To my brothers and sisters at the Wall,
When I was in my early 20’s and ready to graduate from college and facing the prospect of being drafted and going to Vietnam, I engaged in some information seeking a soul searching so I could make a decision about what to do.
I was lucky to find an article by Jonathan Schell. He flew with the pilots who were calling in the airstrikes on targets in Vietnam and toured the country trying to figure out how military decisions were made and what the impact of the war was on the Vietnamese people. He just might have saved my life. I realized I couldn’t go to war as a killer of Vietnamese, got an exemption from my draft board to go as a noncombatant (probably a medic). The whole process of interviewing with the draft board, going for my army physical, and a growing conviction the the war was wrong – made me work like hell to stay out of the army. I rode the deferment train, and got a pretty good education and a teaching job.
I still am haunted by what we did in Vietnam. The killing of civilians with impunity on a grand scale with our immense firepower. The damage to the Vietnamese people and their homeland that continues today. Our policies that set up conditions for our soldiers to commit atrocities. The damage, internal and external to our guys who fought over there, many who were my friends and clients.
We have so much to learn from our experience in Vietnam. Yet it seems like we continue to willfully ignore those lessons. To continue to engage in wars that cause immense damage to the fabric of life in so many areas of the world. As if our immense firepower can change the world for the good. But the only “good” that gets served are the coffers of the military industrial complex and our prideful arrogance – of course we are right in all that we do – as we wield our mighty swords.
It is so important to just keep speaking out – especially in these times where military force and the military mindset are promoted as the way to solve all of our problems in the country and the world. We need to stand together and work for peace, not matter how powerful the tide seems to be running against us.
Project Committee Chair
My Lai Massacre Memorial Project
Chicago Veterans for Peace
Letter to the Wall–2017
An annual ritual: what do I have to say that’s new or fresh about the American War in Vietnam? In the last year I read Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, which passionately evokes not only the violent war, but the fight over its memory and meaning. “All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.” (This fall, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick will release their 10-part documentary The Vietnam War, which will add new ingredients to the stew of memory and controversy.)
Nguyen has lifted up some key points about memorializing the war. He is particularly concerned with developing a ‘just memory’ alternative to what he dubs the ‘industrialization of memory.’ This industrialization consists not merely of military or state propaganda, or the Call of Duty or Black Ops video games (which “train people to be part of a war machine, turning war into a game and a game into war”, or Hollywood movies), but an entire war machine mobilized to justify ‘forever wars’; to normalize war. It is fundamental to recognize that “war exercises the entire body politic,” not just soldiers in the field. The entire society is mobilized and affected. Refugees are created. “Boys and girls…dream of being soldiers” “Under what can be called compulsory militarism, even those who oppose war end up paying its costs.” So it is no surprise that the sting of that war continues to haunt our generation, whether veteran, protestor, or citizen.
Nations glory in victory and in defeat “see themselves as victims, never victimizers. Defeat aggravates this sentiment.” Our current President laments, “We don’t win anymore. As a country, we don’t win.” “The war machine is thereby self-perpetuating. So the first Bush was forever hoping that the next military intervention would kick what was euphemistically termed the’ Vietnam syndrome’. There are just and unjust ways of remembering. “Americans like to imagine the war not as a conflict between Americans and Vietnamese, but Americans fighting a war for their nation’s soul.” All those affected by war need to be remembered, including those elided from the official narratives: Laotians, Cambodians, or those who fought (Australians, South Koreans, Thais and New Zealanders) with the South Vietnamese on the American side.
Finally, “the basic dialectic of memory and amnesia is…fundamentally about remembering our humanity and forgetting our inhumanity, while conversely remembering the inhumanity of others and fighting their inhumanity.” This entails that Americans, including those of us in the antiwar movement, not dwell on acts of heroism, but also admit that we have failed to stop the war machine and “forever war”; the purpose of memory is to inform our present and help us rise to the current occasion. Surely all advocates for peace will share Viet Thanh Nguyen’s echoing of veteran poet W. D. Erhart’s plea: “I didn’t want a monument…What I wanted was an end to monuments.”
To: Vietnam Veterans Memorial
I am 76 years old and remember the war well. None of my relatives fought in the war, but I knew how horrible it was in many ways. I support full disclosure by the government and help for all of our veterans. Thank you for all you do for our country.
With deep appreciation for your courage,
There will never be a day when the Vietnam War is not on my mind. It was one of the worst mistakes America has ever made. Vietnam was fought for big money interests and promoted under the guise of nationalism. The war should have taught us a humbling lesson, but we let it slip away. Peace has become the enemy of corporate-run America. Our nation is accustomed to viewing life through the crosshairs of a rifle scope. We are a society in search of constant battle.
Over the past 50 years Americans have been spoon-fed whatever revisionist propaganda about Vietnam our leaders want us to hear. Their lies have kept us from understanding the truth: the war in Southeast Asia was immoral and unjust, a brutality akin to slavery and the genocide of the American Indian. Vietnam produced a realization in me that, much like the British redcoats who once tried to destroy our freedom, I had fought on the wrong side.
I am a veteran who would like to apologize to the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia for my part in the war. I joined the U.S. Navy in 1966 to battle a nation that had been in a prolonged struggle to free itself from foreign domination. The Vietnamese defeated the Japanese occupation during the Second World War. In 1945 they declared themselves independent from France. They wanted only what America’s Founding Fathers wanted: liberty and independence.
In 1965 the U.S. sent an army to Vietnam to battle a new revolutionary nationalist movement called the National Liberation Front (the Viet Cong). Our soldiers were told that all struggles for national liberation were ex-USSR or China led “Communist conspiracies.” That was a lie. The Vietnam War was a pointless exercise in destruction. Americans were ordered to burn Vietnamese villages, destroy large areas of the countryside, and kill as many enemy fighters as possible. Our military dropped napalm and cluster bombs and sprayed people with herbicides. The results were death and injury, lifelong illness and genetic mutation.
The suffering did not end with the liberation of Saigon in 1975.
Author Edward Tick, known for his groundbreaking work with Vietnam veterans, wrote a book called “Fallen Leaves, Broken Lives.” He collected statistics by searching history books, newspapers, and archives, and interviewing survivors and scholars throughout the United States and Southeast Asia. Here is what he discovered:
During the course of the war 2.5 million Vietnamese were killed, 4 million were wounded and 250,000 went missing in action. There have been 67,000 people maimed and 50,000 post-war deaths because of unexploded bombs and mines in Vietnam. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide numbers are unknown, but there are an estimated 3 million disabled street people in Vietnam.
The environmental damage was enormous, ranging from devastated forests to petrol-poisoned rice fields. The U.S. bombing in Vietnam (approximately 8 billion pounds worth) was 4 times more than during World War II. Over 5,778 Vietnamese villages, 15,100 bridges, 2,923 high schools and universities, 1,500 maternity hospitals and 484 churches were destroyed or damaged. Agent Orange-related deformities still occur at the rate of 35,000 a year (11.7 million gallons of the deadly chemical were sprayed over the countryside).
I wish the Vietnam War could have ended with some form of introspection and reconciliation on our part, but America’s leaders were (and still are) out to lunch. We have become an enormous military camp intent on creating new enemies and wreaking havoc around the world. The U.S. has reached the point where warfare no longer requires victory. Our failures are self-inflicted. The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) is a parasite on this country, and our politicians treat young soldiers like consumable assets.
There is some good news: Americans are steadily growing immune to our government’s attempts to propagandize faux patriotism into a good and necessary thing. We are learning that war is rarely about a “moral higher ground.” U.S. citizens are finally beginning to understand that our addiction to battle is a symptom of the sickness that pervades us.
Time does not heal all wounds, but owning the truth is a small step forward.
As a nation we are seriously flawed. Our military is deep in the blood of millions of innocents. My participation in the Vietnam War was a terrible mistake. I hope the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia will forgive me. As for the untruthful leaders of this country, no apology will be forthcoming. Their eyes are already locked on the next atrocity ahead.
[Edward Tick, Vietnam statistics from Edward Tick, “Fallen Leaves, Broken Lives,” Utne Magazine, Jan/Feb 2005.]
Panel 2 West,
It’s been awhile, my old friend. Nearly five years now since I last stood like a phantom in the shadows of Constitution Gardens, my reflection on glossy black granite welcoming me back. You knew I’d be back then and are probably expecting me this month when peace veterans converge on Washington, DC.
It’s now been over forty years since I was eligible for my own etching on your façade, and since the week of the dedication of The Wall I’ve visited only you, panel 2 West, always looking forward to our private, late night musings with my best friend Captain Richard Halpin, memorialized on line 122. Our shared ruminations have always run the gamut from guilty rationalizations to fond reminiscences, and each provided much-needed solace.
You’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve never shed a tear. Like many Vietnam veterans, I have long felt that the misguided, sometimes fake reverence I’ve observed from visitors, in the glare of daylight and ceremony, is unbefitting your arguably sacred ground status. Don’t expect to see me on Memorial Day. Like most of our war memorials, you have become an appeasement to unbloodied patriots or, worse yet, a recruitment tool for endless wars. So why would I cry? Anger is a better fit.
Respectfully, my stoic friend, no country that flaunts its militarism at home and abroad is worth dying for. Dick and I never admitted that. We were used. We should have known better, but we were used and never served any causes but family legacy and youthful, immortal egos. And sadly, if every town common in the United States had similar polished gabbro walls embossed instead with the countless civilian casualties of US interventionist wars, instead of used service men and women, our imperial wars for profit would still be waged, for generations.
So I’ll see you soon, near the apex, in the dark. I’ll come alone.
Kenneth E. Mayers
May 27, 2017
This week, as Memorial Day draws near, I was writing an article about the 34 sailors of the USS Liberty who were deliberately killed by fire from Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats off the Sinai 50 years ago. My eye caught a name on a rubbing I made many years ago from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall: “Edward S. Krukowski.”
What fun we had at Fordham – could it really be 60 years ago? – studying Russian together. Remember how our Moscovite Russian teacher, Mrs. Lindsay, used to yell at us when we acted up – and our uproarious laughter as she kept repeating: “What are you laughing? Who are you laughing? This is nothing to laugh!” (I’m glad no one broke our mutual promise never to let her know that in English, “laugh” normally requires a preposition.)
You heritage was Ukrainian, if memory serves, and I have been thinking of that amid the hostilities in Ukraine. I do hope that whatever extended family you have there is safe.
You were in the Air Force ROTC, while I was in the Army ROTC. You graduated and were commissioned in 1960, a year before me. Just a few years later I remember vividly reading the sad notice:
“Capt. Edward Krukowski, USAF, was flying a C-123 on a resupply mission in Vietnam when shot down on Oct. 24, 1964, six days short of his 26th birthday, leaving a wife and three small children.”
I remember weeping with your wife and three small children at your wake, funeral, and burial in Arlington cemetery. You had planned for the worst, leaving a request to be buried within view of the grave of President John F. Kennedy, whom we both admired so much. That’s where your body lies today; it’s a direct-line view. They tucked your tombstone onto the end of a row with that view. (Least they could do, I guess.)
It is a good place to sit and think – with you at my back and President Kennedy in front. What Kennedy knew, but you didn’t, is that a year before you and your crew were killed, he had ordered a phased withdrawal of almost all U.S. troops from Vietnam. Many believe – including me – that this is one of the reasons he was assassinated.
I have written about you, and one article caught the attention of your son, Ed, a dentist in Florida. That put him in touch with me; it was a blessing to have a tangible Ed Krukowski as a reminder of my college buddy Ed – you.
In just two days, this year’s Memorial Day (May 29) falls on President Kennedy’s 100th birthday.
‘Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.’
Peace, Ed. See you again before too long.
I was drafted into the United States Marine Corp in 1966. My MOS was 351, assigned to a 3.5 rocket launcher squad for the 26th Marines. Our unit was sent over by ship and docked in Danang in August of 1966. I was fortunate that I came back home before the Tet offensive. A neighbor and high school classmate, Randy Grueber, was killed on May 10, 1967. His dad was bitter for the rest of his life because he did not want his son to enlist and knew already in 1966 that this war was unnecessary. It took 10 to 15 years for me to come that realization. After reading journalist Neil Sheehan’s A BRIGHT SHINING LIE and other books, and the experience of other veterans such as Gen. Smedley Butler, I became aware of how corrupt and easily deceived some of our leaders were and still are.
After a trip to Nicaurgua in 1986, where I learned the U.S. was still committing war crimes, I joined Nebraskans for Peace and have tried to work to expose the militarism that is destroying our communities. It seems it has been an effort in futility, but I know that it is the right effort to make. I was diagnosed with bladder and prostate cancer in the last two years because of exposure to agent orange. Again I have been very fortunate because the people of Southeast Asia have suffered for this terrible mistake for decades. My apologies for my part in the devastation of all these nations and people. When will we ever learn???