Vietnam Full Disclosure

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Imagine:  A world without war

May, 2019

Thank you for picking up this letter.

I joined the Navy in 1966 and was trained to operate radar equipment.  In July of 1967 and was assigned to the USS Chicago, home-ported in San Diego for the three last years of my enlistment.  This was a large ship, a guided missile cruiser with 1,200 men aboard.  We made two 7 month cruises to Vietnam where we were typically stationed off the coast of North Vietnam.

Our major job was to help Air Force and Navy aircraft as they flew over North Vietnam to drop bombs on their assigned targets.  These targets were often in Hanoi or Haiphong – fairly large cities.  Often schools, military facilities and hospitals were targeted.

I did what I was told to do.  Knowing that I was supporting the killing of innocent people . . . for what!  The United States government started this war for no plausible reason.  There was the “domino theory”, I understand … but killing several million Vietnamese?  This was shameful.

No wonder the “American War in Vietnam” was never a declared war as required under our Constitution.  It also violated United Nations Policy.  We lost over 57,000 warriors for political reasons.

While in the Navy I remember the death of Martin Luther King and the killing of students at Kent State University who were peacefully protesting the Vietnam War.  At the time, my Chief Petty Officer told me that “the only tragedy at Kent State was that with 20 bullets fired only 4 students were killed!

I regret that I didn’t speak out at the time.

One of my friends in high school was Larry Welch.  I liked Larry and was shocked when I heard that he was killed in Vietnam.

Jim Woods

Life Member, Veterans For Peace

To those comrades on the wall and all of us you left behind. I wonder how you want to be remembered? The older I get, the further I get from Vietnam the more it seems to hurt. Maybe it is because I am retired and there is more opportunity to contemplate.   Maybe it is the activities surrounding the 50th anniversaries. Maybe it is the Ken Burns disappointing docu-denier. I don’t know and my psychologist is sure not helping me figure it out. I used to work in DC and would have a regular chance to visit you all.   Remember me, normally a dark green or brown suit and tie; I would walk slowly and stop at a name of someone I never knew and wonder what you were like.   I would normally be wiping my eyes by the time I got to the end, and then I would be disgusted by the vendors making a profit off your loss, your memory.

 

At both times I am glad my mom forced my to join the Navy to avoid the army and so I am still verticle and yet to see your names, all your names, I feel a guilt and a shame that I am not there with you. I also feel a guilt and a shame that I did not do more while I was in the Navy and sitting at the mouth of the Mekong that I did not do more to protest what we were doing.   Oh I watched the radar for gun runners who were never there. I helped navigate by providing distance to the land so we could lob shells onto the land. I even helped plot our targets.   But what the f… were we shooting at? I responded to radio communications with the helo gun ships and the PBRs when they needed information. I listened to the chatter of those gun ships and riverenes as they shot up who knows what? I knew we were wrong then but I did nothing. I just followed orders. I have since learned about the courage my fellows showed in saying “Sir No Sir.”

 

When the National Guard murdered four students and wounded nine others, I finally wrote a letter to the editor of my home town paper condemning what the guard did and supporting the students.   My response was to get letters sent to me on my ship, the Westchester County LST-1167, condemning the students and saying they got what they deserved. Christ all mighty can you imagine that coming from people in Pennsylvania, I mean Tennessee or Alabama sure, but Pennsylvania. I was so disappointed in the people of my home town.

 

On my ship, I did not know anyone other that about half the officers who believed we were doing the right thing but none of us did anything. All I know is when Vietnam fell, after I had gotten out and was in college, and I realized it was all for GD nothing, I broke down. I put on the videos I took while in the Navy and I shut the door and sobbed. My Dad, God Bless him, a WWII Veteran (along with my Mom) came in and tried to comfort me. But the only thing to comfort me was busy. So I finished school, got a job, got married, had kids, coached baseball and softball, worked in my good government job for thirty years, then taught school and so I was busy. So now I am not quite so busy and the ghosts have returned, primarily because we did not learn or maybe the profit motive of the military industrial complex made it impossible to learn. We continue to fight and kill and now in so many places.

 

All I know is that we all “fought” and you died in vain or for the sake of the profiteers of the military industrial complex, that has grown as a cancer among this dying society. I am so sorry that you all did not have the chances I did to be a parent, a teacher, coach, a husband and a grand pa. And so with that I hope you all rest in peace while we wrestle with the ghosts from so long ago and watch the country we were told we were fighting for comes apart at the seams.

 

What is comforting to know is that your wall with all your names will last long after the United States has come and gone. Thank you so much for allowing me to share this rambling stream of consciousness.

 

God Bless

Jim Wohlgemuth

 

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