Vietnam Full Disclosure

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My War Ended                                     Jay Wenk

during a warm Spring day in

Czechoslovakia.

The Germans were done.

Safe now, birds returned,

trilling, fluttering around my head,

seeking sustenance for tomorrows.

 

I was homeward bound,

unaware that for my sake,

Eisenhower murdered Eddie Slovik,

unaware the French,

trying to regain a cushy colony,

were destroying a world,

unaware that Korean menus were being

printed by MacArthur and Co.,

unaware that my youthful interest in

Finland, Ethiopia, China and Spain

made them mine.

Unaware that Truman prepaid Vietnam

to the tune of 4 billion,

secret music the French would waltz with.

As an introduction to that dance,

lies were floated on the high seas.

 

Heroes trekked to Canada, while

Harry’s co-conspirators tangoed over the jungles.

Reverberations of their tunes left

common folks withering

with their trees and food and homes,

birds again taking wing to hidden places.

 

Today, these ancient danse macabres continue in

the Golden Triangle, where peace-proclaiming

leaders’ lies lubricate

the Birthplace of Civilization, compressing it with

greed into civilizations’ tomb.

 

Me, naïve, all those juddering decades ago.

My war never ended, never will.

 


 

Doug:  Your email on the letter campaign brought back a flood memories.  I dug out an old paper I wrote on Vietnam in the Spring of 1975, just months before the war ended.  I’ve attached the introduction.  I know it’s not a letter and is probably not what you’re looking for.  But even so, I just felt like sending it out.  So don’t hesitate to discard it.  Hope all is well with you; keep up your good work.  Phil Worden

Click here to read Phil Worden’s Vietnam Intro


To those who may read this letter, I write to my husband,

William McConihay Wilkerson, Jr., whose widow I became on April 2, 2017. His name will not be found on the wall, of course, where thousands of names of young American casualties of our war in Vietnam are etched. Yet he also is a casualty of that war, along with millions of others whose names will not be found there either.
Bill died from multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of the blood that is one of many deadly maladies caused by agent orange. Myeloma overruns the marrow with malignant cells in a sense like an invading army. Hence the ubiquitous adoption of war metaphors in the language of cancer, all cancers.

But Bill did not see his myeloma as an enemy to be vanquished or his struggles as it progressed as battles he could win, if only he could be armed with the right weapon. If only he could fight hard enough. Even though he likened myeloma to a howitzer, he knew what war is and what it is not, and he wanted nothing more to do with it. He’d had enough in 1965 and 66.

Bill joined the army in 62 right out of high school. He wanted to be an aviator and the army, they told him, was his only path. He earned his helicopter pilot wings just in time for Lyndon Johnson’s massive escalation of the war and was deployed to Vietnam. He survived his year, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and made it home bearing only shrapnel wounds. So he thought.

In truth, he bore wounds now referred to as moral injury, but those being not of the flesh, are often unseen. He bore another wound, however, which although physical, remained silent and invisible. Lurking in his body were the seeds of multiple myeloma.

September 8 of this year will be the fiftieth anniversary of our marriage. I was 18, Bill 22. For so many things over our half-century together I am deeply grateful. But one thing that stands out now, as I face Memorial Day, is my gratitude for what he taught me about war. And for instilling in me and in our children an unswerving commitment to its abolition.

Though my grief seems unbearable, that commitment will abide and sustain me.
Catherine Wilkerson

To Bill, from Cathy
You told me it felt like facing a 155 howitzer.
Multiple Myeloma.
You wept when you described what a 155 howitzer could do to a human being.
How you shuddered when the shell blew the side off the Huey and exploded into
unrecognizable fragments eight ARVN rangers as they disembarked.
Multiple Myeloma, disintegration in slow motion.
Bones riddled with innumerable lucencies, cortices turned to pencil lines.
Marrow’s wildflower garden become the home of some invasive species that poisons the
butterflies.
No mercy.
You told me about Phu Hoa Dong
Where you never shut down
No matter what the fucking general said.
Run for the compound.
Run for the compound.
You told me about stepping into the moat filled with blood
The Special Forces captain crouched under the table
A statue like granite, still clutching his rifle
Dressed only in stained underwear
You told me of the heat from the napalm being laid down by the fighters almost searing your
face
Of cadaverine’s sweet putridity
And the wafting spray of Agent Orange
Ah yes, it turns out that Bien Hoa, where you were stationed, is one of the most dioxin
contaminated places on earth
So cruel
Killer of rice and papayas and little children
Killer of forest canopy
Killer of monkeys and tigers and cobras
You wondered if the last words the sniper said, as he aimed and fired, were
At least I got that fucker.
Before suppressive fire made his sacrifice complete

You told me you were thankful to the officer who asked if you needed a hand before tossing one
at you.
He could see that you were trembling.
Or when he called you to share his seat on a corpse along with an orange.

Not every day is this bad, your aircraft commander had said,
After you, a mere twenty years of age and new,
Watched the helicopter next to yours flip sideways and empty its cargo of flailing and clawing
men.

What happened to that little boy?
The one that the crew chief placed upon the body in the back of the helicopter.
The one that he handed off to a stranger’s arms when you landed.

That first night together huddling on the white sand in front of the Little B’ham
You told me you knew right away that something wasn’t right
They called him Uncle Ho
But they were on our side

You told me you’d rather be lucky than good.
You laughed.

You told me about Phu Hoa Dong
Where you never shut down
No matter what the fucking general said.
Run for the compound.
Run for the compound.

You told me about stepping into the moat filled with blood
The Special Forces captain crouched under the table
A statue like granite, still clutching his rifle
Dressed only in stained underwear

You told me of the heat from the napalm being laid down by the fighters almost searing your
face
Of cadaverine’s sweet putridity
And the wafting spray of Agent Orange

Ah yes, it turns out that Bien Hoa, where you were stationed, is one of the most dioxin
contaminated places on earth
So cruel
Killer of rice and papayas and little children
Killer of forest canopy
Killer of monkeys and tigers and cobras

Killer of the genetic code

Agent Orange
Mutagen
Teratogen
Carcinogen
Deformer

Weapon of war
Do not speak to me of honor.

In those last days of pain and morphine you forgot you had multiple myeloma.
I do?
You said when I tried to explain what was happening, the needles and probing and turning.
Stop, you cried.
You’re breaking my bones. Don’t you hear it?


I grew up, like so many other young American boys, playing at war with my brother and friends from the neighborhood. GI Joe, little green plastic army guys shooting guns were my toys. One thing in particular stands out in my memory about those war games. One day, like many others, I had constructed an elaborate scene of war, using my wooden toy blocks to build buildings and walls. I placed the little green army men all around and in the buildings, shooting at each other, throwing hand grenades, and firing flame throwers and bazookas. I wanted to make the scene as real looking as I could, so I made large and small fires by drawing them on paper with crayons, cutting them out, and taping them to the buildings. I thought it was really cool. Then, my father came into the room, and started looking at what I was creating. After a few moments, he just said “ Where are the dead soldiers? Where are the blown off heads and arms?” Then he walked away, leaving me to my play.

Now my father was never a pacifist, or anything even close to that. So his words that day stuck with me. Maybe they were the seed for the slow dawning, in my consciousness, that the myths of the glories of war that our culture has instilled in us are just that…myths. War is something else.

I was not in the American war in Vietnam. Not having then personally known anyone who was fighting the war, it was somewhat in the background of my consciousness through my elementary and junior high school years. But as I entered high school, and the war dragged on, it began to take on a more solid reality for me. The peace movement and protests against the war were growing and becoming more mainstream. And, the conscription lottery, where young men were drafted into the military with the toss of a dice, was still in effect.

I turned 18 during my last year in high school. My lottery number was quite low, meaning that there was a good chance I would be drafted and sent to fight in the war in Vietnam. Would I kill someone there? Someone who I didn’t even know, someone who hadn’t done anything against me, or for that matter, my country? Or might it be me who was killed, or, worse yet, horribly wounded, perhaps paralyzed, as so many young men were?

While these thoughts surrounded me, I watched, as others did, as the corruption and lawlessness of the Nixon government was exposed. It became ever so clear to me that I had no intention of killing others, or dying myself, fighting in a war against people who were no threat to me, my family, or the people of the United States. I would not do it.

I decided to apply for Conscientious Objector status. I guess I was not particularly surprised to find out later that my CO status had been rejected by the military. I did not know if I would be forced to flee to Canada or if I would go to prison for refusing to fight, but I had decided that there was no way that I was going to Vietnam. However, shortly after that, the draft was ended.

Still, the war went on, and many, many people continued to die or otherwise have there lives seriously damaged or ruined. The Peace movement with its anti war protests grew even stronger. And finally, our country’s war on the people of Vietnam ended.

So I have not personally known anyone whose name is here on the Wall. I have little doubt that many whose names are on the wall, and many who went to Vietnam, but who then came home alive, went to Vietnam with good intentions, and believed they were doing the right thing. They have my respect, but in the end I think they were led into this false belief through the misinformation and outright lies told to us by our politicians, media, and the Pentagon. I don’t believe for a moment the US government had any legal or moral justification for sending young Americans off to wage a war against the people and environment of Vietnam. What an incredible, immoral waste of lives! Never again!

Bring the troops safely home from Iraq and Afghanistan!

Bring ALL the troops home from the over 800 US military bases around the world! Now!

No more wars of aggression!

Peace,

Russell Wray


 

April 22, 2017

Dear Vietnam Memorial Wall,

It has been two years since I wrote to you in May 2015.  I again am writing to you to express my sorrow for the pain and agony inflicted 50 years ago on the Vietnamese people– and on the American people– by the elected leaders of the United States.

While you The Wall reflect the names of over 58,000 United States military who died because of U.S. military action in Vietnam, you remind us also of those not named on The Wall–those six million residents of Southeast Asia who died during these military actions.

And people continue to die because of United States military actions– in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.  The U.S. still has over 800 military installations in the lands of other people from which to wage war.

We have a new President of the United States, Donald Trump.  I’m deeply concerned that he will continue the wars of his predecessors and also will find other countries to invade, occupy or attack.  It seems like this is the American way—wars –not to resolve international security problems, but wars to destroy nations and cultures and leave chaos in our destructive wake.

In May 2017 I will speak at a conference held in Guantanamo, Cuba on the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases.  It is no mistake that the conference is held in Guantanamo, Cuba as it is the location of the longest held U.S. military base in another country.  The U.S. has had possession of the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base since 1903-for over 114 years!  A compliant Cuban government in 1903 signed a lease in perpetuity to the United States but the Revolutionary Government of Cuba does not recognize the lease and does not cash the $4,085 check it receives annually from the U.S. government for the lease of the base.

The U.S. government continues to operate the infamous prison on the naval base.

779 prisoners have been held by the U.S. military at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002.  Of those, 729 have been released or transferred, including one who was transferred to the U.S. to be, and nine have died in the prison.

The 41 remaining prisoners include 10 men charged at the war court; 26 indefinite detainees known as “forever prisoners”; and five cleared men, including two whose repatriation deals stalled at the Department of Defense and could not be released before President Obama’s term ended.

Most of these prisoners were purchased by the United States in a bounty program.  They were not captured, but bought.  As a retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel, having served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves, I am offended by these military actions ordered by the elected officials of the United States.

I was a part of the U.S. government, either in the military or in the diplomatic corps, for most of my adult life.  However, in 2003, I resigned from the U.S. diplomatic corps in opposition to another war, the war on Iraq.  I had been a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and was assigned to U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  I was on the small team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2001.

As I wrote to you two years ago, as I remember the Vietnam Memorial Wall, I will continue to work for peace around our world…and continue to challenge our own country to end the threat it poses to our planet in our politicians’ thirst for war.

Peace ole Wall,

Ann Wright

 

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