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Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Letters From Vietnam

By Vicki E. Jones

It was November of 1964, a few months after the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the broadening of the war in Vietnam. I was a 17-year-old college student, convinced that whatever our government did in southeast Asia must surely be right.

I wrote a prayer-poem for our troops in Vietnam and sent it with a cover letter to a chaplain going over there, Rabbi Meir Engel. Unknown to me, when Rabbi Engel arrived in Vietnam, he gave it to the editor of The Observer, a weekly newspaper for U.S. forces in Vietnam.

In early December 1964, copies of the December 5th issue of The Observer arrived from Vietnam in the mail, mostly from unidentified sources. There on the front page was my prayer-poem and my letter to Rabbi Engel.

Soon, a beautiful Vietnamese doll arrived, dressed in a pale blue ao dai, followed by some colorful embroidered patches (that get stitched on uniforms). Then the letters came - some with Christmas cards.

There must have been letters from about a hundred of our troops. Most were a simple thank you for caring and writing the prayer-poem. Some, though, would open my eyes to the fact that war is not desirable or glorious; it is something horrendous where lives and limbs are lost - and often. Some of our troops didn’t even want to be there. They had been drafted.

One man wrote repeatedly telling me when he got wounded and lost 15 of his 22 men. He spent 42 days in a hospital recovering while fighting malaria.

Another wrote to tell me that his best friend had taken his place in a helicopter to give him the day off for his 18th birthday - and then was shot down and died in his place.

One wrote to tell me that Rabbi Meir Engel had died of a heart attack not long after he arrived in Vietnam.

Their stories made me realize that not only was war not something glorious or holy, but it was sometimes justified and sometimes not and born of political decisions even though the politicians who decided we should be in it were not physically fighting in the war themselves.

The men who wrote to me expressed that they were defending a country that needed and wanted a democracy but also defending our own country against a possible enemy.

I would, over time, become anti-war, and decades later would write a song about the 1969 Moratorium Against the Vietnam War and about an anti-war protestor who became a teacher to evade the draft and missed a friend who had fled to Canada to avoid it also.

The Letters from Vietnam opened my eyes to the reality of war and of life, the risks that are taken in the name of holy causes and the sacrifices that are made when a commitment is made to such a cause.

And so I transitioned from a starry-eyed, idealistic teenager to a young woman who was much more aware of what war was really about because of the letters from Vietnam.

Here is the prayer-poem that I wrote (in my maiden name, Vicki Freed) in 1964:

God bless the men in the blue and the green
While they struggle to survive
On a far off Asian shore
To safeguard Freedom’s pride.

Please keep them safe from harm
And let them breathe forever free
And please care for them and bless
Their fight for Democracy.

Look to their needs, their wants, their fears,
Watch over them at night,
And lend a guiding hand to them
And lend a guiding light.

God bless the men in the blue and the green
As they venture on alone
Please give them strength, the strength they need,
And please, God - send them home.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Thank God there are still some out there who take the time to think of cause and consequence and spell it out so clearly. Here is my version and I was in the British Army for 31 years.

To Mother
They asked me where I want to be
Iraq, I said, and duly went,
to join my mates and Regiment.
You asked how could I be so mad,
I say it’s you I find so sad.
If crime it was the guilt and blame,
lies with the authors of the game.
Here the killing ground is live
and death the players doth divide,
while children cry and mothers weep,
I did my best the peace to keep,
I lived with courage and now sleep,
so ask your God, my soul to keep.

Tom Moore

Tom - Wow! What a wonderful poem! I am so glad you posted this! 31 years is a lot of years of service. -Vicki

Yours is a touching story and I loved reading about how your offering of hope to others brought back love to you. I'm not surprised to read about your understanding of war and its consequences. I'D like to read your other (song) piece, too.

I was raised to hate the war, not the warriors. May God Bless all who fought for our freedom.

I agree. Hate the war, not the warriors, Beth.

Janet, if you want to read the song lyrics for the song about the Vietnam Moratorium, my email is justushw@comcast.net -- I hope it is OK to share that on the weblog. I can email it to you once I have your email address.

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