UPDATE May 27, 2014: Here’s a Facebook album of photos I took at the Veterans for Peace Memorial Day observance at the MN State Capitol Vietnam Memorial yesterday.
A very worthwhile summary of the tension which seems to surround the Memorial Day observances (Pro-War or Pro-Peace) can be found here. It is long, but very worthwhile.
TWIN CITIES READERS: join with the Veterans for Peace today at 9:30 a.m. at the Vietnam Memorial area on the State Capitol Grounds for the annual Memorial Day reflections. I have attended this observance for years. It is always moving.
May 29 UPDATE: Thoughts after the Memorial on Monday May 26
After the annual Vets for Peace Memorial on the Minnesota Capitol Grounds Vietnam Memorial, I went home to try to reconstruct my attendance at these events over the years. Almost certainly they go back to 2003, which was about when I was becoming an activist for Peace, and was a new member of Vets for Peace. I didn’t make all of the Memorials: sometimes I was out of town; but if in town, I’d be there. Ditto for Armistice Day each November 11, most often at the USS Ward Memorial in the same neighborhood; the first one, though, at Ft. Snelling.
2014’s observance was better than last, which was better than the year before, and the year before that…. Slowly, surely, the observance grows in attendance and in quality.
My friend, Ehtasham Anwar, from Pakistan and a Humphrey/Fulbright Fellow at the Human Rights Center at the University of Minnesota, counted 150 of us at the observance.
From the first Pete Seeger song by Bill McGrath of Northfield, to Taps at the end, the one hour event was its usual quiet, powerful self, with memories, both of the structured sort (reading the names of the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan), to individuals recalling their own victims of war, both living and dead.
Jim Northrup, Objibwa author and Vietnam vet spoke powerfully about his personal family history with the Vietnam War. It began with memories of watching Albert Woolson, the last survivor of the Civil War in parades in Duluth, “surrounded by pretty girls” – pretty cool for young Northrop. Then memories of the War itself, abstract demolished by reality. Seeing John Wayne appear and as immediately disappear in a cameo appearance on a battlefield somewhere over there….
One of the vets rang a hand-made bell eleven times, remembering 11 a.m., on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when Armistice was declared in the “War to End All Wars”.
We adjourned, quietly, and went our separate ways.
There were no gun salutes. It was all about Peace.
At the wall, at the end, organizer Barry Riesch and myself found that we both knew, in different ways, one of the names on the wall, Joseph Sommerhauser, killed 1968. He was Barry’s classmate; and he’s my long-time Barbers brother. Tom, my barber, was also a Marine in Vietnam.
So is how it goes with circles, only through gatherings like this can dots be connected.
(click to enlarge photos)
Barry Riesch identifies name of Vietnam casualty, Joseph Sommerhauser, May 26, 2014, at the Vietnam Wall, MN State Capitol Grounds.
Original Post for Memorial Day 2014
About three weeks ago, my wife and I stopped downstairs after 9:30 Mass at Basilica for our usual coffee and conversation.
This particular day we joined a man sitting by himself at a table. He was a very dapper older gentleman, well dressed, wearing a boutonniere.
We introduced ourselves. He gave his name. I’ll call him Roger.
Roger, it turned out, grew up in an eastern state and was drafted during the worst parts of the Vietnam War. He was a Conscientious Objector, and went into alternative service aboard a Hospital Ship just off of Vietnam during 1968, one of the deadliest years of the Vietnam War.
He told his story that morning at coffee. He came home from the war, and went to work in the medical field. All went okay for something over 20 years, then PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) took hold. His personal hell was compounded because no one would believe him; he was, after all, “normal” for over 20 years. It took a long and very frustrating time to verify his career-ending disability.*
We shared contact information before leaving coffee.
Later in the week, came a packet from my new friend, including several photos, three of which are below.
Hospital Ship Sanctuary late 1960s
“Roger” is in this picture, 1968
Gen. Westmoreland visiting the ICU on the Hospital Ship.
I’ve seen him each Sunday since, and each Sunday he’s wearing that boutonniere, dressed very well.
This day, Memorial Day 2014, at 9:30 a.m. at the Vietnam Memorial on the State Capitol Grounds, I may see Roger, who I invited to the annual Vets for Peace Memorial Day observance. Each year this observance grows in numbers of participants. It is always impressive. Whether or not he chooses to come, I’ll dedicate the day to him.
I’ll also bring to the observance two new friends from Pakistan, Humphrey/Fulbright Fellows in the University of Minnesota Human and Civil Rights Center, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. I have been assisting them in identifying Americans to interview on the topic of Peace. The interviews, their stories, and their perceptions of America both from at-home and here are most interesting, and perhaps a topic for a later post.
But these are tense times in the issue of care of the desperately wounded coming home from combat oversees, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
This evening 60 Minutes had a powerful segment on PTSD programs. You can watch it here.
There is a great deal of political controversy, lately, about the Veterans Administration Hospitals. My Grandfather Bernard died in a VA Hospital in 1957; so did my physically and psychologically disabled Brother-in-Law, who I spent time with at three different VA hospitals during assorted confinements. A VA Nurse I know is an outspoken advocate for better funding of health care in the system. Etc.
Still, the entire system, especially the Director, former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, and, of course, the President of the United States, is under attack as this Memorial Day dawns because of assorted outrages at a number of VA Hospitals in that immense system. Rather than fix the problems, the political strategy is to demand that the top guy be fired, and blame the President (and Democrats) and reap political points in the process.
If you’re interested (I hope you are) a long post on the topic I would urge you to read is here. There is a short comment of my own at the end.
I close with this personal comment: we are a nation that seems to revere war, when war has never and will never solve anything; and it is war that will ultimately kill us all. We have created and continue to refine the monster that can kill us all.
What I look for is the day when we can celebrate the death of war: now that will be a cause for celebration!
We Americans, indeed the vast majority of all citizens everywhere in the world, are a peace-loving people. Just look around at your friends, neighbors and communities. The vast majority of us do not celebrate war.
But it will take our individual work to end our national obsession with it, and to reduce the numbers of our fellow citizens killed or mortally and permanently wounded by it.
Let us make Memorial Day a day to celebrate Peace.
* – POSTNOTE: My barber, a retired man, is a Marine veteran of Vietnam. His brother died at 18 there; his name is on the Wall in DC and Minnesota. In Vietnam my barber was one of those who went into the tunnel system constructed by the enemy – he was willing and had the build for it. This was in the 1960s.
Tom and I talk a lot while I’m in his barber chair, and in recent years he’s talked about claustrophobia as a fairly recent and disabling issue for him. It sounds odd, coming from him, a former tunnel rat, but it is truly a problem for him, and he receives treatment from the VA for it.
War, it turns out, never ends.