Lewis Downey, Vietnam veteran
Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Dear Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, & Nixon: 26 April 2000
Once upon a time my country me told me that I must go to a small tropical land and run a radio serving soldiers who had similarly been sent to kill, or be killed by, the small brown men and women, inhabitants of that small tropical land. It has been 28 years since I returned from that land. What did we all learn from this experience?
We definitely learned that we could practice mutual brutality. Judging from the written words published by the veterans on both sides of that war, we learned something of their poetry. To quote the words of a song entitled Nui Ba Den (Mike Morningstar), "...their knowledge pierced our beings as surely as hot lead...". And like my friend who escaped from a tiger cage in Cambodia after watching two of his buddies being tortured to death : "When you suffer like that, yes you sing your song, but it is not a pretty one." Our nation may have learned that brute force is a poor substitute for applied thought to problem solving. I have learned to not trust our national leadership and here is the problem, it is up to the newer leaders to remember the lessons and I guess it is up those of us remaining to remind them of those lessons. One of those lessons being; our buddies killed and died for your sins. We have learned that it is ok to share our experiences with other veterans and with anyone else in the world who is willing to listen and that the stories, poems, and experiences don't have to remain locked under a self created concrete lid. This is something you don't hear much from WWII and Korean War vets. I feel sorry for them and wish to tell them it is ok to tell their stories.
I am sorry that you guys are dead because you no longer have the opportunity to learn these things. At least McNamara had the balls to tell his boss "This isn't working" but I have not heard him say "I'm sorry". I wish you were alive so you could be sent to empty bedpans in VA hospitals and after that be sent to build hospitals for the children and grandchildren of the small brown men and women we so efficiently killed. Like the DI in basic training said: "Patriotism, some people think it is dying for your country, no that's just stupid, making the other guy die for his country, THAT's Patriotism." Well, it appears that we were exceedingly patriotic. More than 50,000 of us died during the war and at least 50,000 since the "end" of the war, for 1.5 to 2 million(?) of them and I ask you, where did it get us? It got us a generation of walking dead among the ones who still have blood running in their veins, a generation of children with partial fathers or no fathers, a generation of mothers with no husbands or too many veteran alcoholic ex-husbands, a generation of homeless men who claim "we didn't shoot or own guys", a generation of suicides, slow dioxin death of veterans and their children, not to mention the effects on the land and people who so stubbornly fought us and prevailed.
At least our dead warriors and theirs can tip a cold one together around the same campfire in the Buddha's happy hunting ground and sing their songs together. After all, they no longer have a reason to kill one another and they certainly know a lot more than we do. I doubt if your presence is welcome around that campfire.
Army Mars AB8AAL
Phu Loi, RVN