Veteran Are "Targeted"

At a recent Men's Leaders' Workshop, we had a veterans' topic table. (Only four men out of the sixty at the workshop were vets.) We all knew that being in the armed services was a dangerous situation. Every one of us was raised poor or working class. We had thought our dues would be paid and we would finally get respect if we were service men (like our dads in the big war). As vets, we would be able to hold our heads high. However, many survivors of the Vietnam War are rag-tag men hanging on to life by their finger tips. Our class background set us up to be good soldiers (to kill for our country).

We were just eighteen when the killing started. I went into the Navy as a last-minute decision, and my best friend signed up for the Marines as we had both originally planned. He (Jackie) was wounded four times and sent back to kill four times. The last time, he literally melted down his machine gun and was the only man to survive the slaughter. He got medals for this. One time on leave I went to a bar with him. Someone called him a baby killer, and he started beating everyone he could get his hands on. I am often trying to forgive myself for not being at his side during that war. At every workshop and session I bring Jackie with me in my heart.

Almost every vet I know carries a deep bitterness with him. I saw it in my dad's eyes when I was a kid and I see it in almost every vet I meet. It took me a long time to realize that it is really a class issue. In our hearts we were betrayed by the middle- and owning-class people who sent us. Middle- and owning-class people were rarely seen in the enlisted ranks. Now we need each other as allies. There is almost a frozen need in this wanting all men as our brothers and friends. We want to be listened to by those who didn't serve. This will often come out as bitterness and anger. Please don't get scared off, just listen. We are so precious and good underneath the hurt, but it is so easy to forget. Very few vets really get listened to by middle-class or owning-class men.

I was a share-cropper's son, the oldest of six boys. We were extremely poor. I thought I could never make it as a real person. I felt I was not good enough to stand beside a thinking human being, but I knew I could survive. We could eat dirt if we had to, to survive. I helped raise my five brothers to be tough. Then I left when I was fifteen years old to work on another farm. I thought the food and clothing money my mom and dad would save without me at home would help raise my brothers. I did not see my brothers for a long time. When the Vietnam War started, and I went into the Navy, I came home only once a year. My baby brother was four years old, and I missed him desperately. I came home in the spring each year so I could help my dad plow the fields, my baby brother with me on the tractor.

When I went into town to drink and have fun, my bitterness began. It felt like the people who sent me into the armed services (middle-class people from town) no longer wanted any part of me. I was told to leave because I was a bad influence on their sons. My service friends were told the same thing. It got set into us deep that we were poor, dangerous drunks, and stupid. (Many years later I learned we were scapegoated for someone else who was selling drugs.) When we returned to the service we were trained to kill U.S. citizens. The city and college demonstrations against the war were going on. We were told that college students and black rioters were "mad animals." We were given automatic rifles with bayonets and told that we would be court martialed and put in prison if we did not follow orders. I quit feeling anything and just started drinking.

The guys at the topic table were thrilled that we were meeting. At the last workshop there were only two vets. At this one, four. Maybe there will be eight vets at the next workshop. This work is critical to men's liberation. We all need to cry. As long as men of all classes stay connected and discharging, there is tremendous hope.

Tom Washa
Middleton, Wisconsin, USA

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00