong.
As I consider your elegant simplicity and the great suffering you represent, I realize now, 49 years after my first connection with Vietnam, that I’m committed to the love side of that complex state of mind and heart. In a better world, the war would never have happened. Maybe I would have gone somewhere else in the world and done something I felt better about.
And you would not exist.
To All Vietnamese and Americans,
I am the daughter of a US marine who was killed on the beachhead of Guam July 22nd, 1944. In 1967 after graduating college, I joined the US Navy Nurse Corps, went to Officers Indoctrination School in Newport, Rhode Island, and then began working at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in California. Oak Knoll had been constructed during WWII to care for the marines wounded during battles in the Pacific.
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. At night, they would talk with each other through their ongoing nightmares—“be careful, there’s a land mine there; go slowly, there’s a trip wire” as they wandered through the dense jungle—these youngsters, living on horror and fear. I was dedicated to getting them better and able to go out into life, but so many couldn’t-the psychological imprint of what they had seen and done couldn’t be cured by surgery and antibiotics, and the military didn’t believe that war caused psychological pain and damage so severe it would haunt them for life. We were an extraordinary team—physicians, nurses, corpsmen and corpswomen—working long and difficult hours to heal our patients. I was training corpsmen who would be sent to the front lines, and so I became an instrument of war. I helped the military to function.
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. GI’s and veterans were organizing a march for peace in the San Francisco Bay Area in October, 1968. And so I joined them. We formed groups at Oak Knoll Hospital and would post posters and flyers announcing the demonstration—on the many barracks and wards. They were all torn down by morning. 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?
As a child, I spent many Sundays visiting my father where he is buried in Chicago, Illinois. I watched my grandmother drop to her knees and talk to her son: “look, here is your daughter—see how she’s grown” and I’d walk away from the grave, embarrassed and confused.
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.
Susan M. Schnall
Vietnam War Memorial
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 of 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.”
I am an Army veteran. I am not a Vietnam veteran. I, too, had seen this movie before, but not in combat.
During the summer of 1964 I was the coordinator of Freedom Schools in Mississippi for what came to be called Mississippi Summer, or Freedom Summer.
During the first week of August, 1964, three related things happened in Mississippi.
1. The bodies of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were found.
2. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) held its founding convention in Jackson, the state capitol.
3. At an improvised memorial service in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the three young men were murdered, Bob Moses, project coordinator, told us about the Tonkin Bay resolution. At the time we did not know that the underlying “facts” of that event had been invented by the Johnson Administration. What angered Moses was that the United States could send armed forces to the other side of the world, allegedly to enhance democracy in Vietnam, but refused to send federal marshals to Mississippi to protect civil rights workers.
This was how I learned of the beginning of combat in Vietnam.
As a first-year assistant professor at Yale I found myself among longtime participants in American foreign policymaking. I debated Eugene Rostow at one of the Yale colleges. I came to know Yale chaplain William Coffin, a former CIA employee but an opponent of the Vietnam war. I took public positions against the war that were later advocated by Yale President Kingman Brewster and the historian who recruited me, Edmund S. Morgan. At the time, however, President Brewster said I was “giving aid and comfort to the enemy,” words from the law of treason.
1965 drew me more and more toward outright, public, action against the war. Early in the year I chaired a meeting at Carnegie Hall in New York City, at which the keynote speaker was Alaska Senator Gruening. In April I was asked to chair what I believe to have been the first big public protest against the war in Washington, DC, organized by Students for a Democratic Society. In August, on the twentieth anniversaries of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I was arrested along with Moses, David Dellinger, and other “unrepresented people.” We were arrested when attempting to assemble on the steps of the Capitol to state that someone else might be at war with the people of Vietnam, but we were not.
As American troops continued to land in Vietnam, to be stationed in bases like that at Danang, protest also escalated. Early in November a young member of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, burned himself to death within view of the Pentagon office of Secretary of Defense McNamara. (I am a Quaker.) In December, together with Tom Hayden and Herbert Aptheker, I made an unauthorized trip to North Vietnam in a desperate attempt to locate some clues, some openings that might help to make peace possible.
My trip to Hanoi cost me an academic career. Although not as sturdy at 85 as I was fifty years ago, I would do it again.
This is a small and inadequate way to express my solidarity with the thousands of young Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who were killed in the Vietnam war.
Alas, such protest is still needed because like the Rostows and the Bundys, United States policy makers still pursue the irrational belief that they can physically present themselves in a foreign country about whose culture they know next to nothing, destroy its existing institutions and cause its civil service and military employees to lose their jobs, leave after a few years, and . . . create “democracy.” The only thing we can be sure has been created is death and poverty.
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.”
I’m writing in support of the Vietnam War Full Disclosure Movement. Born in 1943, I was of draft age, though I did not go. I had a 1-Y classification based on significant myopia, correctable but leaving me useless without glasses. I still don’t know how much the deferment was genuine and how much the work of my parents talking to my eye doctor; they were staunch Republicans and apparent supporters of the war, but concerned parents as well. My uncertainty is evidence of how little I understood the situation circa 1965.
Returning from study in West Berlin in 1966, I became engaged in the anti-war movement, especially as I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts during Vietnam Summer. I remember reading Bernard Fall’s history of Vietnam, which dramatically changed my view of America’s role in Southeast Asia. I remember marching in a New York City protest, carrying an American flag which I meant to represent an ideal lost in the fog surrounding the war, but which also drew an angry response or two from those around me. I believe that it was this same march which began with men with American flag pins on their lapels—assumedly FBI agents–taking photos of us boarding buses outside Lowell House at Harvard.
I also remember visiting Carl Sagan at his Central Square apartment to deliver letters he would then share with those on a charter flight to Europe, encouraging them to speak with other Americans abroad, urging them to voice their concerns about American involvement. It was morning, and he was still in his bathrobe, hardly the scientist rock star of Cosmos. And I visited Noam Chomsky at his M.I.T. office, though the passage of years has erased what we talked about. Certainly his seminal New York Review of Books article, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” had influenced me.
Despite my intellectual opposition to and activism against the war, it was not until 1972, however, that I returned my draft card, together with a respectful letter outlining my reasons for doing so, to my local draft board in Philadelphia. I expected blowback from this moderate action, but never heard a word. Many years later, around 2000, I was involved in a resistance movement opposing the fingerprinting of school employees in Maine, and sent $25 to the FBI asking for a copy of my record. To my surprise, I was told that they had no information about me, which suggests either incompetence or sympathy from my draft board many years before.
And I remember interviewing returned Vietnam veterans in Somerville, Massachusetts, for a novel I was writing. It was at a neighborhood BBQ that Manny Kolidakis, one of these, heard someone set off a firecracker and threw himself to the ground in a Vietnam flashback.
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 of 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. Perhaps the silver lining is how the experience of coming of age during the Vietnam War pulled me loose from my insular upper middle class background and led me to question and adjust ever after beliefs in ideas like patriotism and historical truth.
Bernie Huebner, Waterville, Maine