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Vietnam: My Story
By Stanley Campbell
In 1966 I had just joined the local John Birch Society, as its youngest member — 16 years old, and fresh behind the ears, but eager to fight against the Communist menace. Mom had to drive me to meetings (she later said I always seemed to be on the more extreme side).
Just out of high school I enlisted in the Army, after working in a factory for a few months. The plan was to save up money for college and see the world. I also supported the war in Vietnam.
The Army trained me to follow orders almost without thinking, how to march and exercise and how to keep things clean and neat. I learned to shoot a rifle and throw a hand grenade, and how to use a gas mask and to "protect" myself against nuclear weapons.
When I got out of basic training, I felt the healthiest and the strongest that I'd ever been.
The Army trained me for another two months as a "personnel management specialist" (a clerk who handled soldiers' paperwork).
Then the Army sent me to Germany. This was during the height of the Cold War, and the Army was there to keep the Russians out.
Of course, there was no war there, and after a year with nothing happening, I got bored and felt I wanted to do something patriotic, so I volunteered to fight the war in Vietnam, and the Army was more than happy to send me.
The first thing I remember is the plane landing and the door opening, and all the air-conditioning was sucked out, and onto the plane came this hot, stinking breath. Smelled like death.
I was assigned to the 67th Medical Group, and I handled the paperwork for all the doctors and nurses north of Cam Rahn Bay.
I visited hospitals where I saw the results of war — many young men with wounds and missing parts of their bodies; also Vietnamese women and children who suffered the same type of damage.
The South Vietnamese (our "ally") treated their own people badly. And our own US soldiers began to treat the Vietnamese people poorly. Our mission was to fight the communists, which is difficult, especially from 20,000 feet up in a B-52. But closer to the ground how to tell the communists from the non-communists?
I saw healthy American young men and women trying to help a poor country, and they soon became angry and hateful and began to call all Vietnamese names. That turned me against the war. It'd taken four months in country. I would still do my job, but when I got home I protested the war.
When I arrived home I found other veterans (thanks, comrades, in VVAW and Vets for Peace) who felt the same way. The best thing I ever did was march in protest demonstrations, both local and national.
There were people who disagreed with us, but there were a lot of people who didn't care. And that's when I started to work for peace. I learned that the majority of the people in this world are poor, and they want good things for their children.
I learned that when people can't vote and change their government, they often pick up a gun and begin to fight.
I learned that as an American I can travel almost anywhere in the world and I can meet lots of people and make friends with rich and poor. By working for peace, with other veterans, I try to make up for supporting an unjust war.
Stanley Campbell is presently the director of the Rockford Urban Ministries in Rockford, Illinois. He recently shut down a pornographic bookstore, turned it into a fair trade gift shop, and put a wind generator on the roof.