michael, c. erard, Vietnam veteran
belchertown, Ma, usa
I was 26 years old,teaching in a catholic high school in 1966 when my deferment was revoked.When I went to my draft I was told that I would be drafted in three months just 3 months prior to my 27th birthday. I was married with my first child on the way. I enlisted with the idealism of one who was brought up as a Navy brat. I was convinced of the domino theory. I enlisted in order to serve as a medic; that way I felt I could make a positive contribution. Being a college graduate they tried to make me go to OCS for Infantry assignment. During my medical training, since I had signed up for three years, I was selected for Special Forces Medical Training. After I was sent Viet-Nam in 1969 the SF mission was abandoned and I was assigned to 3rd Battalion,503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade as a combat medic. Our AO was in the Central Highlands and later in the Phan Thiet area. It did not take long for me to realize that this war was a huge disaster for the US and the Vietnamese people. Our mission was to kill as many of the enemy as possible and on the other hand to conduct Medcap missions to show the people we were there to help them. We fought over the same ground many times and took senseless causualties and displaced and sanctioned human rights abuses because we desperately wanted to hand the war over to the South Vietnames. With these mixed messages and disillusionment I counted the days before I could rotate home and prayed I would just survive to get back to the "world". When I returned home I resumed teaching and developed a course in the high school religion department: War, Peace, and the Christian Conscience. I became a draft counselor for the Friends Society and joined the Viet-Nam Veterans Against the War and was an organizer for the Winter Soldier Investigation held in Detroit in 1971. My named was linked with all radical dissidents who opposed the war. But we veterans knew what was really happening and knew the American public was not being told the truth. My school,my wife and family, and friends rallied around me and I was able to withstand the accusations of being a communist and a turncoat/traitor and deal with the investigations by the FBI. A day does not go by that I am not reminded about Viet-Nam. This last Good Friday, the day I returned home, my wife makes a special effort to be thankful and remind me that I have been so richly blessed. I still communicate with some nuns I met in Bao Loc who were kind to me and I tried to help. I cannot watch war movies without being afraid all over again. The slap, slap sound of a chopper always causes me to turn my head and think of the dead and wounded. War is such a waste seen now from the perspective of age and the experience. The young are idealistic and macho, and have no fear of death. We elders can always rely on the young to fight, but we elders who know must always raise a voice of caution and warning. As an Orthopedic Physician Assistant I am part of a team that heals--as an avid gardner I promote life not death--as a husband and father I try to be loving and tolerant. I am so fortunate to have survived my experience. I really know what it means to be thankful. However, I am forever haunted by the fact that so many died...for what? Are their deaths in vain? I would love to know. Who bears the ultimate responsibility?