Charlottesville, Virginia, United States
In recent years I have learned the story of a Vietnam vet. He
went in at 18, an hometown boy who rarely been outside of his
county, let alone to Asia. He was a combat medic and went through
horrendous experiences. And his life since has been very troubled;
many jobs, a broken marriage and a psyche that is continually
triggered by nightmarish memories and that is very wary of getting
close. He says that his life was saved by finally opening up to
a counselor at a local Viet vet center. The latter turned out
to have been a combat medic also.
My friend and I are just a year apart in age. I was a very unstable
youth (bipolar) and I did have one of those letters from a Doctor.
It helped me get through the Oakland Induction Center gauntlet.
I feel no guilt, I was not fighting material and I was against
that terrible war. But, I do feel for my friend and all those
other guys delivered on that bus to Oakland. I am sure that some
of them were just as weak and vulnerable as I.
My connection with Jim has echoed a friendship I had 30 years
ago with a Marine viet vet. We mowed lawns in Naples,Fla. and
from time to time he spoke of the war. He disclaimed bad effects
for him but to me he seemed adrift. He was a sensitive guy who
simply had joined up for the usual John Wayne macho reasons.
One story he told really stuck and for me has always epitomized
the wrongness of that endeavor. At lunch he and his fellow Marines
would look out at lake. Each day an elderly man would come poling
out in his boat to fish. He'd done it for decades and probaly
generations before. Paul found beauty and grace in the act and
the culture it represented. One day a soldier with the casualness
of reaching for another Marlboro took his rifle, sighted and dropped
the old fisherman in the water. Noone said anything but the incident
certainly had resonancce with Paul.
I visited Paul a few years later in another city. He was very
appreciative of my visit and I have always regretted not staying
long instead of rushing off to a no-account event. He seemed to
have gone down. I have tried to find Paul Crow (originally from
Jacksonville, Fla.) but have had no luck. Maybe this will lead
Needless to say, I have a great awareness of the walking wounded.
I won't go into all the reasons why some could carry on fine after
such an experience there and here, but they are cogent. I am also
in touch with the Vietnamese people, who have been mostly overlooked
(asounding considering what bullets, bombs, agent orange and other
war atrocities did to them). That My Lai incident in Platoon nailed
it for me, like the above recollection.
The above are very personal prospects but my feelings are just
as strong for the big picture. Back then, I was a very backward
sort, just keeping my head above the water. Thirty years later
I am much stronger and surer and my righteous rage about that
war only grows. If I at 53 was projected back then I think that
I would have had to do more than just march a few times in Washington.
One of my heroes is George McGovern. He, a bomber pilot in WWII
flying 35 missions over one of the most harrowing routes, was
asked what was the toughest thing he ever had to do. "When I walked
out onto the floor of the U.S. Senate to oppose the was in Viet
Nam. I shook." Any regrets?
"That I didn't speak up sooner and louder."