John Merkouris, Vietnam veteran
Nome, Alaska, USA
Being a veteran of that war and of that time has been both a treasured gift and a great burden in my life. The nature of my paradox is in itself a definition of the war experience for many veterans and perhaps, for our nation.
The war gave me a new perspective and insight into world citizenry and of other cultures.
The war experiences drowned my soul in grief and shame.
I was given the opportunity to experience the serene beauty and exotic culture of an ancient and mystical people and their land.
I witnessed the destruction of that beauty and the horror of our policy to use methods of war guarenteed to destroy innocents as well as the enemy.
The war forced me to examine my own beliefs and structure of beliefs and cast me on a lifelong search for meaning and truth.
The war destroyed my innocence, robbed me of my youth and pitched me headlong into an abyss of substance abuse.
To say that the Viet Nam war was a defining period of my life is an understatement. I have realized from that experience and from follow up trips to Viet Nam some of the elemental factors that shape my thinking.
I discovered that there are few winners in war, even for the victors there remains in large part only survivors. I discovered within myself and with help from God the ability to forgive the perpetrators of this shameful period. I understand now that a national policy rooted in human ideals but without popular support and practicality is not only doomed to failure but will lead to an idictment of that policy. I believe that the power our nation wields is not to be used to force our ideals on others but is to be used, with wisdom, to share our wealth; our example of personal freedoms to serve as a beacon for others to follow. When force must be used to protect the helpless, all reasonable alternatives must have been exhuasted and it must only be used with the precision of a scalpel.
In 1983, I was blessed with the oportunity to stand before a most holy and sacred place, the Vietnam War Memorial. On that cool, April night, standing in the darkness and quiet, I emptied my soul of so many long-kept emotions in the presence of my brothers and sisters represented by the names etched into the cool granite surface of the memorial.
Fourteen years later, standing in a communist cemetary on a hot, June day in My Tho, Vietnam, I again felt a sense of awe; of standing in a very holy place. I looked at the rows and rows of tombstones of the communist soldiers and their dates of death; 1967, 1971, 1968, 1970 and on and on and on. I felt a sense of the pain and sorrow of the wives, the sons, the mothers and fathers of these victims, our enemy. Once more, I was choked with emotion and I felt that kindred bond we shared as soldiers. On that day and from then forward, I feel as close to them as to the soldiers in our own army.
Now, I find myself connectly deeply and intimately with the people of Viet Nam. I have taken a wonderful Vietnamese woman as my wife, and I intend to make my home there someday. I feel that I am a citizen of this planet more than that of any nation. I am hopeful that God will give me a long life and the opportunity to share with my new family and future neighbors the lessons I've learned and the wealth that I have been privileged to earn.
I look forward to the day when mankind will unite in a political and social bond; to put behind us, once and for all, the barbarism and cruelty of war.