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Page 16
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<< 15. "Dear John"17. The Backwash of War >>

VVAW and Friends

By Nick Werle

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I had joined the Air Force in 1964 at 17. I didn't know a thing about Vietnam. I was stationed on Guam, where we helped launch B-52s every day to bomb targets in Vietnam. I ended my tour in Denver, CO as an instructor. We hung out at the USO and didn't see any antagonism towards vets. When I got out of the service in 1968 I still didn't know much about Vietnam and didn't care about the issue.

VVAW banner flying after the Kent State march in 1970.

I went to work and then started college using the GI bill. Joe Derry was a college classmate and fellow AF veteran who wrote articles for the college newspaper trying to get people off their asses. Joe was divorced and paying child support.

I saw Bobby Kennedy talk about the war on local TV. When I saw that VVAW members were arrested for trying to join a Veterans day parade, I got off the couch and showed up to support fellow GIs, not to be part of the anti-war movement per se. After the bad press of the previous arrests, the powers that be allowed our VVAW group to march as a unit in the Memorial Day parade. Down Broadway in Denver we marched, a rag tag group. As we passed the reviewing stand, we executed a flank left march and turned our backs on the reviewing stand and assembled in a prayer circle on the grounds of the state Capitol with Banner flying.

As years passed we learned even more how stupid the war was. Joe was also in the local VVAW chapter and I met John Meller at a VVAW meeting. I met Gary Mundt a former intelligence officer. Gary became the VVAW regional coordinator. We were part of a crowd of 10,000 that took part in a protest march in Denver after the Kent State massacre. In 1972, we and others were delegates to the Colorado state Democrat assembly. We helped elect Gary as one of five Denver delegates to the national democrat convention. We had an FBI informant in the VVAW group; he tried to get us to commit illegal and violent acts. To our credit we did not fall for his tactics.

Since the GI bill was not enough to live on, Joe was working at a grocery store. The store was robbed and the alarm went off and cops had the store surrounded. Using his military training, Joe wrestled the shotgun away from the robbers and ran out the back door, his white smock flapping in the breeze. A cop didn't realize Joe was a worker and shot at Joe but hit another cop in the foot instead. Another cop saw that a cop had been shot and assumed Joe was the gunman and then he shot Joe. Joe had not even been wounded in Vietnam. He was taken to the hospital. I rushed to the hospital but he had already died. The robbers only spent a few years in prison.

Gary ended up working in Pat Schroeder's office and the war finally ended. Gary died during the AIDS epidemic.

My wife and I became friends with John and his wife Darlene. John worked at the post office and was a union rep until his death from cancer.

I see so many parallels to the wars that have happened since and remember Joe, Gary, and John every time I hear about another GI who dies in another senseless war.

Nick Werle is a USAF Veteran born in 1946 in Colorado Springs, CO.
He is a retired Computer and Aerospace Engineer. He is married, with children and grandchildren.

Protest against Agnew in 1972.

Gary Mundt at the 1972 Colorado Democrat convention.

John Meller and family in 1969.

10,000 marched in Denver after Kent State.

<< 15. "Dear John"17. The Backwash of War >>

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