This is a blog that has been begging to be written, particularly after conversations with different people on Facebook, particularly in the political field. There are young people who think the world should hear another side, from one who “was there”.
I was born in December 1940. I was one year and seven days old when WWII started for the US. I remember only bits and pieces of those years, mostly when my mom would visit men she knew who were injured, or because of my three uncles, her brothers, who fought in that war. I remember, oddly, the first Halloween after the war was over when sugar was still in short rations, and while trick or treating that year, I got cans of food, or potatoes or carrots, in my bag. A few apples and oranges as well. But almost nothing sweet, although I think someone may have made cookies and gave them to my sister and I – you see, we didn’t have to worry about perps putting poison or broken glass in our goodies in those years. It may have happened elsewhere, but not in Corpus Christi, Texas.
WWII was a patriotic war, with the whole world involved, and with people back home going without things, living on ration stamps for everything from sugar to meat to gasoline to clothing. The people felt like they were involved. And doing their parts.
I was in junior high during the height of the Korean war, though later in my life I was married, very briefly, to a man who was in Korea during that coldest winter of all, where many of the men lost toes or feet to frostbite. I think it was 1954, but my memory falters on dates sometimes.
The point I am trying to make here is that, while we actually did have television by the years of the Korean war, they were not in everyone’s home. I know we didn’t have one until I was about 16 years old.
So this leads us to why there was more protest over Vietnam, and why people aren’t too involved in the latest wars in the Middle East.
You see, I was 22 years old when Kennedy was assassinated. Were you there? Did you see it played out over television? Did you watch the funeral, live, on television? I did. I remember to the minute exactly where I was when I heard the news about his being shot, and then his dying. I was driving across the Nevada desert outside of Las Vegas with a friend who was going to pay a bill. I stayed in the car while she went into the place so I could keep listening to the radio. Kennedy died while we were heading back to our homes that day. I remember stopping to tell a friend of mine out riding a horse about it, and I will never forget his saying “good”. I went minus one friend that day.
To carry on, Vietnam was already in action, but LBJ brought it up to a frenzy, and we watched it day by day, watched our men dying (and the women too, few as they were), and all the gory details. We read daily about the conditions in those jungles of Vietnam. And what else happened? We got the Beatles and the surfer dudes and the Brit invasion and the rock and roll and psychedelic movements, and the drugs – marijuana, heroin – etc. that became people of my age’s retreats from the gore and horror. I was lucky in a way. While I smoked a marijuana cigarette or two, I chose to find my forgetfulness in alcohol, and merchant seamen (I managed a bar where merchant seaman from all over the world came). I danced and drank as fast as I could. I met young men who had been in ‘Nam, and who were sometimes headed out there, and were scared. It was a mixed-up, sometimes horrible, sometimes wonderful, period of time. Wonderful because of the music; horrible because of the images on television.
I wore a POW bracelet on my left wrist for many years – it bore the name of a pilot that went down in 1967. My sister wore one as well. Her “man” came home alive, and she sent her bracelet to the POW foundation (now called Memorial Bracelet something or other, you can google Memorial Bracelet to find the place), but my “man” never did – until 1985, when his remains were among those that were returned by the Vietnamese. I also remember well the television pictures of the rescue of people out of Vietnam from the top of that embassy building on that horrible day in 1975, and the faces of the numbers of people left behind, when we knew we had lost the war that we should never have fought, and everyone was trying to get out.
My doctor today is a Vietnamese man, whose family were among the refugees, and he is a wonderful doctor. But I digress.
Fast forward to the Gulf State wars. First of all, these were fought in deserts, where people could see for miles and miles ahead. Second, both Bushes chose the amount of television coverage allowed, used embedded newsmen, and Bush the 2nd didn’t even let us see the caskets of the dead soldiers coming home. Do you remember the day we invaded Baghdad. Many, many hours of our men (and women) driving over miles and miles of desert, with a running commentary of how much longer it would be before we actually got there. You remember the first night of the one of those wars while we watched on television the green lights of weapons shooting into the air over Baghdad after we attacked them first. You see, I can’t even keep straight which event happened in which war, they were so alike, both in action and in coverage. How could I really be involved? Or more to the point, how could our young people be involved in those wars.? They never had to give anything up. They did not have to see it played out day by day. They saw only what our administration wanted them to see. They didn’t have to look at the dirty business of killing in hand-to-hand combat. And that’s another thing – wars are now fought by machine, rarely do the combatants have to look one another in the eye while doing the grisly business of actual killing. They were virtually untouched by the Gulf Wars unless they were unlucky enough to have someone they loved fall victim to that war.
Anyway, I read people who are unhappy with what is happening to this country, the uselessness of wars, the economy, the education, the health care, and I see people saying we need to do something. The problem is, they don’t know how to do anything. They look to us, who have done this before, to lead them. But guess what, I am 70 years old now, and while my mind doesn’t feel all that old, my body certainly does – arthritis and all those “old folk plaints, because muscle and tendon and joints are fading away” – and I’m not all that capable of trying to start a movement. I need youth to find a way to feel the way I did in my 20s, to get out and accomplish something. I think we did accomplish something in those days, though I am shamed by what so many of my peers did to the soldiers at the end of the day. It wasn’t their fault, they were only doing as they were told. And look how badly the troops of Vietnam are being treated today. They are being ignored by most everyone, including the Veteran’s groups (not all individuals – I know several people who are doing what they can for all Vets), as if they were something to be ashamed of. Vietnam was a shameful war, but those people who were caught up in it were not, in general, the ones to be ashamed of. And don’t throw Lt. Calley at me – he was an aberration, and I’m still undecided about his actual guilt.
One last thing: I am once again wearing a bracelet on my left arm, where I used to wear my POW bracelet. I have had it on since April 2002, have never taken it off, and it reads “In Memory of September 11, 2001”, and has an American flag etched on it.