Several times a year I have been asked to talk with High School students about the Vietnam War. Every so often I will get asked that question (most teacher prep their students not to ask it). Since I was not out on patrols or otherwise tasked with initiating contact with the “enemy”, I did not have that up close and personal experience. I have been subjected to rocket and mortar attacks and been sniped at out on the flight line, both unpleasant. I prided myself in being the first body into the bunker when the sirens went off and the Katyusha rockets and mortars started landing. However, my job was to maintain and arm one of the deadliest killing machines deployed during that war; the AH-1G Cobra Attack Helicopter.
Unlike the UH-1B and C models of the Huey helicopters which were modified as Gunships, the Cobra was designed specifically to be a weapons platform. Armed with a chin turret that housed a 7.62mm Mini-gun and a 40mm grenade launcher, controlled by the front seat gunner/co-pilot, and two hard points on each of the “wings” that could carry rocket pods or mini-guns pods controlled by the aircraft commander (back seat pilot).
I bring this up because although I did not pull the trigger, I sure as hell provided the means to rain death from the sky. So yes I killed someone, probably a lot of someones (sic).
When I went to school following my enlistment, I majored in history and anthropology, both disciplines that required digging around into who, what, where and why. One class I took was biography, one I really enjoyed because it presented learning history from a very personal view point. The context of the time, the choices made, the outside forces that shaped the subject’s life etc.. Since then I have continued to be a student of history to better understand how we are where we are and how we got here.
Way back in April of ’09 I wrote a diary “I was unrecognizable to myself”which gave a little background on why I became an activist.
The reason some of us are together is because of Ken. He was a catalyst. On August 30th, 1988, Ken took over Fort Vancouver. Ken was homeless, living in his car and was outraged that there were so many homeless veterans. So he took action. Scaling the walls of the old Fort with some gunpowder and fuses, he commandeered one of the cannons. He had left a note on the door of the Fort ("If anyone tries to enter we'll blow up the fort.”) and alerted the media. He then proceeded to set off the cannon. His subsequent arrest galvanized a bunch of us and we came to his defense, standing with him at the Clark County Courthouse. He got 30 days and 200 hours of community service. At a news conference he stated; "It's a national disgrace, to see veterans sleeping under bridges and eating from garbage cans."That’s just a little biography but there is a lot to learn from it. And it’s all true, unlike a lot of what we have been taught and propagandized with throughout our lifetimes. This brings me to something my friend Mike Hastie penned:
Ken and I became friends and started an organization called Vets For Vets, working to get some help for the homeless vets he cared so much about. One of our first major efforts was to organize a “Stand Down” where homeless vets could meet with the agencies that were tasked with helping them come together in one place. This was set up under the Morrison Bridge during Super Bowl week 1989. We had two GP large tents set up. One was a dorm and the other was for the vets and the agencies to meet and solve their problems. Today, because of the work done by Ken, the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA hold a “Stand Down” every year. An interesting side note is that at that time, General Westmoreland was speaking at Lewis and Clark. We went up "beard the lion" so to speak and told him about the encampment. He showed up later that evening and went in to talk to the homeless vets in the "Dorm" tent.
Later that summer, Ken and I organized a walk to Salem where the traveling wall was set up. It took us three days, sleeping in schools and churches on the way, but we carried the message of the homeless vets along Highway 99W. Mike Hastie was one of the walkers on the trek, serving as our medic; we called him “Doc”.
Ken had died on May 6, 2009. In 1968 Ken was a Marine serving in Vietnam. He wasn’t a rifleman; he was just a cook, working in a mess tent. But during the Tet offensive and only 19, enemy rockets tore through the sagging canvas, erupting in a wide swath of dead and wounded. He survived but the guilt left him psychologically damaged -- forever.
"The reason people don't learn from the past, is because the past was a repetitious lie to begin with."Where is this rambling going? Glad you asked.
We are currently in the great “Gun debate”. Internet tough guys and gals are opining that they would have taken down the gunman if they were there and been armed. Well fuck you. You haven’t a clue what it takes to react to bullets flying everywhere, people screaming and trying get away, adrenalin triggering all kinds of responses you have never encountered before, and trying to control you bladder because that’s one of the effects of terror, ask anyone whose been in their first firefight. You are not Rambo. You are not trained for it. You have not been baptized under fire and you sure haven’t killed anyone before except in your fantasies. They think it’s easy, its not. What if you miss and kill a bystander? Are you really ready to live with that? Too many of my veteran friends have to deal with it every day and I see the damage it does.
Taking a human life is the one of the ingrained prohibitions that is drummed into us from the time we can understand about life and death. If you do, you will not forget it. If it is in a defensive act (police, military), you at least have the training/experience to compartmentalize or justify your actions, you have been trained to do this. All the shooting range time you undertake will not prepare you for the real thing. There’s a reason for boot camp and advance infantry training, it is designed to strip away that prohibition.
But the internet toughs like to think that they are different, they have been propagandized by the usual suspects into believing anyone has the “right stuff” when the shit hits the fan. Unless you have been trained, self preservation is the first instinct that kicks in. That can be overcome if you have been drilled in disaster preparedness as the teachers and administrators were at Sandy Hook, they became “first responders”, trained to save their charges by getting them to safety. We know that Dawn Hochsprung and March Sherlach (principal and school psychologist) went towards the danger. We will never know actually why except to hopefully believe they needed to know was what happening and how to best respond to the situation. They were the “officers” in charge so to speak and needed to have the best information to make decisions. It was what they were trained to do. (This is all speculation on my part but I think it makes sense).
So spare me the heroics you fantasize in. You’re not trained, you’ve never been under fire, you’ve never seen the aftermath and you’ve never killed anyone. If you had, you would know that more guns aren’t the answer, less fantasizing is. Because that is what brings about many of these tragedies, fantasizing until you believe it is the answer.
You believe the lies because it feeds your fantasies. Just stop it.
Repentant ex member of Murder Inc.
Southeast Asia Division