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Page 45
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<< 44. Betrayal: Toxic Exposure of US Marines, Murder and Government Cover-up46. How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Torture >>

In the Dark

By Frank J. Pavlak

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The 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is August 10, 2014, a good time for me to reflect back on how this event has affected my life, what I have experienced, and learned.

Everyone has a story.

When people ask me what I did during my tour in Vietnam, I tell them that they kept me "in the dark." That response usually generates more interest and so I then explain that I was an Aerial Reconnaissance Photo Processing Specialist. I was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base outside of Saigon. That Air Force specialty designation meant that during my tour of duty in Nam, I spent my time developing photographs taken by F4-Cs which had flown over the Ho Chi Minh trail, Cambodia, or North Vietnam. Pilots in those planes took photos of bomb craters, partially camouflaged MIG 21s, SAM missile sites, etc. and I processed them in the dark room. I also produced waterproof maps for Marines as well as satellite weather maps. So, I saw the war "in the dark." I wasn't raised to shoot and kill. I volunteered for the Air Force so I would not get drafted and forced to learn how to shoot and kill. That is not how we are meant to be as humans. No wonder we have so many veterans with PTSD.

Not everything was doom and gloom however. I was working late one night by myself and with some free time I printed a bunch of 20" x 24" photos of Snoopy for my friends. As the prints were coming off of the large drying machine my Captain (who rarely came downstairs from his office except to tell us to get a haircut!) arrived in my area wanting to know what I was doing. I tried my best to distract him and prevent him from seeing the Snoopy prints. He insisted on seeing what I was working on. I thought I was going to be in deep trouble when he held up one large print of Snoopy and looked at it. He responded by saying "Hey! This is neat. Can I have one?" I told him he could have a couple or more if he wanted!

When I returned from Vietnam, I was honorably discharged at the same time after serving 4 years in the Air Force. As I tell my kids, there were no parades when we returned from the war. I was disenchanted with the war and joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War for a short time before I finished my college degree. I rejoined again recently.

As the years went by, I realized I was getting older when I found that university US History courses were teaching the Vietnam War as history. I asked myself when does an event become history? How many years does it take? I visit the Vietnam Memorial whenever I travel to Washington DC to pay my respects to fallen comrades.

I reflect back on my time in Vietnam when I hear helicopters fly overhead. My barracks were under the flight path of Huey and Chinook helicopters coming into Tan Son Nhut Air Base with wounded soldiers or damaged Light Observation Helicopters (LOH). This occurred 24 hours a day for my entire one-year tour.

I also frequently reflect over the Kent State Massacre, May 4, 1970, when Ohio National Guard troops shot and killed four unarmed students and wounded nine others. To this day I struggle trying to understand how such an event could happen. Some of the students were protesting the military's incursion into Cambodia. I intend to visit Kent State during the massacre's fiftieth anniversary in 2020.

I have grown more pacifist over the years and less supportive of our country's military's actions, such as drone strikes in the Middle East. I was quite upset when our country went to war in Iraq based on the false pretense of weapons of mass destruction. At the time, I felt that it was the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution all over again. As the philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." One of the two US Senators who opposed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Senator Ernest Gruening, stated "...sending our American boys into combat in a war in which we have no business, which is not our war, into which we have been misguidedly drawn, which is steadily being escalated." He was a voice "in the dark."

This is my story.

Frank J. Pavlak Lives in Arvada, Colorado. He is Retired. He is a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He has 30+ years experience in the financial services industry, a B.S degree in Accounting from the University of Northern Colorado. He is honorably discharged — US Air Force 1968-1972. 460 Tactical Reconnaissance Wing Tan Son Nhut Air Base Saigon, Vietnam.

<< 44. Betrayal: Toxic Exposure of US Marines, Murder and Government Cover-up46. How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Torture >>