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Ellen Pinzur, in response to the Editorial in 3.1 Newsletter: "Veterans Day at the Wall":
I haven't been at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial during the Persian Gulf situation, but I was there on Veterans Day in 1988. I was dismayed by the overwhelming martial display everywhere. I, too, am appalled by the apparent takeover by rightists at the Wall. I have often wondered why antiwar Vietnam vets don't mount their own displays.
But, I, too understand that the people who come to pay their respects at the memorial deserve to be let alone with their own thoughts.
With that in mind, I'd like to provide you, and possibly the Newsletter readership, if you think it's worthwhile, with comments from relatives of four of the men whose names are on The Wall (from interviews I conducted for my Master's Thesis).
Robert Winslow Belcher
November 11, 1945-April 11, 1968
Panel 34E, Line 61
Bob's mother, Lois, said:
I go, as I told you, twice a year usually.... But I've never laid a note or anything there. It's a very moving thing. I was struck by the demeanor of the people. The first time we went was before they even had the walk; you know, it was all mud and everything like that. And that's a tribute. That's the unsung tribute. There's a lot of people who are trying to make upit's a wonderful [crying].
Lois added that watching the television movie about making the memorial "was a big help." She asked me to say to Jan Scruggs that she is:
One of the millions, no thousands, of parents who is deeply grateful to him that he pur sued his dream of getting that memorial built; it couldn't be more appropriate. It just couldn't be, with that black marbleseeing yourselfit just couldn't be more appropri ate. Seeing yourself even as you're standing there.
John Alden Countaway, Jr.
May 4, 1947-May 8, 1968
Panel 56E, Line 37
Jay's mother, Edie, told me that she has never been to the memorial, but she said:
I would love to go see it! It's just that I feel it might be a difficult thing to do, yetin a way, I think we owe it, in a way we owe it to Jay to go.... We all have to do certain things that we particularly don't want to do. But I hear it's a beautiful memorial. It must really hit you when you see all those miles of namesand to think that each one of those names was a boyor a nurse... This war for so many years it was like a forgotten war... The Memorial to me was a great thing.... and hopefully we will be able to prevent other wars.
Edie explained that she has seen representations of the memorial, and various friends have sent her photographs of the panel with Jay's name:
It must be really mind-boggling to see all those names. Now, when I've ever thought about a memorial, I've always thought of a statue of a soldier or something like that. And I thought, "For crying out loud, that's, that's horrible! Black marble and all those names." And yet, the more I thought of it, the more I thought, "Well this is really more individualistic than some statue that doesn't look anything like any of the boys that might be, that died." So, then I had a complete change of, change of mind. I said, "It really is a beautiful memorial."
Joseph Patrick Logan, Jr.
June 7, 1943-May 29, 1968
Panel 63W, Line 8
Joe's sister, Cathleen Logan Walsh, told me:
I went down right after the Wall was built in Washington; it didn't have the walkway or anything, it was just basically there. I just wanted to check to make sure my brother's name was on it. And I thought to myself when I saw itthere's 58,000 names on that, and nobody ever thinks that's just the least of itthere are parents, close family mem bers, wivesand I don't think people really realize the effect that that had on people.
Cathy added that although her mother has not been to the memorial:
I think she's glad I went. Just to make sure. You don't want [laughter]they have this big monument, and you don't want your name left off! [Laughter].
Joseph Michael Pignato
October 24, 1947-November 6, 1968
Panel 39W, Line 29
Joey's stepmother, Marlene, said:
I thought it wasit was unusual. When I first saw it, as you walk in, II didn't like it. Then, the more we looked at it [crying]I thought it was nice.... I didn't [like it] when I first walked in, I justit was so different. It wasn't something I was used to seeing.... After I really looked at it, then I did appreciate it. But at first glance, I didn't. It justI don't knowit just gave me an odd feeling. When we entered the area there, there were of course a lot of people; and looking off in the distance, I justit wasn't what I ex pected. I don't know what I did expect, but that wasn't it. But as you got up close and you could really see it, then I thought it was very impressive.
Joey's father, Joe, was particularly enthusiastic; contrasting his reaction to Marlene's, he said:
Not meI liked it right off. Right from the start. The black onyx there, that the girl used, it stands out. There's no question that it stand out.... That was another deal, because if that thing didn't get the money be soliciting, it wouldn't have been up there. So I was happy that somebody had done something. But it took too long to do it.... I thought it was beautiful. She [Marlene] didn't... to me, it looked all right. I suppose they could have put anything up and I would have liked it!
I just thought you'd be interested in what people directly involved with the memorial have to say.
Ellen Pinzur, Cambridge, MA.
Real War Stories
Tod Ensign at Citizen Soldier mailed in the hot new edition of Real War Stories, the comic published by Tod and Eclipse Books and edited by Joyce Brabner, the activist familiar to many as a lead character in Harvey Pekar's annual American Splendor. From the publisher's statement: "What is Citizen Soldier? A nonprofit GI/veterans organization, founded in 1969, by both peace activists and Vietnam veterans. Citizen Soldier is dedicated to the principle that the U.S. military should respect, to the fullest possible extent, the civil and human rights of its members. Our newspaper, ON GUARD, brings a message of peace and non-intervention to active-duty personnel. It also provides a forum for GIs to discuss common problems and solutions." From the editor's statement: "Eclipse published Real War Stories #1 on behalf of CCCO the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, a non-profit military and draft counseling organization. The book made waves. In an Atlanta, Georgia, Federal Court, Lieutenant Colonel John Cullen, a special witness dispatched by the Department of Defense in an attempt to stop CCCO's distribution of the comic, testified that he did not find Real War Stories very real at all. Specifically, Cullen stated that "greasing," a vicious form of hazing portrayed in Real War Stories #1, did not exist. However, Lt. Col. Cullen's arguments were defeated after the U.S. Navy's own records were introduced as evidence."
The "greasing" Brabner talks about is a shipboard practice where a couple of sailors introduce a grease gun into a smaller man's lower G.I. tract. It sure as hell happens. It's the kind of routine bullying of the weak that it wouldn't occur to me to raise a stink about. You learn about it as a very young person, and spend the rest of your life reflexively making sure nobody ever targets you as weak. Real War Stories is for prospective members of the military, very young people. It doesn't focus on incidents like the massacre at My Lai, but tells about the daily hazards and indignities that follow on listening to orders. The first story, "Body Washing," written by Jim Naureckos, drawn by Bill Sienkewicz, and lettered by Kurt Hathaway, starts with the cruel drowning of a sailor by gung-ho naval lifeguard instructors, and goes on to explain the dangers military organization poses to servicemen and women who aren't free to refuse to work with incompetent supervisors, hazardous equipment, or dangerous materials. The title refers to the practice of ascribing combat deaths in secret wars to industrial accidents at home. "War is a Racket," by Smedley Butler, adapted by Joyce Brabner, drawn by Wayne Van Sant, lettered by Diane Valentino and colored by Sam Parsons, is taken from Sam Spivak's 1934 interview with Major General Smedley D. Butler, USMC (ret.), a born-to-kill up-from-the-ranks lifer with two Congressional Medals of Honor. Butler explains all his wars as "racketeering" for U.S. commercial interests. "Citizen Soldier," written by Kim Yale, drawn by Dean Motter, and lettered by M. Eisman, starts with a montage from the G.I. Press Movement and gives an account of the present activities of Citizen Soldier. Includes a plug for Military Life: The Insider's Guide, an ARCO book by Tod Ensign ($12.95 from Prentice Hall, Book Distribution Center, Route 59 at Brookhill Drive, West Nyack, NY 10995-9920), a list of "Agencies That Provide Military-Related Counselling," and a subscription form for On Guard. "Pool of Tears" by Greg Baisden and S. Destefano, invokes Carroll's Alice to talk about U.S. indulgence in military fantasy. "The Home Treatment" by Joyce Brabner, illustrated by Dennis Francis, lettered by Diane Valentino and colored by Sam Parsons, starts with the infamous Port Chicago incineration of black servicemen during World War II, and takes the opportunity to discuss the role of blacks in the U.S. military throughout history. "My Father and His Son" by Mike W. Barr and Mark Badger tells the story of a boy whose father died of a silly military accident while his son was small, and goes on to discuss Agent Orange and the recent court victory of a sailor who refused to handle hazardous waste without protection.
The fully illustrated stories are punctuated by a series of primer essays written by Tod Ensign and decorated by Rebecca Huntingdon. "The Weekend Warriors Go to War: The National Guard and Reserves" explains that these outfits are likely to serve in combat. "Homophobia in Uniform: Gays and Lesbians in the Military" covers the law on this topic. "Jar Wars: Military Urine Testing for Drugs" and "White Man's Army: Racism and Sexism in the Service" tell a teenager who can read what one hopes he or she doesn't have to learn the hard way.
The inside back cover is an ad for Paul Brancato and Sill Sienkewicz' fine " Kennedy Assassination Trading Cards. For the first time ever, all the conspiracy theories." (36 cards, $9.95 from Eclipse Enterprises, P.O. Box 1099, Forestville, California, 95436) Other sets available, same price: Iran Contra Scandal, The Bush League, Friendly Dictators, and Rotten to the Core. Nice front cover of a pilot drowning in a faulty helicopter, back cover a What's Wrong With This Picture? rehearsing the contents of the book.
Overall a fine effort, should do well both as a document for Citizen Soldier in outreach to prospective military recruits and as a comic book. Some silly combat stories would have been nice, but there's always the next issue. I wish Brabner had cited sources for further reading. I hope maybe someday Vietnam Generation can do a comic book with her. Regularly $4.95, RWS (ISBN 1-56060-072-1) is available for $4.00 direct from Citizen Soldier, 175 Fifth Avenue, #808, NY NY 10010, 212-777-3470.
The Seattle Post Intelligencer, August 21 and 22, starting page one 8/21/91, has a lengthy and informative article on Seattle's Vietnamese, "Life in New World Pulls at Seams of Vietnam Culture." P-I's Pacific Rim Reporter Ron Redmond's excellent piece uses Mr. Oanh Ha as focus and foil for reviewing the principal issues in the refugee community. Mr. Ha came in 1981, earned an M.S.W. from the University of Washington, and works for the Lutheran Social Services and the Asian Counseling and Referral Service. The issues covered include: depression and disorientation among recent arrivals; the necessity for single-minded drive towards success; and division between 1975 refugees, boat people (1978-present), and participants in the Orderly Departure Program (1980-present, but principally since 1990). There are about 11,000 Vietnamese in Seattle; the fifth-largest Asian ethnic group in Washington. The Vietnamese have opened more than 400 small businesses in the city, and the young seem to do well in school. A lot of this information seems to come from Kim Long Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese Friendship Association, and executive director of the Refugee Federation Service Center on Rainier Avenue South. About 500 Vietnamese attend UW, and others attend local junior colleges and universities. Most of these students live with their families. Detective Richard Sanford of the Coordinated Criminal Investigations Squad/Asian Unit says that Seattle has fewer problems with Vietnamese gangs than other cities, because the Vietnamese community works closely with the police. The officer pointed to child-beating as a problem. As some children begin to behave as Americans, the parents react as Vietnamese, that is, with harsher beatings than U.S. social agencies like to see. Other issues: Depression is a problem for many Vietnamese-Americans, not only when an individual arrives ("I was more depressed when I came to America than I was in a communist re-education camp"), but after he or she knuckles down to work and represses his feelings for years. Other nuggets: Washington took 1,000 refugees from Camp Pendleton in 1975, and has taken more than 70 former prisoners since 1990 under Orderly Departure. Refugees now arriving, especially Amerasians and families of prisoners, lack education beyond the third grade. Other contacts: Robert Johnson, regional director for International Rescue Committee, Inc.; Vin Duc Vu, a program manager for the state Bureau of Refugee Assistance; Hiep Tran Thein, director of training and community relations for the International District office of the Employment Opportunities Center. A concurrent box article by Redmond discusses Amerasian refugees. Believe or not, they are called "My-lai," which Redmond translates as "half-breed." Without diacritics, I can't tell if that is the same as My Lai or not. I asked Huynh Sanh Thong, and I think he told me that they are the same syllables, but he's from Saigon and slurs the distinctions my Hanoi teachers taught me, so I'm not sure. I kept asking him for clarification, but it was embarrassing after a while. Does anyone know? He did say that the exact translation is "Watered-down American." Anyways, the report focuses on Donny, Kathleen and Patricia Duffy, now in this country looking for their dad. 14,500 Amerasians have been brought to the U.S. since 1980, and 300 live in Seattle. Sindy Nguyen of the Catholic Community Services in Seattle says that Amerasians actually suffer worse from social rejection in the U.S. than they did in Vietnam. Black Amerasians face great difficulty. The Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987 allows anyone born in Vietnam after 1/1/62 and before 1/1/76, whose father was a U.S. citizen, to enter the U.S. with immigrant status and full refugee benefits. As many as 30,000 and their immediate families may show up. A contact: the Amerasian Project of Voluntary Agencies at 206-323-9450.
From an ad near the back of Outlook Magazine : "RESIST: We've been funding peace and social justice for 23 years; some recent grants include: Abortion Rights Fund of Western Mass. (Hadley, MA); ACT UP/LA (CA); Concord Feminist Health Center (NH); Gay & Lesbian Resource Center (Des Moines, IA); Gay Community News (Boston, MA); Lambda Rights Network (Milwaukee, WI); National Latina/Lesbian & Gay Organization (Washington, DC); Puerto Rican Women's Committee (Boston, MA); Southeastern Conference for Lesbians and Gay Men '90 (Raleigh, NC); Texas Lesbian Conference (San Antonio, TX); and The Women's Project (Little Rock AR)."
For information, grant guidelines, or to make a donation (and receive their newsletter), write to: RESIST, Box OL, One Summer St., Somerville, MA 02143, 617-623-5110.
Rising Like the Tucson
My favorite novel from the war so far. Funny as hell, very smart. It's set in a specific time and place, not "in Vietnam." It isn't a naive memoir dressed up as a dumb novel. It includes a wide range of ranks and MOS's. It includes a number of Vietnamese of differing backgrounds. The protagonist knows exactly as much Vietnamese as I do, and we hear his efforts at elementary conversation. There aren't any diacritics, but that's probably appropriate. The author joins Daniel Ellsberg, David Marr and Keith Taylor as an Intelligence vet who's done something smart. The overarching story is about a U.S. entrepreneur trying to do business in Vietnam, and is terrifically appropriate to the carnival that will erupt soon enough with normalization. Great scenes: an American trying to make friends by offering a little girl a candy bar, while his ARVN translator tells her it's rat poison and she better tell where the VC are; a lieutenant shooting his squad one by one in the rows of the Michelin plantation; an officer and two men scaring hell out of each other as they get up off the ground after playing dead when their firebase was overrun. There's a good review in Books, Section 14, p. 8, Chicago Tribune, September 8, 1991, by Marc Leepson of Veteran magazine.
Here's the press release: Rising like the Tucson (Doubleday; September 16, 1'991; $20) by Jeff Danziger is a fast -paced darkly comic novel about the final chaotic stages of the U.S. war in Vietnam, when defeat was called disengagement, disengagement was known as Vietnamization, and Vietnamization wasn't working. In the midst of this ruin is Lieutenant Kit, a Vietnamese translator who doesn't understand Vietnamese, as ineffectual a soldier as they come. "The army made a great many mistakes in its prosecution of a victory. Making Lieutenant Kit an officer was just one of them."
It's 1969. Tens of thousands of American lives have been lost and billions of dollars sunk into the war, and there's still only talk of a negotiated settlement. Is it possible that there may be no payoff? Not according to Kit's crass father, a real estate developer in southern Connecticut. But he has a different kind of settlement in mind. One that will include malls, hotels and office buildings in what he envisions as the "Saigon metroplex." Guided by Kit, who supposedly knows the lay of the land and speaks the language, his real estate consortium will buy up land during the war, before the prices skyrocket. "With American help," Kit's father predicts in a letter to his son, the "whole damn country is going to rise like a Tucson from its ashes!"
Under the black hilarity and violent confusion of this remarkable novel runs a serious accusation of deadly American mismanagement of the end of the war, and of shameful political games played with soldiers left there during Vietnamization. The desperate investment scheme itselfwith its hopes for riches in a ruined land, and its blithe ignorance of the impending defeatbrilliantly reveals the deep separation between generations, between hawks and doves, and finally, between illusion and reality.
Jeff Danziger is a political cartoonist for the Christian Science Monitor and for the Los Angeles Times syndicate. He served in Vietnam as an intelligence officer with the First Air Cavalry Division in 1970 and 1971. Some mutual friends from a Vermont newspaper tell me he's personally respected in the state.
The newsletter of "The Saigon Mission Association, Inc., 6934 Willow Oak Drive, San Antonio, TX 78249, "FOUNDED BY THE LAST AMERICANS TO LEAVE SOUTH VIETNAM" showed up here. It's five double-sided typed pages, mailed first-class, mostly devoted to the necessary business of a non-profit corporation, minutes of the directors' meetings and such. Some opinion pieces. Also obituaries, notices of old friends, and a report on the annual reunion. There are regional chapters of the organization in Ohio, Korea, the Philippines, and Japan. The "Goals of the Saigon Mission Association, Inc.: Promote friendship and cooperation between Americans who served in Vietnam and Vietnamese who worked for contractors, members of the Vietnamese Armed Forces and their dependents. Preserve personal friendships and memories among those who served in Vietnam and provide a source for news of these people. Meet annually as well as publish newsletters to foster this fellowship. Pool knowledge concerning communications and support of those still in Vietnam via telephone, telegraph, mail, and freight. Establish a volunteer sponsorship program to support Vietnamese families and individuals remaining in Vietnam and living in refugee camps. Coordinate with other organizations throughout the world, especially in the U.S., in promoting the preceding article." The newsletter comes with membership in the organization, which is "Open to all US citizens and foreign nationals who directly served with or supported the US Mission to the Republic of Vietnam. Service may have been in country or from withoutsuch as from an outside command (PACOM) or a neighboring country (USAHAC); in-country contractor personnel are also eligible. Others who do not meet the eligibility requirements but who have interests in common may join as ASSOCIATES but will not be eligible to vote or hold office." Regular membership, $10/yr, Associate $5/yr, make check payable to SMA and send to SMA Treasurer, Box 722, Anacortes, WA 98221.
This American attorney practiced law in Saigon from 1966 to 1974, as reported in the June issue. He has made several trips to Vietnam in the past year, and sent this report in a letter of September 20:
"I made an observation during a visit to Ho Chi Minh City earlier this month which made me smile. I was surprised to learn that the name of Nguyen Thi Minh Kai Street will once again be rue Pasteur, the once elegant street of large villas and manicured lawns. I am sure that there is a story to be told why this street, so well-known under the French and which kept its name until after 1975, will be changed, and why Ms. Khai, a Vietnamese heroine, has had such a brief appearance on stage. Research done at the scientific Institute Pasteur, in Ho Chi Minh City, can be said to transcend the politics of name. On the other hand, there are plenty of cynics. One view is that the southerners are intent on going back in time. Another viewthe view on the streetis that Ms. Kai's exit is tied to large French Government grant. Wherever the truth lies, I believe it will be quite sometime before the area in front of the Cathedral will be renamed John F. Kennedy Square."
Mr. Vecchi has published widely in the last few years on the possibilities of doing business in Vietnam. His letter accompanied a xerox of his article from East Asian Executive Reports , July 1991, Volume 13, number 7, "Operating in Unstructured Legal Environments: The Vietnam Model," offering sound advice on doing business in a country where what little commercial law there is lacks a strong history of enforcement and interpretation. Vecchi suggests that a cautious, long-term approach stressing high ethics and personal commitment is the best approach. His firm is Kaplan, Russin, Vecchi & Kirkwood, 90 Park Avenue, NY, NY 10016-1387.
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