Memorial Day Thoughts

There’s an inherent weakness in group thinking. As humans we often seek the approval of others and as a result we become an individual swallowed up in a culture that may be morally wrong. Determining right or wrong is even more difficult once you’re caught up in the tide of current trends.

CH-46s on runway destined for Viet Nam

CH-46s on runway destined for Viet Nam

I enlisted in the Marine Corps during the summer of ’71 and entered active duty training in the fall. I came from a state with divided loyalties to the military. Most of my family supported the idea of entering the military however many friends were not ready to accept this decision. This wasn’t a concern for me as once I made the decision I was caught up in the induction of becoming a Marine.

Admittedly, once I was in boot camp, I thought through what I might have to do once I completed my training. I even made the mistake of vocalizing my lack of desire to kill someone on command and this made its way to our platoon commander. His reaction was swift and he brought me between two quonset huts and proceeded to choke me. As a private in training, you hold the Drill Instructors in reverence. I stood still while he continued to close my airway. Finally I grabbed his hand away from my throat. His response to me was, I just wanted to show, you will fight back when necessary. I wasn’t convinced but at least I was still breathing. This may sound harsh to someone that has never undergone such training but in retrospect these men were preparing us for war. Many D. I.s were Viet Nam veterans and they knew that true combat can never be fully prepared for even in simulation or aggravation.

Once boot camp was completed we were gathered around in a circle and each one of our names were called announcing our MOS (military occupational specialty). I was relieved when mine wasn’t announced as an 0311 or 0800 (infantry rifleman / field artillery). These were the ones most likely to go to Viet Nam.

MCB 29 Palms

Me sitting in front of the barracks on MCB 29 Palms, CA. (1972)

Perhaps it’s selfish of me to be grateful for being trained to service electronics and assigned to duty stations in California and Hawaii. I had uncles that served in World War II and Viet Nam. I was close to some and they shared a small portion of their experience in brief stories. They shielded me from the worst of course. At this point I wasn’t desirous of going to a country which as far as I could tell wasn’t a threat to the United States. Of course we have defended other nations before but most of us didn’t think there were a lot of altruistic reasons to be in south east Asia. We were simply caught up in the flow of circumstances and decisions made by others above us. This is my point, on a day of remembrance for those who have served in a position of unwavering loyalty to a cause and to their brothers and sisters serving along side of them.

I salute each of them knowing full well their battles upon their return are still ahead. Korean and Viet Nam veterans have one thing in common, each returned to a nation of citizens ill equipped to understand their service. Although I was never a combat veteran, I found hostility from fellow students and faculty upon returning to the University. It was frustrating to attempt to explain to those willing to listen the need for loyal citizen soldiers, sailors, air, guard and marines.

Former crew members of USS Missouri pose for p...

Former crew members of USS Missouri pose for photos after the Anniversary of the End of World War II ceremony. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We didn’t come back to defend our actions or be judged by those least equipped to understand our mental and physical struggles. Many combat veterans had no option other than work through them or be consumed by the pain. Friends and families often were caught up not only with supporting their loved ones, they had to survive the anxiety of waiting and handling the negativity of those disapproving of their service. Fortunately now, returning veterans aren’t burdened with such stigma. Never the less, their struggles are universal to all who have served, including their families. Many have been recalled to theaters of war, which as I observed with one of my uncles, eats away at the soul. I saw a man withdraw further into himself after each tour.

I hope when you come in contact with a veteran, you will remember each of them had to come to terms with the possibility of killing another human. It may look simple in a video game or movie but for anyone, police, military or security services, the decision wasn’t taken lightly, it may have become easier after the first but the effect is similar for all non-sociopaths, it wears on them internally. Sometimes these struggles are totally hidden from others until one day, the veteran sees no other option than take their own life. Be supportive and understanding, help where possible because these people were willing to give up their life for you.

Streets of modern Hanoi, Viet Nam

The streets of modern Hanoi, Viet Nam are usually filled with traffic.

If I was able to do one thing in writing on this topic I would like each person to carefully consider what it means to go to war. Is it necessary to pull that trigger so to speak. We examine police officers after each shooting, why not scrutinize our decisions more thoroughly before we engage in the next armed conflict? What triggers the decision to go to war? Is it because we were hurt or a certain number of lives lost in a terrorist action? Perhaps this needs to be more well thought through before we take on the even greater burden of thousands of more lives lost, families destroyed and opportunities lost.

When man becomes nothing more then a flawed irrational animal, all that harms life will become the new virtue.


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