There has been a national effort by Veterans for Peace to have letters written to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in conjunction with vietnamfulldisclosure.org. Our local group has sent in several letters. This one is by Gail Coleman, an associate member of Veterans For Peace in Cedar Rapids.
~ Dear Joe – or Bob or John or maybe Susan (…how many, many names…they seem to stretch forever on this wall).
I was probably just learning to write my own name when you died. Born in 1964, it was a confusing time to be a little girl. I am sure it was far more confusing – and frightening – for you to be in Vietnam.
I wondered about you back then. Who were you, this young man on my TV, running through tall grass and jungles, carrying a gun? Or perhaps you were a nurse treating the wounded. But why were they wounded? Why were they there? Someone must know, I thought.
I tried to ask my mom these questions but if she gave an explanation at all, I still could not understand it. The one thing I was sure of was that some of these men were killed. My oldest brother was of draft age and I was terrified to think he might have to go. I cried one day, asking Mom if he would be killed. Again, there was no sufficient answer, no reassurance.
That brother did not get the call. He is sixty-two now, alive and well.
But you had to go – and you died. You were somebody’s brother or son or sweetheart.
As much as I tried to figure out “war” back then, no one, not even Walter Cronkite-could make it seem right. It was simply a nightmare no one could wake from. That’s the way it was, as Walter would say.
I am fifty now. You might think in all these years that I would have made sense of it, that I could finally believe it was more than just senseless death and destruction. Wasn’t I taught that we were always “the good guys?” The powerful, the wealthy and elite, many in the halls of Washington, are still trying to spin it, to put it in some sort of good light. But if I bought that, if (even worse) I repeated that lie, I fear it would be one more betrayal of you.
Here is the ultimate haunting question, I think: Did you die in vain?
Never mind if it was heroic. Forget if you should have been there or not.
The fact is that you were there and you died there. So, did it serve any greater purpose? When they folded up that flag and handed it to your loved one, was there anything they could take comfort in?
I cannot answer that.
All I know with certainty is this: Beginning with that war – maybe even on the day you fell – I knew there was something terrible about this whole business, no matter what Walter Cronkite or any Senators or the President had to say.
War should never be glorified, or worse, glamorized. It cheapens life, I think, to try to convince anyone that killing and being killed is anything but horrific.
So if you did die for a cause, let it go down in history as this: a lesson in the sanctity of every life and the horror of every war. For that lesson, I thank you.
May you now rest in peace.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa