Day Two


image

Day two of the VVA Board of Directors and Conferencen of State Chapter Presidents meeting, Silver Spring, MD. Very moving and useful. Great opportunities for oral histories here.

The VVA is worrying about its longevity. Some years ago it decided to be a ‘last man standing’ organization. How long can it hold out? If the decision is made to close down, how will this be done? The VVA has assets that will have to be disposed of. But, even as discussion about this issue grows, membership numbers are increasing nationally; VVA now has 78,816 members, an all time high. 

Academic speculation

Listening to VVA board of directors committee reports: is it reasonable to understand this organization and its goals as class-based resistance? An effort to make the country accountable for the damage it did to an entire generation of working class soldiers?

VVA Board of Directors Meeting April 8, 2016

imageAttending the national meeting of the Board of Directora of the Vietnam Veterans of America in Silver Spring, MD.

National President of VVA John Rowan says Clinton, Sanders and Trump support Toxic Exposure Research Act. Both Dems and Repubs have active Veteran’s committees. Encourages political activity by all members. Organization is of course nonpartisan.

First academic book review of BIABH

The first academic book review of Bringing It All Back Home is now available.

Unfortunately it is behind a paywall, but the key passage is:

“Bringing It All Back Home is a powerful and compelling book, one that will help educate the public about a subject that many wish to forget.

One of the most memorable statements comes from Neil Kenny, a self-described survivor whose post-Vietnam life has been characterized by explosions of rage, and who now receives a PTSD-related disability pension from the VA. “I’ve always said that the irony of war is that the most inhumane thing known to man, that which we call war, is where we learned our humanity. That’s where our humanity comes to us. And it’s just the paradox of it” (p. 199).

Napoli concludes Bringing It All Back Home with a discussion of how living memorials, like the Vietnam Veterans memorial at 55 Water Street in New York City, have a commemorative purpose, honoring those who have fought. He then adds that there are many ways to honor a soldier’s service. Books like Bringing It All Home, we may add, are also living memorials, honoring the living and the dead.”

Talk at Automotive High School

Anthony Wallace and I spoke today at Automotive High School, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to a ‘learning community’ that had spent several weeks reading and discussing Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam War novel, The Things We Carried. We were honored by the invitation.

The Principal, Mrs. Lafergola-Stanczuk and her staff made us feel welcome, and the students were well behaved and well prepared. They even gave us both gift bags filled with a remarkable array of Automotive High School items, for which I am very grateful.

The event took place in the auditorium. In preparation, students had created a replica of a fragment of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC.

Wallace at Automotive HS May 2 2014_MG_2024

The students had taken care to place on their replica the names of Thurman Wolfe, Joseph DiGregorio and William DiSantis. These men were members of a squad Sgt. Wallace commanded as part of B Co, 2nd Bn, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, when he served in Vietnam in 1970.

These men have a special significance for Mr. Wallace. The reason is explained in a note left on the Virtual Wall. It reads: “On the night of 15/16 April 1970, Fire Support Base Atkinson, located about 4 miles northwest of Dong Xoai in Tay Ninh Province, was attacked by a reinforced battalion from the 95C NVA Regiment. The fight resulted in 25 US wounded in action and 7 dead.”

Wolfe, DiGregorio and DiSantis were killed. Wallace was wounded among the wounded.

When he saw those names on the replica wall, Mr. Wallace offered them a military salute, as he does every time he reports for service as a National Park Service Yellow Hat at the Wall in Washington.

After an introduction by Mrs. Lafergola-Stanczuk, I spoke for about five minutes in an effort to place Sgt. Wallace’s comments in context. I told the students about American casualties in Vietnam, gave them some factual information about their chances of being wounded, had they been an infantry soldier during the war years.

Mr. Wallace followed, and told him of his personal experience.

Easily the most interesting part of the event was the question-and-answer session. The students had clearly come prepared with questions to ask, based on their understanding of the Tim O’Brian novel.

Students wanted to know if Mr. Wallace had experienced racism while in the American military, and whether or not he would serve again, given the opportunity to go back in time. He told them that as an African-American man, he well understood the special burdens American citizenship placed on people of color, but nevertheless believed then, and continues to think, that citizens have obligations to their nation.

He told them that one reason he felt good about his service is that the American military at the time, in his opinion, offered rapid advancement to anyone, regardless of color, if they were proven capable. He reminded them that in order to become a noncommissioned officer he had to take tests and receive qualifying scores, and that once admitted to NCO school, he was evaluated according to a system that paid no attention to color, but rather competence. As a result, he graduated fifth in his class from NCO school.

Students wanted to know about the psychological impact of service in Vietnam. One asked if he suffered from post traumatic stress, and another wondered if he suffered from “shell shock.” While he indicated he did not suffer from shell shock while in Vietnam, and continues to believe that he does not suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, he nevertheless acknowledges that other people have suggested that at least some of his behaviors, such as sleeplessness, could be related to PTSD.

Because so much of the media image of the Vietnam War involves depictions of American military personnel killing civilians, students wanted to talk about that. He was asked if he had seen civilians and/or children killed. He said no; in Tay Ninh Province he saw almost no civilians at all. He did recount an incident in which he watched a young boy, perhaps 9 or 10 years old, disassemble and reassemble an America M-16 rifle in a fashion that suggested that the young man knew precisely what he was doing, just as a soldier might.

Other questions circled around the issue of killing in combat. One individual asked about the personal items he carried while in Vietnam, and Mr. Wallace explained that, among other things, he carried his Holy Bible, and tried to read it as often as he could, sometimes by moonlight, and on other occasions under a tarpaulin, by flashlight.

Given that, students were interested in the potential ethical and moral conflict between the Bible’s attitude toward killing and his obligations as a soldier. Mr. Wallace explained that as an American soldier in a combat situation, it was too late to worry about biblical injunctions against killing. At that time, he used his rifle as quickly and accurately as he could, because if he did not, the enemy surely would.

The students were engaged enough to listen through two class periods, and we joined a small group of them for coffee and muffins in the principal’s conference room. We spoke with them briefly, and learned a little bit about their thoughts concerning the O’Brian novel.

All in all, it was a privilege to be asked to visit Automotive, and Mr. Wallace and I would be delighted to do it again.

Automotive HS May 2 2014

Anthony Wallace blogs about his expeiences

Anthony Wallace, profiled in my book Bringing It All Back Home, has written about his experience in Vietnam at “Your Stories, Your Wall,” the official blog of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Today he is a “Yellow Hat” volunteer at the Wall, acting as a guide and teacher to people who visit the Wall on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

As he says, “Therefore, at this point I feel I have gone full circle…civilian, grunt, wounded in action, healed of survivors guilt, able to share and volunteer at The Wall.  God, what else do you want me to do?”