Monday, July 18, 2016

Vietnam and me

It all started innocently. A Facebook friend recently posted a link to someone else's video about Huey choppers in the Vietnam war. The video wasn't so much about the combat warfare aspect as it was a testimony to the pilots of those helicopters. I didn't have the time at that moment to watch the video, but I decided to save it for viewing later.

What pushed me over the edge to save the link and later view the video was that it was set to one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs, “Gimme Shelter.” [Which became even more important to me after seeing the Oscar winning documentary “Twenty Feet from Stardom” and hearing the story of Merry Clayton, the female backup singer whose haunting vocals pierce this song.]

I've always been interested in cars, spacecraft, and aviation. I can still remember a book I read in junior high that taught me the basics of flying a helicopter. Whenever I've been close to a helicopter cockpit, I've always mentally gone through the process that book taught me of how I would control the engine speed, the rotor blade pitch, and other factors necessary to fly it.

So I clicked on the link and was transported back to the jungles of Vietnam, which I had watched virtually every night on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. I wasn't even a teenager yet when “Gimme Shelter” was recorded, but I was learning a lot about our country and our world during the turbulent 1960s. My uncle was serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, and I had an older cousin in the Army, both of whom I admired very much.

Watching this video today while “deployed” with the Peace Corps made me realize just how incredibly lucky I am. It really impacted me, and I've been ruminating on it for hours. Although I realize that I posted a story last night, I feel compelled to write again on a very different topic. The military draft for the Vietnam war ended just a couple of years before I turned 18, and the war itself ended shortly before I graduated high school. If I had been born just a couple of years sooner, I would have been the right age to serve in Vietnam. Heck, I might have been one of those Huey pilots! I'm certain that had I been drafted, I would have went off to serve my country. Regardless of the morality of the war itself, I was patriotic enough that I would have answered the call of my country. Just as Kenny Rogers sang in “Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town,”

It wasn't me that started that old crazy Asian war
But I was proud to go and do my patriotic chore.
Because I am sure that my 18-year-old self would have wanted to serve my country (perhaps even if I hadn't been drafted), that experience would have probably been—good or bad—the defining moment of my young life. There is also the chance that I might have been injured (as in the song mentioned above), or worse, that it might have been the end of my young life. Thankfully my name is not among the thousands inscribed on the epic black granite memorial on the mall in Washington, DC. Whenever I visit that memorial, I always look up the one name I know there, and think about all he missed—and all who miss him.

So I am deeply appreciative that my birth occurred when it did, and not sooner. I am finally getting the opportunity to serve my country with a two year stint in the Peace Corps on a Caribbean island, rather than in a terrible war in the jungles of southeast Asia. I am truly blessed! It is a great way to transition from my career into retirement.

The video, along with the songtrack, also made me think about all the craziness going on in the USA right now. Between the disappointing choices we are presented with during this election year, the domestic strife, the terrorism fears, the struggling economy, and so forth, America seems to be falling apart.

However, despite all the current bad news, listening to the apocalyptic lyrics of “Gimme Shelter” from the chaotic year of 1969 reminded me that we have been through tough times in the past. As bad as things might be getting up there in my native country right now, I hold out hope that the better elements of human nature will ultimately prevail. In the meantime, I would encourage all my fellow countrymen (on all sides of the issues) to think before you speak, and try to put yourself in the other persons' shoes. We must tone down the rhetoric and approach the problems with reasoned decision-making if we are to accomplish anything.

I can only hope there will be a country worth returning to when my tour of duty is completed. If not, I guess I could apply for another stint in the Peace Corps—they just recently started sending volunteers to Vietnam. Hmmm...

Obviously, this story does not lend itself to pictures. However, I remembered one that might be appropriate. While I was cleaning out the basement of my house in preparation for its sale prior to my departure with the Peace Corps, I found the model of my uncle's F-5 fighter jet that had been a fixture in my bedroom window in the house where I grew up. The photo I snapped upon finding it is a fitting reminder of those days of my youth in the 1960s.

1 comment:

  1. Had to read your post David after watching Lou's video. (I hadn't read it before because honestly the picture of the F-15 threw me off) Being a few years older than you are David a lot of my friends were called up in the draft. Some tragically died and some came back a shell of their former selves as we see our vets living on the streets of America. Had I been born male instead of female it would have been me making the choice of Canada or Vietnam. Some friends chose was a viable option in California where I came of age.
    But I believe the youth of today are as a rule far better educated on what is really going on than we were. They are more tolerant of differences, they are smarter in ways to organize for change and in so many ways have built on the past. They have very strong hearts and huge commitment to equality and we did and do...
    That being said the machine is also better organized and skillful at dividing the people for their own profits.
    Chaos ensues before change and though I have not lived in the US for 2 years (and return with trepidation) it seems to me that the chaos is simply a huge knee jerk reaction to the inevitable change that humanity is currently experiencing. The waking up of people all over this planet. I personally continue to have hope and am committed to continue to work for Justice and Peace.