DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Last summer, I wrote about Gary Canant, a Marine who served in Vietnam in 1968-69. He had just self-published a book of the letters he sent back to his bride, Maxie - some of which you can read at his Website, dearmaxie.com.
The other day, he sent me a letter that he wanted to have
published. As a Vietnam veteran with a son who did a tour in Iraq, war -
both the one he went through and the one which went into its fifth year
this week - has been weighing heavily on his mind.
'Many veterans had conflicts reawakened by Iraq; painful memories submerged for decades bubbled back to the surface. That's one reason he's going back to Vietnam... .'
He asked me to pass this along to my readers, and I'm happy to
What have we done to my country?
Thirty-nine years ago, I left my new wife to go to Vietnam.
Luckily, I only served one tour in that war, but the consequences
of the war have followed me ever since. The damage has been both subtle and
profound. I really don't know all the ways that the war changed me, but I
do know that it has colored my life ever since.
Luckily, I had a new wife - we had been married for 18 days before
I left - who gave me a reason to come back, to go back to college and to
forget for a while the war.
Luckily, I did not serve multiple tours, or have to kill anyone, or
get shot, just shot at. But I had to type condolence letters to their
mothers and wives trying to tell them that their sons died not in vain.
Luckily, I had two healthy sons. But one of those sons had to spend
a year in Iraq, and worse, had to tell a family that their son had been
killed in another president's folly of a war.
Luckily, I learned to play the trumpet and was a bugler in the
Marine Corps. But I have had to play Taps for Marines and soldiers killed
in another war where they died half a world away where they were fighting
for a cause that becomes blurrier every day.
Luckily, I was not hit by the almost daily incoming that flew over
my head in Dong Ha. But I have discovered that our use of cluster bombs has
created a moonscape where an innocent farmer can be killed 30 years after
the war by a U.S.-made device as he cleared his ancestral burial plot. And
to make it worse, I have discovered that the U.S. still manufactures and
distributes these cluster bombs that kill long after the war stops.
I am a Marine. I learned to kill if I have to. I did not learn that
it is OK to kill innocent people two generations later. We as a nation have
fallen to the siren call of bigger and better bombs to wipe out "x" number
of square meters of area, or to be smart and hit a certain building with
amazing accuracy. We have not learned how to use our might to convince the
world that we really care about anyone except ourselves. We can blow up
cities with ease, we just can't convince the people left standing that we
meant to give them liberty by blowing them up. Somehow, I think that
winning is more than just bombing a people into submission.
War is a tragedy for everyone. Only someone who has not experienced
it would ever go to war unless everything, and I mean everything, else had
failed and the only hope for protecting your existence is to go to war. To
go to war for economic or personal reasons is one of the greatest wrongs I
can conceive. On the anniversary of the war in Iraq, it seems that our
nation has gone to war for reasons that are either suspect or worse.
Meanwhile, I am still left with that question, what happened to my
country? How could we have sold our honor and moral high ground to
Halliburton, oil companies and political cronies? When did we lose our
soul? I lost too many friends in Vietnam and my son lost too many of his
friends in Iraq to accept a glib answer to that question. Hopefully, they
did not die so that some corporate mogul or politically connected
politician could get a multiple million dollar bonus last year. That would
truly make their death a waste. I am afraid that is what is happening in
our country. And that makes me very sad.
I am going back to Vietnam soon to play taps for all of the people
who have been lost in war. I am an equal opportunity bugler, I will play
taps for Americans and Vietnamese and anyone else who died as a result of
war. I hope that in my small way, that we can rebuild some of the trust and
hope that we lost in a war that ended about 30 years ago. See
tapsinvietnam.com for more details.
I want my country back.
Gary Canant is not alone. There are many veterans who have the
echoes of their conflicts reawakened by Iraq. Painful memories that had
been submerged for decades have bubbled back up to the surface. That's one
reason, he told me, that's he's going back to Vietnam - to give a proper
goodbye to the men he served with and to atone for the horrors our military
inflicted upon the Vietnamese people.
It took years for the American people to realize what was happening
in Vietnam was wrong and that this nation needed to leave. We've reached
that point in Iraq, but as was the case during Vietnam, the people are far
ahead of the leaders.
"As a vet and a Marine I have very conflicted ideas about war," he
told me this week, "but I believe that we have lost our way in this war,
just like we did in Vietnam, and it will drag our nation down until NO is
heard. We have lost our soul."
We will get our country, and our soul, back some day. And maybe,
this generation of soldiers will be able to make a pilgrimage back to a
peaceful, stable Iraq and come to terms with what they did there during
their war. Maybe they will find forgiveness and closure.
For their sake, I hope it happens soon.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more
than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He
can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright 2016 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.