VVAW: Vietnam Veterans Against the War
About VVAW
Contact Us
Image Gallery
Upcoming Events
Vet Resources
VVAW Store


Page 5
Download PDF of this full issue: v32n1.pdf (13.8 MB)

<< 4. Fraggin'6. The Show Goes On: VVAW Honors Veterans in the Concrete Bunker >>

Notes from the Boonies

By Paul Wisovaty

[Printer-Friendly Version]

I work with a lot of guys who belong to Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm not one of them, although my secretary gives me looks on occasional Monday mornings to the effect that I might want to think about it. I then give her looks to the effect that while I hired her, I didn't marry her, so she should just go about helping me to solve crime, shuffle paper clips, and be a good bureaucrat.

I have to give the AA folks credit, though. Among the many worthwhile things they do, one of them is this: they stand up at meetings and talk about how they wound up in Alcoholics Anonymous. This is apparently a sort of soul-cleansing experience, which helps them to go on with their lives with less of the guilt, shame and everything else that St. Paul tells them is unlikely to lead to a pleasant afterlife. It is also intended to help keep them sober, and usually works, except upon those not-so-infrequent occasions when the bailiff brings them into my probation office following another Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol conviction.

I do not mean to make light of this practice; I think self-disclosure and confession (secular or otherwise) are healthy. As we near the 35th anniversary of VVAW, it occurred to me that I might use this column to write about how I came to be a member. (I will tell you in advance that this is not going to be one of the most inspiring stories you have ever heard.)

I got back from Vietnam in the summer of 1968, and spent the next five years working on a medieval history degree at the University of Illinois. By the time I was graduated in 1973, the combat troops had been pulled out, and it would be another two years before we got out entirely. I was pretty active in anti-war stuff on campus during those years, and even went to DC a few times for some big-time protest marches. But you know what? For whatever reason, I was only dimly aware of the existence of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I assume that VVAW was on campus, but for some reason I never linked up with them. I have no idea on God's green earth why not. I mean, it's not like I spent all those years as rush chairman of my fraternity and had to skip the anti-war rallies so I could line up enough Alpha Phis for the next kegger/gang-bang. (As God is my witness, I never, in my entire undergraduate experience, became so depraved as to join a fraternity. I did a lot of things back then that I'm ashamed of, but I never got that low.)

A quarter-century or so later, in 1996, I read an article in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette about this poor old Navy 'Nam vet who had shown up at a Champaign County Board meeting, objecting to the fact that the Board had gone back on its promise not to fly a POW/MIA flag at the newly-dedicated courthouse veterans' memorial. His legitimate credentials as a Vietnam veteran notwithstanding, Joe Miller was welcomed about as warmly as John Ashcroft at an ACLU meeting. He had tried to tell those numbnuts that not everything they see in a Chuck Norris or Sly Stallone movie may be taken as gospel, and that, as should be obvious, there is no imaginable reason why the government of Vietnam would want to keep Americans as POWs. (The Socialist Republic of Vietnam may not be in line for any awards from Amnesty International, but the Vietnamese spent 150 years trying to get rid of the Americans and the French; why in the world would they want to keep any of us?)

In any case, there was poor old Joe, kind of standing there with his thumb up his ass, sans any sort of recognition or appreciation from anyone. But he did have one ally in the room. Jennifer Putnam, a longstanding County Board member and one of the neatest people I know, supported his position. (You have to realize something here. The way the '40s and '50s generations see things, there are only two kinds of people in this country: those who served in the military and those who didn't. The former are allowed to do or say almost anything, and the latter are supposed to keep quiet and make the coffee. Trust me, I'm in the VFW; I know what I'm talking about.)

So I wrote a little note to Jennifer, thanking her for having supported Joe. That was condescending; she was there and I wasn't. But she wrote me back anyway, suggesting that I might be interested in joining this organization called Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I did, and so here I am, once again a few decades late and a few hundred piasters short. (I mean, if I couldn't find a VVAW chapter on one of the largest college campuses in the country, do I look to you like a guy who couldn't find his ass with both hands?)

On a more serious note, my much-belated membership in VVAW has meant a great deal to me. I have spent the last five years talking with area high school students about (as Marilyn Young correctly calls it) the American Invasion of Vietnam. If I had not joined VVAW, I probably wouldn't be doing that. I have also met some really neat people, to include (in proper alphabetical order) Barry, Claudia, Jeff, Rev. Jim, and Lisa, from the Chicago and Champaign chapters. You also have to realize that I live in one of the most conservative counties in our galaxy. Too many of the people I live and work with honestly believe that (1) "Vietnam wasn't right, but as long as we were there we should have fought to win," and (2) "those people over there" - read: Third World -- "just don't value human life the way we do." I really need some relief from this well-intentioned insanity, and VVAW provides that. A price cannot be put on that commodity.

Trying to put this all together, I don't know how I missed VVAW thirty years ago. But I did, and am occasionally angry with myself for not having made a better effort to find "us." Beyond that, I just feel that I let both of us down by that failure. We could have had one hell of a time together, although, given my absence, I'll never know what that experience may have turned out to be. But as one of the multiple Annies said at the close of the 30th anniversary VVAW reunion in Chicago: "Gimme an 'F' ... gimme a 'U' ... gimme a 'C' ... gimme a 'K' ... What's that spell?" (OK, so Barry was the only one in the room who didn't know the answer.)

You know, you just can't get stuff like that at the Tuscola Kiwanis Club.


Paul Wisovaty is a member of VVAW. He lives in Tuscola, IL, where he works as a probation officer.
He was in Vietnam with the US Army 9th Division in 1968.

<< 4. Fraggin'6. The Show Goes On: VVAW Honors Veterans in the Concrete Bunker >>