Log Cabin Chronicles

One vet's perspective

(Former First Lieutenant, U.S. Army. 632nd Heavy Equipment Maintenance Company, and 218th Collection, Classification and Salvage Company, Long Binh, RVN. Bronze Star for meritorious service)

My job in Vietnam was mostly service work and relatively safe; maybe that's why its possible to share this fraction of what I witnessed. I can barely imagine the horror experienced by so many infantrymen, Marines, chopper pilots, tankers, and artillerymen, or the soldiers on the other side and the civilians all around us. I imagine many of them are not here to write, or are here and can't write about it. Please take the story and do something with it to try to slow our rush into another war.

Would a close-up of war be useful if you're wondering whether or not we should go into Iraq? Would it prompt you to write your members of Congress and President Bush?

For the first half of 1968 I was shop officer in a heavy maintenance company in Vietnam; for the second half of the year I was shop officer for a collection and salvage company. Each unit had 200 or more soldiers and 50 or so Vietnamese civilians.

In a way, these were ideal jobs for a young man in war because there was some bit of control and independence, lots of people and powerful machines to work with, a chance to see much of the southern half of South Vietnam (really a beautiful land), and a way to serve without carrying a rifle every day.

Sometime during that year the youthful bravado and blind loyalty ebbed out of me -- and I realized just how evil the war was -- and is.

I can tell you this: war is killing -- legalized murder -- any way you can figure how to do it. It is what we impatient humans often turn to when diplomacy and sanctions and other measures fail.

It is ambushing, destroying, maiming, burning, ripping, raping, poisoning, torturing, and lying. It is of course heroism and cowardice, imagination and rigidity. It is utter physical and emotional exhaustion. It is pure terror and pure survival.

It is an arena where some incompetent people can make really bad decisions, one after another, costing lives and treasure. It is civilians crying and dying with us -- without us ever really knowing if they were our friends or our enemy.

War is the whine and whump of rockets -- never knowing where or when. It is David, my friend and commanding officer, dead from a rocket blast in the next hooch.

It is 20 dead from a rocket in the next battalion. It is the enemy in our wire, shooting us up, tossing satchel charges onto big ammunition pads, taking 11 lives and $18 million of ammo one frightful night at 3rd Ordnance. It is B-52's carpet bombing with head-splitting, gut-turning, 30 second roars.

It is technology thwarted -- a simple, cheap, shoulder fired RPG round melting a hole through 11 inches of nose armor on our best tank and shredding our crew. It is 40 men in a head-injury ward in the 94th Evac hospital -- on their stomachs moaning and crying and draining into buckets -- the nurse telling me most would be dead soon.

It is the splatters and body parts and stench inside the hundreds upon hundreds of shot-up vehicles I crawled through -- where good young men screamed and bled and burned and choked and diedů

Now it is 58,220 names on The Wall, taking 45 hours to read aloud during memorial services. It is over 300,000 of our soldiers injured. It is likely 3 million Vietnamese people killed.

And all they said was that our job was to stop the spread of communism in southeast Asia -- no real and direct threat to our nation's security, no honest exit plan.

A year later I protested against my country's war by marching in the huge demonstration on the Interstate 5 bridge in Seattle -- a loyal lieutenant expressing loyalty differently.

I would certainly go again if my family and my country were truly at risk from a known enemy with known capabilities. But now we have a punk dictator with unknown abilities and questionable ties to terrorists -- with thousands of innocent civilians directly in our lines of fire and downwind of possible chemical and biological weapon depots.

And now we have a president with too big a focus on oil and big business, and a willingness to strike pre-emptively -- going against generations of tradition in this country.

I see no direct threat from Iraq against our country. I see no honest exit plan.

No, thank you. This time I'll skip the war and go directly to protest.

Mr. Bush, what might you have learned from your own eyes and nose and fingers and ears, had you been in Vietnam? Might you see the wisdom and the morality of first convincing Congress and the Security Council and gaining a true international coalition?

Might you separate a war decision from the election?

Might you not be so quick to lead us to war?


Copyright © 2002 John Parsons/Log Cabin Chronicles 10.02