---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2002 18:38:59 -0700
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Veterans Memories And Today's Wars
Veterans Memories And Today's Wars
An Israeli Soldier Has Questions; A Vietnam Vet Has Wounds
Shepherd Bliss, D.Min., studied at the University of Chicago
Divinity School, served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era,
and currently owns an organic farm in Northern California.
Published: Apr 18 2002
"It is killing us from inside," said an Israeli soldier in this
morning's paper [April 18, 2002]. It is not the Palestinians he's
talking about, but, "this stupid war. It's awful. Killing people,
as many as possible -- there is no point in this."
This soldier is one of a growing number of reluctant reservists,
reported Anna Badkhen of the San Francisco Chronicle. He is not
one of the over 400 Israeli soldiers who've refused to fight in
the occupied territories since January. He was willing to go to
war, but now he is having a crisis of conscience.
These soldiers' dilemma is one that I faced as a young officer in
the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. I enlisted to continue the
military tradition of my father, his father, and our ancestors,
who gave our name to Fort Bliss, Texas.
Sometimes I forget that I am a military veteran. My service was
long ago. My battle wounds have been well-hidden over the decades.
But they haven't gone away. These are days that make me remember.
War will indeed 'kill us from inside,' even those who return
alive. I have listened to the stories of combat veterans for years
in vets' groups as they struggle to survive, heal, and recover
from war trauma.
My story is predictable. I had requested assignment in Vietnam,
hoping to move up the ranks to become another Gen. Bliss. Though
demanding, basic training with my buddies at Ft. Riley, Kansas,
was rewarding to this teenager wanting to become a man.
I was 'gung-ho,' until I met Martin Luther King, Jr. I had not
connected our war games in the woods to killing people. When I saw
pictures of napalmed babies, I knew that I couldn't kill innocent
people in Vietnam, as the Israeli army is currently killing
innocents in Palestine and as the American military has been
killing innocents in Afghanistan and threatens to expand its 'war
Though I resigned my military commission and thus never saw
combat, I still feel haunted by what my nation did in Vietnam. For
years I tried to pretend that there was no war inside me and that
by leaving the military I was not a war casualty.
While still in my 20s I ended up in another war zone. I followed
King to seminary and became an ordained Christian minister. Chile
called to me. On another September 11, 1973, the United States
toppled Chile's democratically-elected government of President
Salvador Allende. Among those tortured and killed was my best
friend, the American citizen Frank Terrugi. My girlfriend, a Latin
American, was also tortured.
When we went to Frank's funeral in Chicago, they would not open
the casket. We weren't allowed to see his tortured body. But I
carried it aloft as a pallbearer. Something from Frank's young,
once playful body, entered me, and it has stayed there -- just as
other veterans carry with them memories that can't be easily
explained, understood or erased.
By the 1980s I realized I needed help. I had lots of unfinished
business from the Vietnam War and my military legacy. I was
diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and treated at a
Though that professional counseling helped, it has been vets'
groups over the years that have helped keep me glued together.
Knowing that I can talk about my pain in a vets' group, and write
about it, helps me endure. Basically, we just talk. Tell stories.
Speak the truth, even when it is painful. It's not always easy.
My father didn't have a vets' group where you could talk openly
and intimately. He never talked about World War II to his family
as we were growing up. He bottled it all up inside. Not until
after his retirement from a lifetime in the military and his
stroke do I remember seeing him cry, laugh and talk freely. The
stoke released some ancient male restrictions in him. By that time
he was an old man close to his own death. He made it through
battle in World War II, but he lost much of his soul there.
American vets will soon be coming home -- from Afghanistan and who
knows what other countries. Though the U.S. military is eager to
recruit young men (and now women) into the armed forces, it does
not deal as well with them when they return with scars to body and
Those contaminated by the pesticide Agent Orange in Vietnam still
have to struggle for benefits, as do those with the mysterious
Gulf War Syndrome. Who knows what form Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder will take for vets returning from Afghanistan and other
distant countries where the U.S. military may soon fight.
It will be up to the rest of us -- regardless of what we think
about the Afghanistan War and however the 'war on terrorism'
expands -- to receive our 'boys' and now 'girls' back home and
help them re-integrate into civilian life. That receptivity is
best if it includes simple things -- like sitting-together, even
in silence, and listening to stories. No judgment. That's what we
do in our vets' group.
Each member of my generation had to decide what to do about
Vietnam. We were all war casualties -- those who went and those
who watched. Many of us still carry Vietnam and our decisions
about it inside us. I especially feel for the young men and women
today who must decide what to do.
Reading about the Israeli solider who refused to go and those who
are now in battle, my heart goes out to them. What's saddest about
the events in the news today -- and not just in the Middle East,
but also in Venezuela, where the United States once again
supported military traitors to unseat a democratic government --
is history is repeating itself, inflicting predictable cycles of
pain. It's not so much in my mind that I feel such matters, as in
my wounded heart and body.
What's in the news today will vanish for most people. But for
veterans and victims, the wounds will last for years and perhaps
never be healed. When I read this morning's paper about the
Israeli soldier who regretted serving his country in their latest
West Bank war, I understand those regrets. What that soldier
doesn't yet know is those feelings won't readily disappear. They
can last a lifetime.
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