Dear Brother and Sister Veterans whose names are embedded on the Vietnam Memorial Wall,
To Names on the Wall, we know that some of you were drafted into the military, some of you enlisted while others were career military. All of you were told that you were sent to Southeast Asia to “protect and serve.” Too many Americans back then and so many today do not question what that actually meant. “Protect” whom? – from what? “Serve “whom?” Why did you die? President Reagan said that you all died for a “noble cause.” What was that cause?
As a U.S. Navy veteran who was on the USS Okinawa during the blockade of Cuba in October, 1962, I mourn your deaths as well as the 100,000 Vietnam veterans of your generation who battled their own personal demons and took their own lives. Politicians and defense contractors say that you “gave your lives serving your country.” Negative. Your lives were taken away from you and from your family by these same people who speak with “patriotic platitudes,” especially on Memorial Day. Those of you whose names are on the Wall and those 100,000 who are not, you are the cost of war. The solution to not having any more names placed on any wall or monument is to stop supporting war.
Affected by my personal experiences in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was motivated to do peacemaking following my discharge in 1963. Following the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 that was based on a lie, President Johnson bombed North Vietnam and in March of ’65, the first US combat Marines landed in South Vietnam. The American War in Vietnam had begun. Some of you on this Black Granite Wall were probably among the first to be killed.
On Memorial Day 2017, we are here today with you as Veterans for Peace, some of us Vietnam War veterans. We have come to honor and to remember you, some 52 years later. Following your deaths, America has engaged in other wars and occupations of distant lands with even more casualties. We mourn them, too. Many of your living Brother and Sister vets grieve for the three million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians killed on orders by our commander-in-chiefs, especially Johnson and Nixon during the time you were deployed overseas.
Know that the organization I joined in 1990, Veterans for Peace, is working hard to end war so that even more men and women will not join your ranks. As we read your names on the Wall, we see our reflections in you and through you and vow to insure that your lives still have meaning.
To lament your deaths, to reflect on your lives realizing that so many of you were so very young, we have chosen as VFP to break silence as Dr. King did so powerfully in 1967 about the madness and waste of war. We recognize that every war since WW II, has not been about “protecting our freedoms, our way of life.” In reality, “War is a Racket” as two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner General Smedley Butler once said. Veterans for Peace agree.
Our Brothers and Sisters on the Wall, Presente.’ You are still with us.
USS Okinawa (LPH-3)
May 4, 2017
To all who gave their lives to serve their country in a senseless war,
I was a naïve, protected, and unaffected teenager during the height of the Vietnam War. I had a college deferment, and then a lottery number of 323. Since then though, the truth of the war and its devastation and ruin began to unfold around me. The protest marches caught my attention, then selected readings contradicted the propaganda fed to me, and finally my heart was opened from hearing the stories of the suffering of those who experienced war first hand and to the damage done to them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve come to realize that war is the greatest evil that a nation and its people can inflict on others and upon our earth.
While some of you may have gone to war to serve your country, your legacy is a service to humanity and will not be forgotten. For me and many others, it is the motivation that propels us to “seek peace and pursue it,” “to beat swords into plowshares…spears into pruning hooks,” and “to love our neighbors as ourselves.” Your lives were not lost in vain. Bless you all.
With sympathy and gratitude,
Curt Torell, Carrboro, NC
Quaker House board member and treasurer