Veterans of the Vietnam War
I Love You Grandpa
On a warm end of May morning, I get up and go to my community’s Vietnam Memorial. It is nestled into the side of the mountains near the zoo and arboretum and Rose Gardens. It tells the history of those days, in Oregon, along with the names of the boys who died. We can see that while life was going along here, young boys were dying in Southeast Asia. We can read where they came from and how old they were. I walk slowly. It is early, but the walkway and stairs are filled with veterans and family and friends. I do not know these boys who died, but they were my generation. It was the war of my youth and so I go to say hello and to say, I am so, so sorry.
In front of me a woman walks with three lively children who carry hand written notes and flowers. They stop midway up the steps and place their notes in front of a name. The man they came to honor was only 18 when he died. He may have died before he ever even knew the baby who would one day be the mother of these grandchildren who leave him a note that reads, “We Love You Grandpa.”
He is forever 18. It is the Rose Festival or there is a winning sports team or a natural disaster but he is always 18 and lost in the small villages of a country he never wanted to visit.
‘We Love You Grandpa.”
I am at a birth that has, as most births do, gone well. The Mom has brought a sweet, baby girl into the world. Her husband sits behind her and holds his wife as she pushes. He gives her sips of water and whispers encouragement into her sweet smelling hair. Even after the birth, they stay there like that watching the baby. We quietly, as is our way, say our prayers of thanks and begin to clean small things. The placenta arrives and the baby makes her way to the breast. The mother is offered some sweet tea and grandparents tip toe in for a peak. In time the cord is cut and the Dad wiggles out from behind his wife, stands and stretches. The medical equipment is put in the other room and the pads are changed and clean beneath her. We tend to small details, smile and write in the chart. It is a time of rest and visiting.
The mother hands her baby to me and indicates she wants to get up and wash; to let us change the sheets and maybe go sit in the living room with the family. She asks if we would weigh the baby so everyone can know and I begin to get out the scale. My assistant helps her up. She is full of energy.
The father who is walking beside her falls to the floor and begins to scream. He is hyper ventilating and sobbing and screaming, “No, no.” His wife sits back on the bed and we go to him.
He is pointing to the floor where they is a few tablespoons of blood that he had walked in and left a footprint. He had looked back and seeing that was reminded of the Vietnam War.
We had talked about the war, sometimes at prenatal visits and about how he had struggled to recover after coming home. He was involved in Veterans issues and healthcare. He was hoping this baby would begin a new chapter.
In time the sobs grow quieter. “I did not want to kill him.” We say “We know” but we do not know. We have just helped this baby to be born. He is scaring us. He points to the footprint in the blood and cries again. Quickly we wipe it up and try to get him to look at his daughter; to watch as I weigh and measure her and check her reflexes.
I can see that his wife and parents have been through this many times before. We stay a long time and wait for things to settle back into the peaceful rhythm of the postpartum. We make sure everyone eats and clean the sheets and tuck everyone back into a cozy bed.
He leaves his wife and baby to sleep and goes outside to smoke. We watch him from the window as he paces back and forth. We can never know.
Sign by the freeway
I pull of the freeway and wait for the light to change. There is a man, about my age, who is holding a sign. “Vietnam Vet needs money for a room and food.”
When I am a school principal, I ask the middle school students to find a veteran and ask them to share some stories with them. I invite grandparents, if they wish, to come speak. A mother cries as she listens to her own father tell about fighting in a war. “He never told us anything. I never understood.”
Everyone hates me
A man’s dog has a fight with another dog and he comes to ask for my advice about the vet and doctor bills. “Everyone hates me because I went to Vietnam.” I tell him no one knows this; that the people involved were not even born then. “I did not want to go.” I say I am sure that is true and that there was a draft and no one blames him and that it is not connected to the dog fight. ‘It was a long time ago.” I say but I can see it is still just yesterday.
Sometimes I see a poster of the sign advertising Woodstock. It says Peace, Love and Music. It was the Summer of 1979 and the peace movement was increasingly asking itself how to eliminate, as the Quakers would say, “the cause of war.” We were increasingly asking ourselves how we would not just change the war but change the very fiber of a society that made the war possible. In addition to music, we were to learn skills needed for this new peaceful revolution. That is what I read when I headed that way.
The boys who attended Woodstock had escaped the draft. They went to college or bought deferments That was August of 1979 and they would not create the lottery until December.
In the days that followed, I could see our peaceful revolution; our new society lost in a cloud of drugs, fashion and the same desire to get rich with as little work as possible, regardless of its impact on other countries. Woodstock and my generation never rebuilt society. Small steps were taken by small groups of people while others profited from the exploitation of the environment and other global communities. The Woodstock generation would go on to fund wars in Iraq, Pakistan and Afganistan. There was a great deal of boasting about how Woodstock proved our generation would end war and change everything.
Of the 2,709,918 soldiers involved in the SE Asian war, 61% were under 21. 11, 465 were under 20. They could have been at Woodstock, taking drugs and listening to music but they were not.
They say that 20 veterans kill themselves each day and most are my age and fought in Vietnam.
On NPR they have a story about the veterans hospital in Los Angeles. The reporter is saying they were suppose to provide housing for veterans but they rented the land out instead to private schools and businesses and never fixed up the housing. He is saying that someone made billions of dollars and no one knows where it went.
It is Christmas and the long ago John Lennon sings, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”