"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Viet Nam was OUR War

Recently in one of my social communities online, I joined a group called "Vietnam Veterans". It seemed very natural to me because of Memoirs. My initial reasoning was to make contact with them and share a widow's perspective in the group and maybe invite the veterans into our community here, as well. The more who contribute, the more who can read and share, and the more who read and share, the more who may further their healing by unburdening heavy hearts. Whew, that was a mouthful ...

Anyway, I was accepted into the group several weeks ago, but have had no time to talk to any of the veterans or invite anyone to Memoirs. This morning, I was notified by an email that a question was put out there to the group and several comments made in answer to the question. I won't put any names with the comments, but I thought it was important enough to share with you. I felt compelled to add my own comment and it's at the end. Let me hear what your opinions are.

QQ : "I sometimes glance at the profile of new members. I see a fair number that do not appear to have served in the U.S. (or allied, i.e. ARVN, Aussie, Kiwi, ROK) units. Is this not OUR board?"

A #1: "Maybe some of them are family members, which is ok by me."

A #2: "If it's an issue for you, why not call them on it? Send them a private message and ask them the basis for their membership in the group. I presume they were vetted when they originally requested membership rights."

A #3: "Im one of those family members. My Dad served in Vietnam in the 1st Air Cav Division, Trp A, 1st Squadron, 9th Cav from late 1968 to April 1970. He passed away a few years ago at 61 and upon his passing, we found 300+ letters (well over 1,300 pages) he had written while in Basic Training and Vietnam to his Mother and Father, and to his girlfriend who later became my Mom. Those letters provided an insight to my Dad that I never knew and answered alot of questions I had but never had a chance to ask.

I have lived in Southeast Asia for about 8 years previously, but more than likely will be quitting my job in the US soon to return and one of the things on my list is to visit all the places my Dad references in his letters. I've visited places in the past for him when he was alive and brought back pictures, but not to all the places he has referenced. I bought a book called "Where we were in Vietnam" and plan on using that to find all of these locations.

When I requested access to this group, I wrote a message to the Moderator explaining why I wanted to join. The reason is that I can hopefully meet people who may have known my Dad or at least served in the same area that he did. As what has happened to WWI and WWII Veterans, Vietnam Veterans will begin dying off at a rapid pace soon (sorry!) and it is up to me and others to learn as must about you so we can communicate your stories or at least learn from the lessons you learned despite us not actually being Veterans."

A #4: "Perhaps we should differentiate between an actual "Vietnam Veteran" as opposed to a "Era" vet or a family member?
I personally don't have a problem opening this up to family members of VNV's for some of the reasons Ryan gave."

A #5: "Vietnam Veteran [5th Marines, 70-71], I am okay with it being open to members of our "extended family."

A #6: "I-Corps was my TAOR....Quang Ngai and North to the DMZ, South China Sea and on in(west) a bunch......U.S.Marine Corps 1st & 3rd Marine Divisions, 12th Marines and attached to 3rd & 4th Marines, ARVN & South Vietnamese Marines on various operations(Artillery FO).. It's been a long time, but would be more than happy to answer questions or what-ever. Take Care"

A #7: "It would seem to me that the Vietnam Veterans organization is for Vietnam Veterans. For those who are family members of Vietnam Veterans, why can't there be a subset (Vietnam Veterans AUXILLARY) for those folks? I applaud their interest in the organization but if you weren't there, you don't understand. Happy New Year to all!"

QQ A: "I had not considered the idea of family members when I wrote the original post. They do belong here. What concerned me were people with no obvious connection, I believe there are still some of them on here."

A #8: "I agree. But let's not try to be too exclusive here."

A #9: "I remember my son writing a grade school composition about the Gulf War. He finished it with the words, "I'm so glad my daddy didn't have to go." My point is, family of veterans are veterans too. I say God Bless the spouses, siblings, and children who supported their service members during and after their tours in RVN. As a VN veteran, I am honored to be in their company."

A #10: "On a visit to The Wall in DC, I saw a man standing alone, wearing jungle fatigues with a lost look in his eyes. I walked over to him and asked if he was in Nam...he said yes. I asked him when, and he said 1970. I told him I was in Nam in 1970, and asked him where? He said Chu Lai, and I told him I was in Chu Lai, in 1970. He looked at me, and collapsed in my arms. We stood there for several minutes, and never said another word. He suddenly stood erect, nodded his head, and walked away.

The Wall is a great place to remember, and open to all. I never did look around to see if anyone took note of our exchange. What I have often wondered is if in a more private environment he would have talked. In this forum we may be observed by people with degrees of interest. I especially welcome family members looking for participation and understanding.

I would, however, like the availability/opportunity to step aside privately. If that means a "members only" subset, that's fine. What we can expect from opening this, is a loss of vet to vet conversation. At the same time, what we do not want is to lose the opportunity to serve ... whatever that may mean."

A #11: "I agree with many of the comments in favor of including family members into the Forum. Artillery FO with the 1/321st Arty 101st Abn Div, 68-70. My grandsons have asked me to come into their classrooms and explain what Viet Nam was all about. Even after all these years I still cannot explain it myself. What I tell them is it was a time of differing views and the Viet Nam veterans were just doing their jobs much like veterans are asked to do today. We do talk some about what the draft was and today's all volunteer forces.

I like them to understand that Viet Nam is a land rich in history, culture, and beauty if one took the time to look beyond the ravages of the conflict. In the presentation I show pictures of the mountains, temples, the Gulf of Tonkin, and the people.

Many of the young lads want to see pictures of firefights, helicopters with guns and rockets blazing, bodies, etc. I do have photos in the presentation of patrols, aerial shots of firebases, howitzers firing, and so on, but I explain that there is much more to a war than all that. There are the friendships that are developed when you are relying on the guys to the right and left of you and they are relying on you to take care of them and watch their backs. Meeting other Viet Nam veterans on the street who understand what you saw and endured and the solidarity all Viet Nam veterans have developed toward one another no matter what their background.

I think it is important that family members be included in the forum and in particular the younger generations. There are many that want to connect with Fathers, uncles, and grandfathers who no longer can answer questions they have about that time. We may not be able to answer those specific questions either but we can give insight to what their veterans endured during service in Viet Nam and our return home to society.

I would still like the opportunity to step aside privately to talk to my fellow Viet Nam brothers and sisters in arms. Welcome Home."

A #12: CJ Heck: "No, I am not a vet. I am a Vietnam War widow. I'm sorry If you don't believe I belong here. I suppose if I try, I can understand and, if you feel you must, say so and I'll leave quietly ... but it will be with my head held high. My husband, Doug, was an Army medic with the 199th. He was KIA in '69 while performing the duties he was taught to do. I have the seven medals, including the Bronze Star w/oak leaf cluster, that Uncle Sam awarded him posthumously that prove how brave he was -- but I would rather have had my husband come home.

I've had a long time to think about it, 42 years, two failed marriages, and a lot of years of therapy. It isn't just the vets who served in combat that have had trouble coping. Anyone who lost someone -- a father, brother, son, husband, comrade can have trouble coping. PTSD isn't biased. It doesn't play favorites. It doesn't care who you are, your rank or branch of service, what you saw, what you did, or the reason why you grieve. It just IS ...

Sharing that grief, calling it up from where it's lay buried for nearly half a century, and looking at it, recognizing it, feeling it, and then letting it go is the only way to even begin to heal. God knows, when you veterans came home from VN, there were no ticker-tape parades to welcome you home ... you were met with signs and protests and spitting and name-calling ... it was awful. No one wanted to hear what you saw, what you had to do, or how you were hurting inside -- I can't begin to know what that did to you. But we've ALL carried around our demons. Widows were touched by it, too. People were cruel. It was painful, knowing no one appreciated that your husband gave his life for them ... or that we gave up our lifetimes with our husbands.

Last July, I received a letter from a Lt. McCraney who not only served with Doug in Vietnam, but was with him on the day he was killed. In all those years, I had never heard from anyone who even knew Doug while he was there. It touched something deep inside me, it opened a wound and with it, a well of grief that I, too, had buried because, once the funeral was over, people expected you to "get over it" -- they wouldn't allow you to share what had happened and where. No one would listen, so you shove it down inside where it festers and over the years nearly destroys you.

After hearing from Lt. McCraney last July, I started a blog which I dedicated to Doug and all Vietnam Vets. I thought maybe I could, in some way, help them (you) by allowing you to talk about that time among people who care, and this would touch others, who might also share and touch even more people. I wanted to cause an avalanche of such proportions that a major healing could begin ... see this wasn't just your war. It was OUR war, too.  Let's allow it to finally be over ...

A blog I wrote in in October, 2010:

My warmest regards and respect,
CJ Heck
Welcome Home"

*** I'm anxious to hear how you all feel about the issue. I'll keep you apprised of any additional comments that are left on the board. ~CJ

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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  1. From Facebook Page:

    You did a fantastic job explaining your view CJ. It's true that if you weren't "there" that it would be very difficult to understand. However, it doesn't mean you are not deserving of respect and the opportunity to deal with your grief, just like the Vets.

    In my humble opinion, war is war and Vietnam Vets are no better than any of the rest of us. The only difference is, that they got treated like shit when they came home. I mean, let's face it. The horrors of war are the same whether you are in the jungle, the desert, the mountains, storming a beach in Europe or on an island in the Pacific.

    With your insight and gift of writing, you probably have more to offer that community than they have to offer you. I hope they do the right thing and give you the full access you deserve.
    David Westfall

  2. Thank you, David,
    you've made me feel so much better. Your eloquently written comments are, as usual, so insightful that it's almost frightening -- it's true, exactly as you've stated it.

    War is war, no matter where it is, the losses are grieved, the horrors are seen as well as the many heroic efforts. It doesn't matter which vets we're talking about. Everyone does their job and the injuries and the pain of war aren't always visible ...

    well, they haven't thrown me out of the community yet and I've only received the one comment/feedback from the social community -- it's on the blog here as a comment -- and it's wonderfully positive.

    Thank you, David, for taking time to always put things in proper perspective.
    Your friend always,


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