At The Wall
As you stand before The Wall which bears the names of your, of our beloved dead, victims of a war which even today is hidden in shadows. The Vietnam War generally goes unacknowledged except by those most directly and deeply affected. Many scars from the loss of the lives of those who died remain to this day.
Other scars whether physical, mental, psychological, or emotional have afflicted many of the men who bore arms in our name, in our country’s name, and returned home. They and their families are also among the wounded victims of the war. The scars remain for generations.
I firmly believe if the stark truth about the Vietnam War were told, that truth would have a healing effect in the hearts and minds of millions in the USA, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and with other Southeast Asian peoples. Our whole country needs to know and own the truth, the whole truth.
May you who receive this letter know you do not stand alone. Together we can raise our voices for “Vietnam Full Disclosure” to put an end to attempts to justify the war. You and I, as well as those who come after us, have a right to the truth and its freeing power.
May you be blessed all along your way.
Not every name
Of every soldier lost
In the war
Is etched in marble…
Legions of the lost
Are all amongst us,
Dazed to have escaped
Our chosen fate,
Carrying the weight
Of a wall of dead
We belong to
US Army Vietnam 1962-63
You’ve asked my to write a letter about the impact of the Vietnam War on me or someone I know, for the project. I was a small child, still in grade school when it was ending. That means, in my case, the trauma and presence of the war were felt implicitly and explicitly since before I was born. My first conscious experiences of war were with toy guns, bazookas, hand grenades, stick-guns, and loud voices (bambambambambam! Bam! Commie pinkos! Better red than dead!). I wonder now what veterans especially thought of us kids, as we played “war” along with “cops and robbers” and “cowboys and Indians.” It was a point of pride that my older brother Oscar and I could hold off the whole backyard gang, with our stealthy sniper attacks. Bam!
Later, I would become aware of my father’s alcoholic anger and grief at the nightly news reports, my mother’s flurry of anxiety, and then, dimly and indelibly, the image of the child, images of coffins and helicopters and hippies and Watergate.
Other neighborhood games, played in front yards down the street — they were more innocent, closer to adult supervision: kick-the-can, “Mother May I,” tag, freeze. Down on Louisiana Avenue, or up on the hill on Colorado, in the concrete sidewalk in front of someone’s house, we’d play barefoot after supper till our mothers called or we stubbed our toes. The big boys, they could be scary, but they normally ditched us. Not so with Lee. He liked us little kids in a kind, gentle way, even staying behind to play one or another of the sidewalk games that the others would say were “for babies.” He was fast, could kick the can and free us from jail in a flash, but never did he play war or cowboys or any of the fantasy structures of violence that my age set was so enthralled by. No, he just played the sidewalk games with us sometimes, and would smile and be nice when you saw him walking down the street.
I would hear the older boys talk about their numbers, about registering for the draft, and feel their mothers’ faces tighten up behind screen doors. The rumors of others going to Canada, debates of being a CO or a coward, and over the meanings of patriotism, the turning inward, the tense cloud as the big boys were closing in on graduating. Lee, the gentle one, turned up dead. He couldn’t take the pressure, the other boys said. Why didn’t he just go to Canada? It’s almost over, they said. And it was, for Lee, and then the rest of us. He would never have had to serve, but the odds.
The first person I know to commit suicide was Lee. There is no place for his name on the wall, just a place in memory of the grown-ups who talked in hushed voices, and the boys who cried, privately, privately. I saw. And it was because of his number, and his fear. I don’t know what happened to his parents or family. They lived a little past walking boundaries, but I believe they moved not too long after. The other boys grew quieter and went away to college or work. We graduated from neighborhood games to riding ten-speeds and driving cars. Our high school was finally integrated, there were race riots, the ROTC was ridiculed and scorned. I was a freak and not a nerd. I left home and school at 17, the age Lee died.
Times got stormier, though the war ended and we were at peace, not at war, not like now when we’ve been continuously at war for about as long as Lee lived.
I write to honor Lee, his gentleness and humbleness, and his fear. For him, I believe now as I did as a child overhearing the boys debate and cry after his death — for Lee, it was just as impossible to leave home and safety and never see your family again as it was to go to another country and kill people. Canada or Vietnam were both untenable choices, choices that cut him off from home. May God help us all. I am thankful for being able to recount this person, touched by war. Thank you for asking me to bear witness. There is healing in this. You were right — I didn’t know how much I knew.
With love and respect,
Captain Herbert F. Hardy Jr.
First Special Forces
Let me start by saying that I didn’t know if I was going to write a letter this year. I thought maybe I had said all I needed to say, but now I know I would regret it if I didn’t write my thoughts on paper, so here they are. I’ve been formulating chunks of this letter in my head since January. There are so many things that I want to say, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to express them as clearly as I feel them.
Since starting college, I’ve discovered that I love history. I’ve taken six or seven history classes, and in three or four the topic of the Vietnam War has been introduced. We’re fed information and forced to regurgitate facts, names, places, and dates. Ho Chi Minh, Saigon, The Gulf of Tonkin, 1975. I try to reconcile this information and find you in it. Cambodia, 1963. Sometimes I just want to get up and leave the classroom. Especially when the professor starts talking about the reasons why we went to Vietnam. For a brief moment, I hold my breath. I think that their reasons might be something I haven’t heard before. I feel a pang of hope in my gut. I think maybe I’ll finally find clarity. Maybe I’ll get a reason that justifies why you died. Why thousands and thousands of people died. The hope is fleeting. The feeling in my gut is quickly eclipsed by a deeper feeling of frustration and confusion because the reason is always the same. “The United States was fighting the good fight against Communism.” I can’t help but see it for what it is. Propaganda. Rhetoric. Fallacy. Lies disseminated by our government to rally the people behind a meaningless cause. And I can’t help but feel like you died for nothing. Because what does any of it matter if you aren’t here? Isn’t that a horrible thought to have?
I feel so conflicted. No one wants to hear or believe that their loved ones’ sacrifices mean nothing. In fact, that’s the surest way to enrage any American. At the same time, I can’t help but feel like there’s something in our culture that holds war and violence as religion. That morphs the truths of war into epics that ensure future generations will perpetuate the actions in hopes that they, too, will become the protagonist in their own heroic tale.
Even worse, I see it playing out today. The lies and stories that turn the people of the United States against the people in the Middle East. Dehumanize and transform an entire group of people into an evil other. We can’t see that U.S. soldiers are just as capable and guilty of committing evil acts as the enemy we so despise. Our actions are justified. Our deeds are commended. We turn a blind eye to the horrors and fear felt during the Vietnam war, a kind of memory loss that’s willingly put in place, and we rally again behind those that call for war.
But what about love? Haven’t we heard, time and time again, stories of compassion and feats of humanity that play out among the unlikeliest of people in the most desperate of circumstances? These stories of love and compassion are the ones that withstand time and are retold to countless audiences. It has been said that in love, one recognizes itself in the other. Isn’t that a strength that surpasses brute force? What would the world be like if our eyes were opened to the similarities between our enemies and ourselves? Those that have seen war, seen the savagery, the death, and the unnecessary cruelty cry out for us to feel this compassion. Why don’t we listen to them? Why can’t we heed their calls for peace?
I want you to know that I think I’ve found the person I’m going to marry. He’s funny and sweet, and he loves me despite my flaws. I can’t help but think of how I would feel if I lost him in some far off war, like my grandmother lost you. I remember asking my mother once why she married my dad. She told me that she knew he would be a great father. That he would love and dote on their children. She needed to give us the thing that was taken from her. How many children grow up without knowing the love of their mothers and fathers? How many people are losing their loved ones to war everyday? If I can feel love for you, a person I’ve never met, why can’t soldiers find even a sliver of feeling for the living, breathing humans across the battlefield? A feeling that might give them pause. A feeling that might shift the course of history, maybe just for one family. I know this love could transform us if we found it and let ourselves feel it.
I hope someday my children will know a world that readily gives this love. That the strength it takes to see ourselves reflected in others is valued more than the ability to hate. That they can look back on past wars with incredulity, but sleep easily knowing that war is a concept that no longer exists. I think that world would be beautiful.
Your granddaughter Linsay (Brochu)
what they told
sp4 arthur wayne glover
and pfc donald richard taylor
3rd rru, davis station, tân sơn nhất, việt nam
killed on february 9, 1964
panel 1e, line 43
they told me
they told me on the phú bài ‘bird dog’ phone
they told me they hated to be the ones to tell
they told me they’d best just spit it out,
they told me
they told me my hooch mate, wayne, was dead
they told me both wayne and don were killed
they told me it all on one telephone call,
they told me
they told me they were at the softball field
they told me it was at pershing field, just off base
they told me they were watching a softball game,
they told me
they told me there was a bomb, or maybe two
they told me it was under their bleacher seat
they told me it was maybe a u.s. made shell,
they told me
they told me they never had a chance
they told me it was too quick for even surprise
they told me it was all over in a flash of fire,
they told me
they told me we’d just have to remember them
they told me they both were gone and going home
they told me there wasn’t much else to say
they told me
they told me all they thought there was to tell, except
they didn’t tell me that 50 years on as i remembered them
i would still see them so then time young, and
that i’d see them standing between our racks
…wayne still talking up those orphan kids of his
Ex-Sp5 John Buquoi
3rd RRU, Davis Station, Tân Sơn Nhất, and
‘Detachment ‘J’, aka ‘Trại Bắc’ (Northern Station),
Phú Bài, Republic of Việt Nam
Republic of Việt Nam
Pacific Architects and Engineers,