Voices of Veterans
Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and Veterans for Peace have become particularly active opposing the ongoing US occupation of Iraq, organizing two marches for Peace on the 3rd anniversary of the invasion - one from Mobile, AL to New Orleans and another from Tijuana, Mexico to San Francisco, CA. As Memorial Day approaches, the PNL Committee reached out to some local vets for their perspectives on the military and the Iraq War. We offer three different pieces below from local Vets who have diverse views on the military, but all oppose the current war.

And they will make pretty speeches about "either him or me", and how the evil one before you is just a nameless weapon of the war. But they do not explain that that weapon walks and talks and dreams and when you take that life it will remain in your mind forever more.

-From "Dear Joe" by Michael Dubose

 

Welcome Home...Thoughts Thirty Years After My War....
by Michael Dubose

When I returned from Viet Nam the second time, it was in an era when planes often flew nearly empty,especially late night flights. I left San Francisco on a plane with not a dozen people on board. I was the only military person aboard that flight, and a few rows up was a woman near my age with a little girl about the same age as mine... still a toddler. I left for Viet Nam the first time before she was 3 months old.

It was a different world back then, for everyone. Once the seat belt sign was off, little people played in the aisles and crawled around on all the empty seats - a flying playground. It was nice to be out of the airport and the constant derision of protesters convinced that we were somehow enjoying the war, or prolonging it, or too afraid to fight it, or so stoned that we haphazardly and freely took life anywhere it suited us. The flight attendants would visit with people, drinks were on the house, and it seemed like it should be a very good way to spend the night flying back to North Carolina. A cold beer, and a thought I was leaving it all behind me - the war, the anti-war people, the pro-war people. Oh yeah, they were in the Associated Press as well with the same rude, inane questions they ask today: "How many of those godless reds did you kill...I'm on your side, I wanted to go, but...I (insert lame excuse here) ...got any souvenirs off those dead (insert applicable racial slur here)." I was sick to death of the war, of being frightened, of not knowing WHO would be the next 'friendly' that would try to take my life. People wanted affirmation from you that THEIR view was right, and heaven help you if you disagreed with any one of them. We were wrong at every turn, even when we were right, because to be right we had to tell stories of death and mayhem and horror that the supporters wanted to hear. If we refused, we must have spent the time stoned, or "rode a desk, huh?"or "never got into the real war".

But on that plane that night, I felt it might be all right this trip. I thought I could get home without further denigration. All that faded into a nightmare as the little one with a binkey in her mouth grabbed my arm and tried to touch the pretty ribbons on my coat. I smiled and said something in advanced baby-talk, and that was when the world came crashing in on me. The mother snatched her away so fast that I thought I might find an empty diaper sitting there on the floor. "Never EVER go near people in those kinds of clothes...they hurt...." and I shut out the rest of her comments. The nice flight attendant, paged by the woman, tried to be kind as she asked me to follow her to another seat, so the woman could enjoy her flight. I think that marked the end of feeling for me. Not whatever horror I had lived through, not the harassment and ugly names of the massed protesters. No, a quiet comment by a mother that felt I was a threat to a child. My heart broke in pieces that night, but I never shed a tear. Because when it broke, my capacity for feeling died. It was more hurtful than seeing the sickness and ugliness of the war.

Thanks America for the lovely welcome home. I wonder, how long before, rather than admit that there was no reason for this war, you begin to blame this generation of service members for losing the war. Blame them for killing too many or not killing enough. How long before you, America, decide these people coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder are a threat to you? Oh, never? Really? Well, how many of you have asked your elected representatives to oppose the administration's request* for VA records of those with mental troubles. It seems the "public" that is so supportive of the troops does not want to be on an airplane with one that may have been traumatized to that degree. How many people support that idea while sticking another little yellow "Support the Troops" magnet on their car?>

On the last plane trip I took, a young soldier was
Michael with Sam Hamill, founder of Poets Against War, at an SPC-sponsored poetry reading in Syracuse last spring. Photo: Betty Dubose

asked to stand and receive the accolades and "thank you's" of a planeload of people. Whistles, shouts, applause, back slapping. No, it was not jealousy I felt inside. It was sadness for him. Was he struggling with the right or wrong of the war? These soldiers come home with the same questions we did, and though the appreciation is deserved, it is time for a little more compassion and less waving of a bloody flag where they are concerned. I was asked not long ago what I would have wanted to hear from someone I did not know when I came home from Vietnam. And I wonder if it is what they would want to hear: "I am glad you are safely home."

Whether it is or not, I only write this to ask that everyone be more sensitive and caring about these people now coming home from this incarnation of Viet Nam. Please, do not ask "Did you kill anybody?". I can think of no question more rude or uncaring, yet even now I am asked that, more than thirty years after Viet Nam.Do not ask "What will you do first now that you are home?", because you're asking them to prioritize people in their lives. If you care, let them know you are thankful they are home, and be there to hear them if they want to talk. And I think now, more importantly than ever, be not embarrassed for them or run and hide from them if they cry...because I assure you, many are crying on the inside anyway. What harm is there to allow them that? They are human, and no matter how much training they have had, that remains. Allow them to retain that humanity, and think before you ask them a question.

I will tell you this. That long after, and I am not speaking for all Viet Nam vets, do not thank me for my service to the country. If you want to thank me, do not ask me if I killed anyone.

 
*The Transportation Security Administration is looking for contractors to add a number of new databases for screening passengers and airport workers.The TSA primarily wants to scour the files of the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration for "mental defectives."According to a 2004 Government Accountability Office study, about 15 percent of the soldiers coming home from the intense guerrilla wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to be afflicted with "combat fatigue."



Michael spent 23 years in the USCG, enlisting in 1966, receiving his first commission in 1977 and retiring in 1989. He served two tours in Viet Nam at a station north of Hue, in I Corps. Part of its purpose was to locate the positions for bombing in Viet Nam and Laos.