Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Want to travel back in history? Want to travel in to one's life?

I met Trash (he likes to be called this way) when I was selling something on Craigslist. He is a Viet Nam war veteran. We talked about things. He told me he writes. I asked him to email me some. Here is one I liked.
Lea, a lady about my age (54) that lives a short distance from me, is a teacher who was once a Viet Nam war protester. Recently, she was doing a paper on the turbulent ‘60’s that was to be part of a well-attended faculty presentation. She asked me if I would contribute a soldier’s point of view of the war. I sent her this:
A Viet Nam combat Veteran speaks
By Trash
On the other side of the Viet Nam experience were young men and women that didn’t understand what the war was about, but their patriotism made them join the service right out of high school and volunteer for Viet Nam as soon as they were able. Inexperience and youth combined with their belief in their governments righteousness in the cause of freedom made them eager for a war they had no way of comprehending, and slammed them into a bloody and violent combat from which few returned unchanged.
It is said that in a war only one soldier in seven will actually see “front line” combat. This might be true for other wars, but Viet Nam had no “front lines.” Every inch of the country was a combat zone and every person in it was a potential enemy. You didn’t know who or where the enemy was until a kid selling fruit turned into a human bomb and blew up in your face, or an old farmer in a rice paddy you just passed dropped his hoe, picked up a rifle and shot you in the back. Though only one in seven soldiers would see combat, none could breathe an unafraid breath anywhere “in country.”
In other wars, returning soldiers were met with a hero’s welcome by a grateful nation. Not so with Viet Nam! Those that did not return alive joined with the honored dead from all of man’s previous wars, where ever that may be. But those who did return alive faced something different than had any before them. Most were not wounded, physically or mentally, and were able to quietly melt back into a society that didn’t want to hear about their war, so they kept quiet about it and led normal lives. Those who returned with visible wounds went into the under-staffed and under financed hospitals of a Veterans Administration that a weak government would not support because the people were against the war.
But there were a few who saw things in Viet Nam that no one could see and not be changed by it. Words alone can never tell what those few saw, and none of them would say the words if we could. These “changed” few returned to a society that shunned them, and a government that ignored their needs. They had no way of melting back into society. They were “lost” because they were changed too much. Some tried to get help from the VA, and were turned away because the government refused to recognize anything but torn flesh as a treatable wound. Some just went into the mountains never to be seen again. A few remained in society, yet outside of normal society. If they were strong, we fought back and became “outlaws” from society who stood alone. If they were not strong, they became the “homeless” and lived in despair. Many would just lie down and die.
Then came the Gulf War. We won! Returning soldiers were received as hero’s, and rightly so. The VA received new funding from a weak government backed by a grateful people. For those few who actually faced the horrors of combat and suffered the “unseen wounds of war,” there was help. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was recognized as a war related, but treatable condition. The few remaining “lost” soldiers from the Viet Nam war, who for over thirty years faced each new day alone with their untreated “unseen wounds of war,” were included in this new help for “lost” Veterans. Most of us feel in our hearts that the government would exclude us if it knew how.
The day after I sent this to her, Lea sent a reply. She said she wanted to apologize for protesting, apologize for hurting, apologize for not understanding what it was like for those of us who did the fighting. She asked me if I could ever forgive her.
I replied: “Lea, you were right to protest the war. You knew it was wrong 30 years ago. I just recently learned that the war was started by McNamara’s lies and Johnson’s weakness once he learned the truth. It was escalated because of bad advice from “experts” unaware of the total commitment of the North Vietnamese. The war was supported by greed, commanded by fools, and lost shamefully. But the dead are still dead, I am still changed, and my tears are still real.”
Lea came over to my place the night she gave her presentation. She wanted me to know that it was met with much applause, all except the “Veteran Speaks” part. She told me that that part received a standing ovation from a tearful audience, and many requests for reprints. Then we both started crying, she gave me a big hug, and said “Welcome Home.” Two simple words, too long in coming, but I will remember always how good it felt to finally hear them.

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