Veterans Day 2005
On November 11, I marched in my first Veterans Day parade. I have long avoided patriotic, military events like that. I haven’t felt patriotic since Vietnam. My anger and resentment left me unwilling to seek out celebrations of national honor and pride, especially when my country continued to support death squads and violence in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iran, the Philippines and South Korea. Veterans Day was a celebration of the Old Guys, the WWII and Korean vets who so strongly advocated the war in Vietnam, the war that dominated my life for half a decade before sucking me into combat. I had nothing in common with those guys who would never respect my views, even after my baptism of fire in Vietnam.
Rather than participating in Veterans Day events with the Old Guys, I have spoken out as an anti-war veteran. My purpose is to remind this nation that war kills, maims and destroys, that war should always be a last resort, that successful war can only be prosecuted on the basis of trust between the political leadership and the public. My partners in this effort were often not veterans but other Americans who understood peace, justice and freedom. As a veteran I bore witness to the reality of American policies in Third World nations. When I joined with other veterans, my comrades were the few who shared my views, such as Vietnam Veterans Against the War and, more recently, Veterans for Peace.
Veterans for Peace brought me to yesterday’s parade. I met local members at the Stop the War Day in September when a group of about 50 veterans lead 2,400 people in a march against the Iraq War. Since then we have organized a local chapter which applied for a position in the Phoenix Veterans Day event. About 25 of us marched as Unit 111, right behind the Flagstaff High School marching band and the Primary Colors Motorcycle Club. We carried our VFP banners, an American flag a peace flag and a flag draped casket. Our reception was amazingly friendly; polite applause at worst and enthusiastic cheers, waves and peace signs along the way. A few in our contingent reported ugly comments and some hard looks but from my vantage point, I saw only respect for our group.
The experience was exhilarating. I have always felt honored to be able to speak out as a veteran but yesterday I felt like I was speaking to a much larger audience, that my fellow Americans were actually listening to me and my fellow anti-war vets. I remember that Vietnam Veterans protesting the war in 1971 had shocked a nation into a brutal realization about that war. Yesterday, it felt like a small band of veterans was once again telling the truth about war. We carried no signs, nor did we chant. We simply marched and bore witness to the cost of war.
I have come to terms with the anger and resentment that I brought back from Vietnam. The memories will always be with me but they don’t haunt me in the way they used to. I exorcized my Vietnam ghosts during six months on the Appalachian Trail in 2002 when I had ample time to reflect on my service. Even before that, I came to terms with the Old Guys when I recognized that they were young men just like me when they went to war and, like me, they returned with a distinct view of the world that led them to support the war in Vietnam.