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The Veteran is the Key to Peace
By Stanley Campbell
Veterans know the ugliness of war. They also know the expense and long-term costs. Many wounded veterans are given short shrift by their government, especially now with cuts in Veterans Administration funding. But veterans are the key, I believe, to ending war, and VVAW a vehicle.
cI volunteered for the US Army because I was a 19 year old "patriot" and wanted to stop the Communist advance. I arrived in Vietnam in October of 1971, and served a one-year tour. While there, I saw the horrors of war and was turned off by our government's attempt at democratization. I believe that veterans, who returned from that war and protested, stopped that conflict. The country's most lasting image is former American soldiers throwing their medals back at Congress.
Let me tell you two stories.
The US embargoed Vietnam immediately after they lost the war. But some of us Vietnam veterans returned in spite of, and in opposition to, those sanctions. I returned in 1988 with the second Vietnam Veterans Against the War Friendship Tour. There were five of us, ranging from a truck driver with stomach cancer (most likely due to Agent Orange), two infantrymen and two clerks. We went to Tay-Ninh Province where we were met by a Vietnamese general who didn't like us former American soldiers. He'd been ordered to show us around.
We'd been pretty well received up until then by our former enemies. But this one general kept us waiting and then, with a flurry of Jeeps and dust, showed up and asked us where we wanted to go. The leader of the group, David Cline, formerly of the 4th Infantry Division, said, "Black Magic Mountain."
That didn't set at all well with the general. We roared off down the road and, after a number of miles, the vegetation became sparser. Agent Orange was the cause. We came upon a bleak landscape in front of a tall black hill. The general approached David and began accusing him of "killing (his) best friends." David returned the epithets, and I thought they were going to re-fight the war.
We were driven around to the back of the mountain, the side that David never saw before. We dismounted in the middle of a Vietnamese military graveyard. I grabbed Dave and the other guys, and we stood in front of a monument to their dead (I'd seen how they honored their fallen in Hanoi), lit incense sticks and placed them on top of the markers. We said a short impromptu prayer, and when we turned around, I saw the general was crying! "The war is over with me." And then, surprise! - he took us out to lunch. Such a party we never expected!
Next veterans story:
While in Sarajevo 10 years later, I met veterans from that war-torn city's defense. I told them about veterans reconciling in Vietnam and vowing never to fight again. They heard me, and told stories of enlisting for the defense of their homeland, but one year later, hating the war. I encouraged them to seek out veterans on the other side and make a promise never to fight again. I was met with silence. "One of the soldiers shooting at me had been my best friend," said a sullen-faced combat veteran. I realized that veterans, though having the power of making peace, sometimes hold onto that war.
With Veterans Day coming, I want to ask the veterans out there to serve one more time in the cause of this country. That cause is to bring peace into the world. I call on veterans to join with the usual crowds, but wear some type of peace insignia, and ask to say a prayer for the strength and courage to end war, maybe in our lifetime. Just a short prayer, one that may be taken home.
Stanley Campbell is the director of Rockford Urban Ministries in Rockford Illinois.