Letters to "The Wall"

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2015 is the 50th anniversary of the “official” beginning of the undeclared American war on Vietnam. The echoes of that war reverberate through all the undeclared wars that have followed.

In the April/May 2015 issue of the Peace Press, we announced that Veterans for Peace Full Disclosure project would be taking part in the official Pentagon-sponsored Memorial Day event at “The Wall” - the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They requested letters from veterans, resisters and activists describing what memorial and the war meant to them. The letters they received were placed at the base of the wall, along with a wreath. Here are a few of those letters.

To All Those Named on The Wall (and the others who may not have died in country but also didn't survive Vietnam):

I've looked at photographs of the “Wall." I've never actually seen it. I can't bring myself to visit because whenever that monolithic black granite structure enters my dreams I see nothing but the horror of the unnamed: the thousands of children, their skin ablaze and oozing droplets of napalm; the untold number of women who were raped, then murdered by young American psychopaths dressed up in military attire; the staggering number of grandparents, their lungs burning from Agent Orange, who somehow managed to survive the onslaught of the colonial French only to die trying to protect their families. They took cover in ditches and rice paddies as B-52's out of Thailand dropped more tons of ordnance than were used during the entire Second World War. Then there's the "guerrillas", those who fought with the Provisional Revolutionary Government and those who traveled down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in their national struggle to rid their country of the invading imperial armies of Western democracies. Let's not forget the people of Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand who served as the backdrop for soldiers looking to spend a few bucks while on R & R, the bar girls, the hookers, the rickshaw drivers, pimps and the drug dealers whose lives were forever altered by the swaggering arrogant invaders.

58,286 names pale in comparison to the unnamed. This fact doesn't diminish your memory, rather it places your existence within its proper historical context, among millions of dead people who died at the hands of politicians without morals and corporations intent on profits. I remember the chants on the streets of Washington in October, 1967 -- "Rich men lie, GI's die" -- and it's the same today as it was then. We haven't learned a fucking thing. Today we know that women can pull the trigger as easily as men, that gays and lesbians can shoot straight, and that Latino, Native American, and Black soldiers can die as easily on the streets of Baghdad and Kabul as they can in South LA, or Pine Ridge and Ferguson.

Memorial Day has always been an difficult time for me, a weekend of fury watching endless news stories about graveside salutes wrapped in red, white, and blue. There aren't any memorial days for the unnamed. There aren't any memorial days for the thousands of deserters and draft resisters who refused to participate in the slaughter and yet are vilified as traitors and cowards. No one says "Thank you for your service," to those of us who spent years in prison or exile.

I'm sorry I won't be with you this weekend. I just can't do it. There are too many ghosts hidden behind each of your names and even after forty years I just can't shake their memory.

Most Sincerely,

Bruce L. Beyer
Vietnam War Draft Resister, Veterans For Peace

 

Letter to the Vietnam Wall,

You are so dark and so mute. Won't you tell us how deep your cold stone wings are buried? How far East? How far West? Do they go to the bedrock? To the core of the earth? To hell, or the other side?
Where do the names begin and where do they stop? Are more being added where we cannot see?

The names of dead young men on your surface are being slowly eroded by acid rains. If the earth too were washed away would we see more? Would we see details of their unlived lives? Could we read the name of other lives touched, with ripples of despair, by the violence that took them?

Or perhaps would we find the names of millions of Vietnamese and their loved ones whose lives and land were laid to waste? The mothers and fathers and other survivors? The wounded in body, heart and soul? Those who went and came back? Those who wished they didn't and committed suicide? Those who could not, would not, felt they should not? The guilt-ridden and tormented?

Yet we only see the Americans, and we only see the soldiers who served and died in combat, and can no longer say what they thought about the war. And we also see the simple beauty of the monument being eroded with platitudes of politicians, and plans for a new gash in the earth for a 'Vietnam Education Center' (or 'Re-Education' Center?) which will likely tell us it all was 'The Price of Freedom.'
And who am I, to question the meaning of these losses? I, who was too young to worry much about being drafted, or whether I should enlist, or resist. The worst I suffered was war nightmares, in black and white, from watching coverage on the family Zenith TV. And, of course, the ongoing cycle of violence and waste that has followed. But most veterans and survivors suffer similar sentiments – that they suffered less than someone else. Are only those who 'paid the ultimate price' entitled to question comforting myths about war? Those who did, of course, can't speak. In a matter of decades all the survivors too, will have passed. You are a wall that both heals and conceals.

And the propaganda of those who profited and continue to profit from war, suggests the main crime was that soldiers were not given more support when they came back. And while they should have received more support from beginning to end, who is at fault and what sort of support should have been provided? What sort of support should be provided now?

One form of support, especially for those who still suffer from moral injuries – where survivors often suffer feelings of anger, guilt and betrayal – is to create more opportunities for healing and reconciliation. Instead or repressing dialogue with 'patriotic' platitudes, to provide veterans and other survivors– when and if they are ready – a chance to bear witness to the fullness of their experience. Some believe the war was good and necessary, and are proud of their role. For others only one or neither of these things is true, and they don't want to pretend otherwise. Most, I believe, are seeking peace in their hearts, and deeply wish to do something to prevent others from suffering war's trauma.
So Wall, one day I suppose the part of you we now see rising above the earth, will also be buried. But perhaps, if we are willing to listen more deeply, and if we are able to imagine what lies beneath your surface – which surely includes the unnamed dead and wounded soldiers and civilians on all sides of war – you may reach your full potential as “The Wall That Heals.”

Roger Ehrlich
Activist, Veterans For Peace

 

To “The Wall:”

The first time I visited you was in 2004. Late one night I stood outside the White House and wondered why we hadn't converged on Washington, DC – every damn one of us – and formed circle after circle around the White House, so deep that George Bush couldn't get through. But why begin in 2004? One could go back to the beginning, if one wished.

I would definitely go back to 1965. I'd want to go back to the public's early awareness of the war on Vietnam. Fifty years ago, the first “official” boots (a phrase that obscures that we're referring to humans) landed on the ground in Vietnam. I'd want us to surround every recruiting office, every draft board meeting place, every military base. I'd want to say, “No!” As a protestor, never in danger of being sent to fight, I would want to personally drive every one volunteering or drafted across the border into Canada. What if they gave a war and nobody came?

But they did come, voluntarily or dragged, and you, the wall, are just one of the testaments. As a landscape architect, from day one, I thought you were the best damned monument I'd ever seen. The wall has been described as a “wound that is closed and is healing.” No! You are a black gash, a scar on the earth, a reminder of greed and hubris. No one looking at you could see “healing,” could they?

The reflections of visitors in your shiny surface, which bring past and present together, should remind us that we have not left that war behind; should remind us that our “leaders” have devised ways to lull us into forgetting; should remind us that our “leaders” have devised ways to jack us up for the next war and the next.

The reflections of visitors should remind us of all those who have died since the war “ended;” all those who have died of suicide or substance abuse or war-related poisoning; all those whose names should be etched on your surface.

This Memorial Day, many will make use of you to diminish the venality of those who sent young people to kill and die and to gloss over what really took place – to our soldiers and to the Vietnamese. Those whose names have been carved into your surface, those who survived only to die later of so many war-related causes, and those who still live continue to be exploited by their government, just as they were exploited during the war. The shameful story continues.

When will they ever learn?

Peace, Susan Lamont 
Coordinator, Freedom from Militarization Project
Peace & Justice Center of Sonoma County

 

Hello, 2 West,

I would have addressed this letter to The Wall, as requested by the Full Disclosure campaign, but, let's face it, this corner of Constitution Gardens has never meant more than Panel 2W to me. Since I first stood on the cobblestone near the vertex of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, transfixed, late at night in 1984, my focus has always been 2 West. In fact only a millisecond of blind luck, much later at night, prevented my name from being one of the 685 exploited service members immortalized on this particular slab, chronologically arrayed behind my aging reflection.

Over the years, whenever I scanned row after row of Panel 2W's forever young, from apex to a reverent half-kneel, my line of sight always gravitated to Row 122 and the etching of best friend and childhood protagonist Richard C. Halpin's "special place in history." And like so many Vietnam combat veterans I have always second-guessed my chance exclusion from such "prominence" with every visit. A row 121-123 inscription of my own should have resulted from another shoot down the same night forty-three years ago over the Gulf of Tonkin. The missile should not have missed my aircraft, but it did. I should not have been that lucky, but I was. And decades later, sheer terror has morphed into a reminiscent "Why me?" hybrid.

The Wall has never been a friend of mine, certainly never revered. Now more tourist attraction than sacred ground, and decades after its commemoration, it ranks high among the US military's most effective recruitment tools, right up there with the National World War II Memorial. Someday even surviving reluctant warriors will have their own Honor Flights, with top priority given to the frailest Vietnam vets, those most inflicted with Agent Orange maladies. Think of the endless marketing opportunities for the next fabricated fight for freedom.

Like all war tributes though, the Wall and future walls will omit the victims - innocents caught in fields of fire; the millions of demonized "others" who will die to expel US invaders; and the countless casualties on both sides, living and dying for decades to come, like discounted detritus.

But 2 West, my friend, we'll always have our special bond, sharing it only with aging family members and acquaintances. I'll see you soon, but again don't expect tears. Grieving never seems to help.

Peace,

Gene Marx
Vietnam War Veteran, Veterans For Peace