My Dear Friend, Randall O.,
La belle femme just shared your Facebook Vietnam photo with me. You were merely a kid, an innocent, good hearted, idealistic, loving, kind, and handsome kid, perhaps even in some ways a naive Mississippi country boy sent over to another continent to, in tritely vacuous political parlance, “fight for our Freedom.”
In recent years I’d taken to stopping servicemen and women at the many regional and national/international airports through which I’d travelled. I’d give them a pat on the shoulder, and state: “Thank you for your service.” And, unlike politicians, I meant every word. Always surprised, their responses were heartwarming. And I meant every word of it. And in silence I would invoke and heap curses on those who wage wars of choice, sending young women and men (as dispensable fodder) in harm’s way to oil the gears of the military industrial complex and grease the Ching Ching bottom lines of corporate America.
Only recently and on two different occasions I asked two colleagues, veterans (colonels), one a Vietnam veteran and the other an Iraq veteran (3 tours) the following: “what did we accomplish in Vietnam/Iraq?” As though they rehearsed their responses, both responded with a terse one-word rejoinder. “Nothing!”
All this to say the following: to you and to the hundreds of thousands who responded to the call of duty — thank you for stepping up, and thank you for serving honorably. I can’t imagine the hell you experienced in the jungles and deserts of Asia and the Near East. And to the many who, as a result of their service, are fighting the ugly demons and coping with the excruciatingly anguished memories (of physical/emotional/mental pain), I wish them well as they negotiate the daily challenges. To wit Paul Hutchinson, a former student from the late seventies, who’d spend late evening hours in our family room – occasionally past midnight. While Paul never allowed the war-induced conspicuous limp to get in his way, it was obvious that he was working through the internal turmoil and found solace in freshman English compositions and a journal I suggested that he keep. And sometime in the 80’s I heard the tragic news; physical pain was overwhelming. Paul succumbed to its debilitating malignancy, a secret he kept from me; he died in the abyss of loneliness and pain. And today I also remember Lt. Steve Epperson, a 1960’s college classmate who was killed in action in Vietnam. And Roy Bass, a jovial, brilliant father of three girls, succumbed some years back to a pernicious lung disease no doubt caused by Agent Orange.
Today media anchors/ reporters, pernicious politicians, and disgusting political candidates will no doubt attempt to score points on this sacred day by gratuitously and robotically telling veterans “Thank you for your service, thank you for fighting for our freedoms.” How dare they justify the “ultimate sacrifice” to the widows and orphans? And, while corrupt politicians retire in the comfort of luxurious lobbying plum jobs, fly private jets to golf courses and fancy resorts, the families of those departed from our midst will visit graveyards to hold on to and honor the memories of fathers, sons, brothers, and sisters.
Yes, with the exception of the two World Wars, the history of this nation is written with the blood, sweat, sinews, and millions of tears of men and women at home and abroad.
So, Randall, on this 2016 July 4 celebration, I wish to thank you and those who served. There’s no doubt in my mind that what you experienced in Vietnam made you stronger and more attuned to the needs of others at home and abroad. I will close with the following from Richard Eberhart’s pen:
Of Van Wettering I speak, and Averill,/ Names on a list, whose faces I do not recall/But they are gone to early death, who late in school/ Distinguished the belt feed lever from the belt holding claw.
Wishing you and yours the very best,
And, indeed, thank you for your service.
Sincerely and Salam,