This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landing of U.S. ground troops in Da Nang, Vietnam, the beginning of the American War in Vietnam. To observe it, the Pentagon is undertaking a multi-million dollar campaign to rewrite and whitewash the history of that war.
VFP is asking all who were affected by the war to write letters addressed to “The Wall” (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington) describing their experiences and sharing their grief over its devastating consequences with the 58,000 U.S. soldiers whose names are inscribed on it.
The following letter is from Doug Rawlings, coordinator of the project, a founding member of VFP, and a Vietnam War veteran.
* * *
Dear brothers and sisters:
None of us can quite get it right. We keep trying to figure out what our relationship to you should look like. Psychologists, sociologists, historians, poets, painters, musicians, sculptors have all thrown their hats into this ring of fire. It may be impossible. But we keep trying. For your sake. For ours.
Along the way, we put you into the hands of a brilliant young student, Maya Lin, to build us a wall. She has come the closest. Along the way, some have wrestled with concepts like “survivor’s guilt,” “PTSD,” “moral injury” to seek some clarity if not solace. They come close, too.
You see, we care about you. We want to keep you in the conversation. We want you to know that we still think you can offer us a great deal.
Personally, I wonder this: did any of you cross paths with me from July of 1969 to August of 1970? Up in II Corps, up in the Central Highlands, down by the Bong Son River. Do you remember? I went one way, you the other. I survived, you didn’t.
Along the way over these years, along the way, I wrote this for you:
Descending into this declivity
dug into our nation’s capitol
by the cloven hoof
of yet another one of our country’s
Slipping past the names of those
refuse to heal
Slipping past the panel where
my name would have been
could have been
perhaps should have been
Down to The Wall’s greatest depth
where the beginning meets the end
Staring through my own reflection
beyond the names of those
who died so young
Knowing now that The Wall
has finally found me —
58,000 thousand-yard stares
have fixed on me
as if I were their Pole Star
as if I could guide their mute testimony
back into the world
as if I could connect all those dots
in the nighttime sky
As if I
could tell them
the reason why
So, okay, you would have thought that the grief from your loss and the many Southeast Asian lives lost would have compelled us to put an end to war. That we would no longer send young men and women into ill-begotten conflicts to appease the blood thirst of some self-appointed armchair avengers bent on protecting their warped version of the American way of life. You would have thought.
I’ll spare you the details of wars mounted in our name since you left us. Trust me, though, that some of us have worked to stop them. We work to protect our children and grandchildren, to protect families we will never meet in lands far from here, to use your deaths as a means to say “no more.” We have formed Veterans For Peace, partly in your memory, with the very lofty ambition of abolishing war. We oftentimes work in your name, for you. I’ll admit that many times we feel like we are howling alone in the wilderness, but we will not desist. We owe that to you.
I’ll be back, again and again, to walk alongside you for a short while. I will listen for your voices. I will touch your names and force myself to swing back through these many years and put myself in the place and time where and when we may have met. I promise you that I will take this opportunity to meld our spirits together, knowing that I grow stronger, in the doing so. And I will use that strength to abolish future wars. To stop the killing of innocents. In your name. That’s the least I owe you. And the most.
Rest in peace.
Veterans For Peace welcomes letters from both soldiers and civilians, via email or preferably snail mail letters in hand-addressed envelopes. The letters will be placed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on Memorial Day 2015. For more information, go to vietnamfulldisclosure.org. To send a letter by email: email@example.com. To send in a hand-written envelope by May 1, 2015: Full Disclosure; Veterans for Peace; 409 Ferguson Rd.; Chapel Hill, NC 27516.