Monthly Archives: April 1982

Vets Look Back on the Vietnam War

Wavelength (UMass/Boston), Spring 1982

Reflections on a “Noble Cause”
Vets Look Back on the Vietnam War

by Michael Letwin

“Well, it’s time we recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause . . . We will never again ask young men to fight and possibly die in a war our government is afraid to let them win.” -Ronald Reagan on Vietnam, August 18, 1980

“We didn’t win, thank God.”-Vietnam Veteran David Connolly, April 1981

The Vietnam War ended seven years ago this month. Does it matter, after all this time, what we think about Vietnam?

It does to Ronald Reagan. He’s sending tens of millions of dollars in military aid and dozens of U.S. “advisors” to prop up El Salvador’s junta and to crush the country’s popular nationalist revolution. He’d like to send American troops in to finish the job. What’s stopped him so far is that people at home remember Vietnam.

Although the war ended in April 1975, and that the government has tried to have us forget it ever happened, the mere mention of Vietnam continues to evoke images of saturation bombing, burning villages, peasant massacres, corrupt U.S. “allies” and tens of thousands of dead and maimed GIs.

The images remain so powerful that even the much-discussed “New Patriotism” of the Iran-hostage days has faded, while the “Vietnam Syndrome”-the administration’s term-has led to growing and powerful opposition to U.S. intervention in El Salvador, even before American troops have been sent.

According to a recent Newsweek poll, 54 percent of those polled nationally are against any form of U.S. involvement in El Salvador, and 89 percent oppose sending troops under any conditions. Twenty-five percent of the people who are supposed to fight the next war have refused to register for the draft, despite repeated threats from the government that they will be prosecuted.

Of those who have joined up, the reason is usually the poverty draft-unemployment. Gone are the days when most working class and minority young people believed that it was their duty to fight, kill and die without question on orders from above, or because their fathers and older brothers did so.

As a result of this widespread opposition to another Vietnam, particularly in El Salvador, officials including the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have publicly admitted that the U.S. government lacks the political support in this country to use American troops in Central America, and in the last month, Reagan and other top officials have announced for the first time that they have no intention of sending them.

But the current wave of domestic opposition to U.S. involvement in El Salvador, significant as it is, doesn’t mean that the government has given up on winning in Central America. After all, the power and prestige of the world’s largest economic and military empire are at stake. So, while backing off for the moment on the use of U.S. troops, the administration has dramatically increased military aid to the juntas in El Salvador and neighboring Honduras, and is about to do the same in Guatemala. It is also actively attempting to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

Because these policies lack popular support at home, the administration has also been waging a massive propaganda campaign to whip up support for continued, and if possible, expanded U.S. intervention. They argue that the revolution in El Salvador is nothing more than a creation of the Russian, Cuban and Nicaraguan governments, who, the administration claims, are out to take over the Western hemisphere by way of Central America and Mexico.

Because this is the identical argument that previous administrations used to justify Vietnam, the Reagan administration has had to insist, on the one hand, that Vietnam and El Salvador have nothing in common, and at the same time, that we shouldn’t oppose U.S. intervention in El Salvador because Vietnam was a “Noble Cause.”

In Reagan’s version of Vietnam, JFK, Johnson and Nixon were right about Vietnam all along-that it was fought to defend a small “Democracy” in Asia against “Communist Aggression” on the part of Moscow and/or Peking. The American military machine was the hero of the war, the argument continues, and would have won if it wasn’t for the treason of the Antiwar Movement at home which prevented it from going “all the way.” American GIs were thus stabbed in the back by the Movement, which is therefore responsible for the dire plight of Vietnam vets today.

Through this logic the administration hopes that we will associate our negative feelings about the war with the fact that the U.S. was defeated, rather than memories of the destruction wreaked by the American military and the dictatorship it supported.

The bottom line of Reagan’s version is that preventing another Vietnam means not that the U.S. government should stay out of other peoples’ countries, but that when it goes into El Salvador, it should be sure to win.

The administration isn’t alone in recognizing that the way we remember will determine our reaction to El Salvador. This article, drawn from interviews with six Boston-area men active in veterans’ rights and antiwar organizing, reflects the views of a growing number of Vietnam vets who have begun to speak out against Reagan’s version of the war they fought.

To them, Vietnam was anything but “Noble.” It was a war against the people of Vietnam and against American GIs themselves, since it was working class and minority kids who died on the front lines. They saw the Vietnamese and their own brother GIS sacrificed in the name of “Democracy,” when what was really at stake was the quest for a world where American capitalism could be guaranteed safe profits.

For them, massive Vietnamese insistence made Vietnam a war the US couldn’t and shouldn’t have won. And they resisted the U.S. military in the field and joined the Antiwar Movement at home in that belief.

Today, Vietnam remains an unending nightmare which has profoundly affected their lives and the lives of their fellow vets. It was the U.S. government, they point out, not the Antiwar Movement, which poisoned them with Agent Orange. And they say that rather than solving the problems which the war created for them, the administration is exploiting Vietnam vets to whip up support for new wars which will result in the destruction of another generation of young people in the coming Vietnam.

These vets have resolved to tell their story, especially to the young people who didn’t experience Vietnam first hand so that we will never allow the government and those it represents to create it again.

Only in this way, they believe, will their war not have been in vain.

* * *

Is Reagan right in calling the Vietnam war a “Noble Cause”?

Rick Stahl was an in-flight helicopter mechanic in the 16th Marine Air Group of the Third Marine Air Wing between 1967-69. Today, he lives in Cambridge and is counselor at the Vietnam Educational Training Program at the Boston campus at the University of Massachusetts.

“Originally,” says Stahl, “I felt that I could help someone in Vietnam, enlighten them. I thought that by waging war in their country, they would have automobiles, factories, telephones and TVs. That they could turn on the nightly news and see what life was all about.

“But it wasn’t long before I started meeting other GIs who had a different attitude. They were ashamed of what they were doing. We were landing outside of villages where little kids would be coming up to you, spitting on you, giving you the finger, and telling you to go home. By the second week I was in Vietnam I began to ask ‘What are we doing here?'”

Stahl doubts turned to disgust as he witnessed U.S. treatment of the Vietnamese.

“I remember one time in early ’68 when a couple of helicopter gun ships I was in were heading back to base with some extra ammunition. All of a sudden, the pilots saw a farmer riding his bike next to a rice paddy, just minding his own business. They just dropped the extra thirty-six rockets we had on the farmer and blew him to pieces.”

David Connolly was in Vietnam from ’68-69 in the Army’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. He lives in South Boston where he grew up, works at New England Telephone as a frame person, and attends the University of Massachusetts part-time. “I saw how we’d walk in and kill a whole village,” says Connolly. “The Army’d call it ‘Search and Destroy.’ Or we were relocating people into cities where there was no sanitation, no food, nothing. The people had to try to make it on the black market, through crime and prostitution. There were 500,000 prostitutes in South Vietnam-one for every GI!

“I’m saying, ‘Wait a minute.’ I remember my younger brothers and sisters. I couldn’t imagine doing things like that to little kids and babies.”

Atrocities, says Connolly, were not the result of individual GI “excesses.” Rather, he says, they were the product of a carefully devised American military strategy.

“In a war where the ‘Enemy’ was a guerrilla movement with immense popular support, all Vietnamese were fair game,” he says, pointing to the “Body count” programs whose goal was to kill the greatest possible number of Vietnamese, civilians, old people, women or children included. “If it’s dead, it’s Viet Cong,” was the attitude of the military, he explains. “It gave us a license to kill.”

Another part of U.S. strategy, says Connolly, was the “Strategic Hamlets” program, in which civilians were herded into barren concentration camps to prevent them from aiding the guerrillas. Torture and rape, he says, were regularly practiced to gain information and to terrorize the population.

Connolly points out that this war against the Vietnamese relied heavily upon an intense conditioning of GIs by the military. In part, he recalls, the Army used technical sounding words intended to camouflage reality. “Instead of saying ‘kill,’ the military invented terminate with extreme prejudice.’ And you never heard that you were going to take this humane being and section him almost evenly with this weapon they gave you,” he says.

Ron Armstead, a black vet who was aboard the USS Natchez off the Vietnamese coast in 1966‑67 and who is now a counselor at the South End Veterans Outreach Center, explains that the military also encouraged racism among GIs. The Vietnamese became less than human. They were called ‘dinks, ‘slopes; ‘gooks.’ They were dehumanized in the war.”

However, GIs found out that the military’s policies against the Vietnamese made victims of U.S. soldiers as well, says Steve Miller (a pseudonym), who was an aerial artillery spotter in the Army’s First Infantry Division in 1968-69. “There was a real pressure on the higher officers for the numbers of bodies. But they just had to gamble with men.”

“All we were was bait,” agrees Connolly. “You’d be expected to go from such and such a landing zone to the next LZ to draw fire so that they could call in high technology. You want some figures on American casualties during Tet, the first big National Liberation Front push on Saigon in 1968? Four thousand, one hundred and fourteen killed in action, 19,285 wounded, 604 missing. In just a two‑month period!”

The feeling that they were being freely sacrificed highlighted the glaring contrast between GIs and officers, says Connolly. In the field, he says, “You rarely even saw a captain. They’d drop the general in on his helicopter with gunship coverage, and he’d get a Silver Star. Meanwhile, we didn’t have enough Medevacs to get the wounded out. We could call in half a million dollars worth of artillery for a noise or a light, but we couldn’t get any underwear or a new pair of boots. The officers would sell your food, and you’d have C‑rations.”

From what they saw in the war, these vets find Reagan’s claim that the Government “didn’t allow them to win” to be a false explanation of U.S. defeat in Vietnam.

Throughout the war, argues Connolly, the Government did everything it could to win, short of nuclear war. At its height, he, points out, the US had more than 500,000 troops in Vietnam, that it waged a decade long massive air-war in which more bombs were dropped than in all of World War II, that if defoliated a huge area of the countryside, experimented with a space age “electronic battlefield,” and waged secret wars in Cambodia and Laos.

“The Government pushed as hard as it could,” say Connolly, “and there are about two million Indochinese and one hundred thousand Americans-fifty-three thousand of whom died later from their wounds-to prove it.”

The reality, says Stahl, is that the U.S. lost the war above all because most Vietnamese were united in their opposition to the U.S. in the cause of national independence from their centuries-long domination by the West and Japan.

“As long as the last Vietnamese was still alive and had a bullet in their rifle,” he insists, “they were not going to give up. If you killed one, there were ten others waiting in the wings to take up the gun and wage war against the invader. We weren’t going to break that backbone.”

In contrast to the anti-American forces, the U.S.-backed Saigon regime was corrupt, brutal and had no cause to fight for other than personal gain, says Miller. “The South Vietnamese national police would come around in groups,” he recalls, “bully somebody and take whatever people had. They wore these white uniforms and were called ‘White Mice.’ It was like putting the mafia in uniform. They’d kill GIs or anybody for their money. And when you’d see that kind of thing, you’d wonder: ‘Are these the people I’m fighting with?'”

Connolly recalls that ARVN (Saigon Army) soldiers were usually drafted peasants who had no interest in fighting. “Their own soldiers didn’t do anything,” he says. In the big battle at Hue in ’68, US Marines were outnumbered four-to-one on the battlefield because the ARVNs who were supposed to help them were looting the bodies of the dead Marines.”

In addition, as the war ground on, GIs, sickened by their role and the pointless loss of life, began to resist the war effort, says Miller.

He recalls that Black troops were often the most active resisters. “There was a lot of Black Power, especially in the infantry. There was a general refusal to do anything. They’re not going to work, they’re not going to wear their uniforms right. There was this Black Gl who had all these medals, tons of them. On his last day there, he just walked into the Commanding Officer’s office, took his chunk of medals, and chucked it right at him.”

The particularly militant attitude of Black troops, say these men, was due not only to the general experience shared by all GIs in Vietnam, but also to the specific situation of Black soldiers. For example, they point out, Blacks were assigned by the military to the dirtiest and most dangerous positions, one result of which was that while they made up only 11 per cent of the population in 1970, they suffered 23 per cent of the casualties in Vietnam.

Black resistance was also fueled by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the US, which led many Black GIs to feel that, as Black victims of racial segregation and discrimination, poverty and repression at home, they had no reason to fight and die in Vietnam, especially when “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger,” as a popular saying went. Especially after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, many Black GIs came instead to believe that their battle was against the society that had sent them to Vietnam while leaving racism intact at home.

As Armstead recalls, “I came back and my community looks worse than when I went. It looks like the war was in Roxbury! I can’t go six miles into South Boston. Yeah, I went twelve thousand miles to fight for something I can’t get right here.”

GI resistance, however, came to be widespread among GIs of all races. Large numbers chose to go AWOL or to desert entirely. Drug use and general disrespect for authority was common. One of the most popular acts of resistance, recalls Miller, was “fragging”-killing officers responsible for needlessly sending GIs to their death. “There were more officers killed by their own men in Vietnam than in any war this country’s fought,” he says.

Connolly remembers one such incident following an especially high casualty rate in his unit caused by an overzealous officer. “We came in at six or seven o’clock and the officer responsible was dead by ten. He was killed by our brothers who spent the night listening to this shit go on, knowing that we were going through because this motherfucker decided he was going to extend his manpower.”

As the war went on, incidents of larger scale mutiny became more common. Says Connolly, “I remember being in the field in late ’69, and the radio telephone operator put the headset up to my ear and somebody said: ‘A Company, 2nd of the 7th Infantry, 199th Light Infantry Brigade just told their company commander, ‘Fuck you. We ain’t fighting.’ And then he went off. Lots of times we just said ‘no’ when the orders came down.

“So we obviously couldn’t win,” insists Connolly. “The only people who wanted to fight for the country were on the other side.”

The conclusion that these and many other GIs came to during the war was that US intervention was not motivated by a desire to “defend Democracy” in Vietnam. Rather, they came to believe, they were sent to Vietnam in part to protect investments of Western capitalism in the region. For example, Connolly recalls that 59 of his comrades were killed one afternoon in a firefight over a rubber plantation owned by Michelin Rubber Company near Dau Tieng in 1968.

Stahl came to this realization when “You’d be pullin’ bodies out of this jungle someplace and there’s two big tanks marked ‘Shell Oil.’ And we’re losing soldiers to protect it. So it didn’t take long to realize who we’re fighting the war for. It was for the interests of the rice people, the rubber plantations, the oil.”

Perhaps even more important, say these vets, were the fears of American business and government policy makers that a Vietnamese victory would encourage revolutions elsewhere, thereby threatening the “stability” of US economic and political dominance.

Miller doesn’t dispute what politicians and generals then called the “Domino Theory,” pointing out that revolutions have followed the US defeat in Vietnam. But, unlike the policymakers, he believes that every people has the right to decide the direction of its own society.

“If you look around the world, there’s the same thing going on in many countries. People want the right to determine their own existence and their own way to go about things. I think that is a democratic principle. The US doesn’t respect that, the Soviet Union doesn’t respect that, in Ireland the British don’t respect it.”

The belief that the US used them for a war of conquest in Vietnam has left many vets more bitter and much wiser, as is reflected in the lines of Connolly’s poem, “Thoughts on a Monsoon Morning”:

Used, by the rich of my country.

Duped, by those I looked up to.

Wondering, how can I tell those

who blindly wave the red, white, and blue?

“Vets became aware of a lot of things as a consequence of Vietnam,” says Armstead, reflecting on his own feelings and on those of many of the vets he counsels. “How racism works, how exploitation works. How being profit-oriented reduces the individual to a second or third consideration. How the loss of life means nothing as long as it produces dollars.

“And that’s what the war seems like it was all about: dollars. Helping a few people get some money, expand their sphere of influence in another area, to dominate some trade somewhere else. It’s not about people here.”

“I think Vietnam veterans learned early on in the war that we were there to fight for the interests of the multinationals,” concludes Stahl. That we were losing, just wasting life to protect their investments, in a country that we should never have been in. And that pissed us off to be used like pawns.”

The result, he says, is that he doesn’t feel any pride for his role in Vietnam.

“I’m not proud, in a sense, to say that I’m a Vietnam veteran. Because I committed that rape and pilferage. To be proud that I served comrades there who are still suffering today, that’s where I can get up and boast a bit. But as far as being there for the Government, I’m ashamed.”

“I think we should put the message across that there can be no pride in what we did,” agrees Connolly, whose opposition to Vietnam was heightened by the feeling that he was betraying his Irish heritage by helping to suppress a movement for national self-determination. “If we allow the American public to look at us like heroes, then it’ll just happen again-they’ll get another crop of 19‑ and 20‑year‑olds.”

If their experiences led these vets to views so starkly opposite to Reagan’s, why do some vets still defend Vietnam?

Because they can’t face the idea that the suffering they inflicted, experienced, and witnessed in the war was in vain, believes Mark Foley, who was in the Army’s Thirty-Second Medical Depot in Vietnam in 1970-71 and who attends the University of Massachusetts today.

“Mentally, they need to have something to hold onto, he explains, “even if they don’t really buy it anymore. They have to believe that they went over there to get a job done, no matter how it ended up. I think a lot of guys are hanging onto that because if they let go, there’s a void they can’t fill.”

“How can you pump bullets at somebody ’till his face or his knees are completely blown to pieces?” asks Shep Gurwitz, a paratrooper in an advanced reconnaissance unit of the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade in 1967-68, who lives in East Boston and attends the University of Massachusetts today.

“How can you watch little kids crying on the side of the road, dirty and grimy and no parents? You say, ‘Oh boy, was all this worthless?’ Some people just can’t deal with it that way. They displace it, put it somewhere else. And if they take a look into that picture and feel the pain, they’re gone. That’s how they deal with it. Then they can make Vietnam seem like the right thing. You can make anything seem like the right thing.”

Stahl encounters another group of vets who are able to admit that the war was wrong, but whose reaction is to blame themselves. He has no difficulty understanding this reaction, since there are times when he has felt the same way.

“My father had this hate for the people they waged war against in World War II,” he says. “But we can’t hate the Vietnamese, so the hate is turned inward, and we begin hating ourselves for the ignorance and the stage of development we were at when we went to war at 17 years old. And today, at 34 years old, that hatred is starting to come out.

“There’s two million of us, and one hundred thousand have committed suicide,” he adds. “Well, it’s denial. They’re not able to accept what they did.”

Other vets, however, reject self-hatred. From the start, they point out, working class and minority young men had little knowledge of, or choice about Vietnam, even before the draft boards reached them. In their communities in the mid-1960s, they say, there was a tradition of military service which made joining up seem like the natural thing to do.

“When I was in high school,” remembers Miller, “the big joke was that when you got out you were going to ‘Saigon U.’ It was just expected. You lived with it for about three years, and I knew they were going to draft me. So I just figured, ‘Well, I’m going to go down and get it over with. To hell with it.’ And that was it. I joined the Army to get out of town.”

In South Boston, Connolly’s situation was similar: “Friends of my parents, older people, would say to me, ‘What are you going to do when you get out of high school?’ I’d tell them, ‘I’m going to Vietnam. Where the hell do you think everyone else is?’ There was nobody on the streets that was older than you.”

Connolly believes that he was a victim of the government’s effort to recruit and draft the youngest possible working class youth, because it found them the easiest to mold to its requirements. “Do you know how old the average veteran of World War II was? 26. I didn’t know anybody who was 21! The average age in Vietnam was 19.

“That’s one of the first things I try to tell people who ask me about the war,” he continues. “We were little kids, see? And they gave us a gun and told us we were going to be John Wayne and that those fucking dinks ain’t worth shit.’ And a few old men directed the whole thing.”

Partly because he was a little older, Foley was already against the war by the time he enlisted, but he too found no way to avoid the military. “I joined because they would have drafted me anyway, and the Army promised to send me to Germany. They didn’t tell me they would send me to ‘Nam afterwards.

“When I got my orders for ‘Nam, I came home and found absolutely no support from my friends and family. They said, ‘Well, you got orders, you got to go.’ They were going to work tomorrow, and didn’t want to hear it. My folks were worried about whether I changed my life insurance benefits from them to somebody else. Not the fact that I was going to Vietnam, but that if I died, they wouldn’t get the money!

“The options were horrible, fucking lousy, you know? To think of the MPs pulling up to your house someday and dragging you off to Leavenworth! I finally decided, ‘Well, I don’t even have the bucks, so what am I going to do? No way I’m going to Canada with no support from anyone.'”

Until massive GI resistance blossomed in the late ’60s, the options were even fewer once in Vietnam, explains Stahl. “They wouldn’t shoot you for deserting, but you had to choose whether you were going into a stockade where they beat you about the head and shoulders with a baseball bat every hour, or you went into combat. Which would you choose? I chose to try and survive, and in surviving, you had to wage war.”

“What makes a difference is class,” concludes Miller. “If you go to a group of people who are pretty wealthy, you don’t hardly meet a Vietnam vet at all. You go down among people who work for a living and you meet all kinds of them. A lot of guys from South Boston, Medford and Somerville, which had the most killed in the country for its size.”

“I grew up in South Boston, from which twenty-eight guys were killed in Vietnam,” says Connolly.

Vets who came to blame the war on the government and economic system, rather than on themselves, often joined the antiwar movement when they got home, says Miller. Although some people in the movement blamed them for the war, especially in the early years, vets became an important and distinct force against Vietnam, particularly through Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Foley believes that this involvement was the single most important thing a vet could do for his own mental health because rather than wallow in guilt over Vietnam, antiwar vets tried to end it.

“I think that the antiwar movement saved a lot of guys who were in the war,” he says. They didn’t, like a lot of veterans, have problems because they’ve taken their guilt personally. It was an amazing feeling to be in a demonstration with five hundred guys in jungle fatigues walking through the streets of some city in this country to end the war. Everyone felt that ‘Hey, I got all my brothers right here with me. They all feel the same way, they’ve all been through a lot. We know we’re right, we just know it.’

“So all these guys in VVAW had an outward direction for their rage. They were no longer blaming themselves. They knew they were victims, just like the Vietnamese. And I think it was very effective in turning public opinion.”

“I tell you,” says Miller, “the one thing I take pride in is the fact that I came to be in VVAW, to make a stink and say this shouldn’t be going on. Other than that, the war is just something I did. I would have rather done it fighting for truth and justice than what we were fighting for. Then I could be proud.”

Even for those vets who have been able to “direct their rage,” the war continues today. In part, they explain, Vietnam continues to take an enormous emotional and physical toll on those who returned.

“Vietnam makes me crazy every day,” explains Connolly, as he recounts story after story of friends who have been driven to drugs, alcohol or suicide because they can’t shake the war. “You see a lot of dudes who come back from the military and hate everybody,” says Gurwitz. They hate themselves and their families.

“You’re old and you haven’t even had the chance to be young. I’ve never been young. I came out of high school right into the service, and then bang-when I came back I wasn’t twenty-one anymore. I was fifty-five. Every day in the ‘Nam was like a year out of your life. I’m thirty-four years old and I don’t know how to talk about simple things. There’s this thing: ‘Don’t get too close, man.’ People tell you they see you scoping out everything in sight in a non-combat zone and sitting with your back to the wall all the time. I don’t have nightmares-I have daymares. It’s with me all the time.”

Connolly and Gurwitz are not alone. Recent studies report that hundreds of thousands of vets suffer from Post Vietnam Stress Syndrome,” whose effects include a high alcoholism, drug, suicide, divorce and prison rate. Because they are also workers and minorities, vets are among those bearing the brunt of the economic crisis. No one knows how many GIs were contaminated by Agent Orange, a chemical used by the military to devastate the Vietnamese countryside, and which causes cancer, birth defects, and a long list of equally deadly diseases.

The government not only created these problems by sending them to Vietnam, say. these vets, but it has refused to take the necessary steps to remedy them. They charge that Veteran Administration benefits and hospitals have always been hopelessly inadequate and unsympathetic to their needs, to the point that vets are given drugs instead of counseling and are denied treatment or compensation for Agent Orange poisoning.

Despite Reagan’s proclamation that Vietnam vets are heroes, these vets point out that their position has grown worse under the new administration, one of whose first acts was to try to cut the budget for Vietnam vet services. “Ronald Reagan pinned the Congressional Medal of Honor on a Vietnam vet and then signed an order that cut off the funding for the outreach centers,” says Connolly.

“Ronald Reagan can’t look at Vietnam veterans as heroes when he’s trying to cut back all the programs that are vital to us,” adds Stahl. “We have seventy million dollars worth of programs that are crucial to Vietnam vets. All seventy million are on Stockman’s hit-list. It suggests that white man speak with forked tongue. He’s saying one thing and doing the direct opposite. We just look at him as another farce, another obstacle, because we know that Reagan will never give us what we want. He’ll just throw crumbs our way to try and keep us pacified.”

Stahl is particularly angered by the contrast between Reagan’s cuts in programs for Vietnam vets, and the unprecedented funds allotted to the military. “I think about the amount being spent on building up the war machine again. They are more interested in building Trident submarines and Cruise missiles than in ever answering the question of what effects Agent Orange has on human beings.”

Outrage is the only way to describe these vets’ reactions to US intervention in another Vietnam-type war which, they are convinced, will send their younger brothers or sons to the fate of those who went to Vietnam.

“I’ve been yelling at people over El Salvador,” says Connolly, “to the old guys that I work with, a couple of whom were in the infantry during World War II. I’m trying to tell them: ‘You know, I did the same thing you did. You got to listen to me now. You haven’t listened to us for ten years. They’re doing wrong again. They’re starting ‘Nam all over again in this hemisphere, and you people aren’t doing anything about it.'”

“Yup,” agrees Miller, “they’re gonna pack off their kids again.”

“The beginnings of El Salvador are just the same as Vietnam,” argues Stahl. “And we’re calling it a “Little Vietnam’ because it’s just a matter of time.

“They’re flooding the country with millions of dollars worth of weaponry and technology to wage a war down there. As soon as the first American ship is hit, they’ll have another Gulf of Tonkin incident,” he says, referring to the attack against allegedly innocent US ships off the Vietnamese coast in 1964. Though the Johnson administration later admitted that the ships were involved in military operations against North Vietnam, the incident served at the time to win unanimous Congressional support for massive US military intervention in Vietnam.

“And I’m sure that if you look at what’s happening in the military training centers and boot camps, they’re probably telling the new soldiers to hate ‘spics,’ to kill El Salvadorans, just like we were told to hate ‘gooks.’ El Salvador is the same as Vietnam-another corrupt dictatorship to support, another people to keep down for the sake of corporate profit.”

These vets are actively working to prevent another Vietnam, this time before it starts. Ron Armstead speaks frequently at antiwar demonstrations in Boston, Stahl, Connolly, Foley, Gurwitz and Miller are active in antiwar activity in Boston and at the University of Massachusetts where they have helped to launch the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Recovery, which conducts courses on Vietnam.

“It’s our obligation as vets,” says Stahl, “to let people know what the situation is with the government today, and not to let Vietnam recur. Because we’re the most recent ones with knowledge of what war can do and the amount of suffering it inflicts not only on our own veterans, but on other peoples as well.”

‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑

The Life of A Child

By Mark S. Foley

Vietnam enters the life of a child

when her father wakes up screaming in the night

when her mother tries to calm him and can’t.

Vietnam enters the life of a child

when she sees her fathers thousand yard stare

and knows he’s somewhere else not here

he’s out somewhere stalking his prey his own soul.

Vietnam enters the life of a child

when her father batters her mother

in front of her eyes and she cries

for him because he cannot cry.

The life of the child enters the father

and he finally Becomes wise

from seeing her now less innocent eyes.

Vietnam enters the life of a child

like some passed down genetic fix from her father-

an original sin latent with potentials

of evil and good.

Vietnam enters the life of a child

when she asks her dad what did he do,

and he says I thought I sinned for you, dear

and all you meant to me.

I thought I sinned for another child

very much like you a child called democracy.

Vietnam enters the lifeblood of a young country.

Vietnam enters the life of a child.

Vietnam is with us always.

* * *

“FORGET NAM”

for Jerome Banks and William Wiesle

By David Connolly

“Ratshit” and “Weasel” and me,

are behind this dike,

and Charlie is giving us “what for”

“Ratshit” lifts his head, just a little,

Just enough for the round

to go in one brown eye and out the other,

and he starts thrashing

and bleeding and screaming

and trying to get

the top of his head

to stay on,

but we have to keep shooting.

A B-4Q tunnels into the dike

and blows “Weasel” against me;

he doesn’t get the chance

to decide whether or not

to give up and die.

Now I’m crying

and screaming, “Medic”,

but I have to keep shooting.

At this point, I always wake,

and big, black Jerome,

and little, white William,

my brothers

are not dying beside me,

even though lean still

smell their blood,

even though I can still

see them lying there.

You see, these two

have been taking turns

dying on me,

for these twelve years.

And still people tell me,

“Forget Nam”.

* * *

Thoughts on a Monsoon Morning

By David Connolly

Originally written after a memorial service for 59 troopers from F Troop, Second Squadron, of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, who were killed in action or who died as a result of wounds they received when ambushed by an entrenched, numerically superior force, while on an operation in the Michelin Rubber Plantation, near Dau Tieng, Vietnam.

Cold, despite my blanket.

Lonely, amongst my friends.

Wondering, with the things I’ve done

can I ever make amends?

Sickened, by this needless waste.

Stoic, to those around.

Wondering, what will break me,

the next fight, or death, or sound?

Missing, those who love me.

Hoping, for the next month or so.

Wondering, how will I ever fit in

with people who just don’t know?

Terrified, by the death grins.

Afraid, I’ll be one of the dead.

Wondering, why did I ever think

it wouldn’t be as bad as they said?

Used, by the rich of my country.

Duped, by those I looked up to.

Wondering, how can I tell those

who still wave the red, white, and blue?

I hate every fucking one of you

who make dollars from our deaths.

I hate every fucking one of you

for my friends’ dying breaths.

I hate every fucking one of you

banker of corporation head.

I hate every fucking one of you

for so many, so young, and dead.

I hate every fucking one of you

with your pin-striped, dark blue suits.

I hate every fucking one of you

for all those empty boots.

* * *

After Hearing Hueys And A Hunter In The Woods

By David Connolly

His children urged him

so he went walking

in the almost nude,

late November woods,

flashing,

on what was a jungle

before the planes,

that he walked through

with other children once,

and still does some nights.

He knew he would hear them

even before he did

but that didn’t help.

The other noise,

unconnected,

but inseparable to him,

started also.

Not the innocuous “KPOW”

that we used as children

but the “KUSSSH” that killed,

that looked for us

in woods like these.

He doesn’t know how many times

his oldest said, “Dad,”

or how long the little one cried,

as he ran, low and loping,

dragging them along,

away from the danger in his mind.

The older one, at ten, knew,

and comforted him

as if he were her child.

“It’s OK, Dad, really.”

The younger one, at seven,

didn’t know,

but without his explanation said,

“I was scared cause you were scared,

but I wasn’t scared of you, Dad.”

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