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War and remembrance.

Byline: Paul R. Goodness

I joined the Massachusetts National Guard in 1968 and served until 1974, when I left the service as a ground radio maintenance repairman with the rank of sergeant.

I joined the guard for two reasons: First, I did not want to murder innocent Vietnamese civilians and justify it with a bogus domino theory, even though I was told I would be "winning the minds and hearts" of the people by killing men, women and children. And that it was better to shoot a person than to listen to them and consider their point of view.

Second, I would be able to serve my fellow American citizens in times of local disaster.

I was fortunate in that I was able to achieve both of these goals by joining and actually serving my two years active duty and four years reserves over a six-year period during the never declared Vietnam War.

I was stationed in Biloxi, Miss., in 1969, during Hurricane Camille. Back then we wore fatigues and carried shovels, brooms, mops and other cleanup equipment.

We dug holes and buried refrigerator contents to prevent disease. We distributed food and clothing to our fellow Americans. We cleared the streets and private property of dangerous trees and debris. We did not confiscate citizens' weapons, which they could have used to protect their families from looters.

We stood guard in fatigues with flashlights not guns.

In 1970, I was stationed at Karamursel Air Station, Turkey. When we landed at the Istanbul Airport, we were told that a group of protesters were waiting for us and we were to disembark in civilian clothes and not to interact with anyone. We were the ugly Americans, yet, when I was in Bursa and Yalova and I interacted with the locals, my experiences were different.

At a tea room, I communicated with the men even though we did not speak each other's language. I took a photograph of these men (one proud grandpa had a baby girl on his lap) and when I got back to the United States, I had a poster made up and I mailed it to them with a thank you note for their hospitality. I wanted them to think well of the American who had the privilege of visiting their country.

I bought a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread and I handed the baker the smallest paper money I had - thinking it might cover the cost. It was way too much. He had me wait while he closed up his shop so he could go to another shop to get me the correct change. This man was an honest man.

All the people I met were good, decent people. They had hopes and dreams just like you and me. The point is we tried to communicate together and find common ground. I respected their culture and their beliefs.

In the United States, because I was not a combat troop in Vietnam, I was considered a coward by some folks.

One of my high school friends chose to live in Canada rather than kill people. He was called a draft dodger.

Another of my high school friends joined the U.S. Army as a warrant officer in charge of flying and repairing helicopter gunships. I am 63 years old now, but I recall he told me he had to clean human flesh, hair and blood off the skids of some choppers because they sometimes came in contact with human beings, who were walking down the road minding their own business.

He also told me he refused to follow an order to pull the triggers on his gunship because he did not think the men, women and children on the ground were "Viet Cong Gooks."

Remember they needed the body counts back then to prove we were winning the war.

He was called a "baby killer" by some people.

One time on leave, I was in a Worcester bar called Tammany Hall and met a friend of my younger brother. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was in a U.S. Army combat unit. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was National Guard.

He said, "I hope you get your f---in' legs blown off."

It was said he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

If you spoke out against the Vietnam War, you were un-American, a dirty hippie, or a Commie sympathizer because you did not support our troops, who were getting killed. Better to have them killed or wounded than bring them home.

We finally "won" the war by evacuating the U.S. Embassy with helicopters, leaving our supporters to die. We do not hear anything in the news about what is going on in Vietnam today.

Why was it so important then that we had to send our children there to die and to kill others when it isn't important today? What was the point?

My experience was that no matter what you did as a young American you were wrong. Maybe me - "the coward" - and my friends the draft dodger, baby killer and the person with PTSD were not typical of how others experienced that war, but after Vietnam we never spoke to each other about how each of us dealt with a situation our government put us into.

I thought it could never happen again. After all, the baby boomer generation would now be in charge. We would elect government officials who would know we didn't want to invade a sovereign country to inflict our political ideas and values on people who disagreed with our government.

I thought every one must now know that the civilians in America do not want to kill the civilians in other countries, no matter what the color of their skin, the way they dress, what their religions are, their political ideology, or what natural resources they owned. Make love not war ... remember?

I was wrong.

It is my opinion that our government should not force our children to have to make the horrible choices my friends and I had to make. I do not think they should come home in coffins that are not shown on the nightly news because it would "hurt the war effort."

I do not think our children should kill people who our nightly news does not show with their arms and legs blown off, their skin burned, the bloody wounds and their lifeless eyes.

War is not neat, clean and sanitary. It is not humane. It is horrific and we should have the courage and human decency to see what our "smart bombs" do to a human body, what our high tech weapons do to a human being. Maybe then we might find a way to get along with other people rather than kill them.

How could this have happened again? Haven't we learned anything? I have seen the enemy and it is us. I am ashamed I can not stop the death and destruction of my government.

Learn how we have let this happen again. Please view the recently released DVD documentary "No End in Sight," directed by Charles Ferguson. If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it again and again.

Paul R. Goodness is a resident of Shrewsbury. The following fields overflowed: BYLINETITLE = By Paul R. Goodness

I joined the Massachusetts National Guard in 1968 and served until 1974, when I left the service as a ground radio maintenance repairman with the rank of sergeant.

I joined the guard for two reasons: First, I did not want to murder innocent Vietnamese civilians and justify it with a bogus domino theory, even though I was told I would be "winning the minds and hearts" of the people by killing men, women and children. And that it was better to shoot a person than to listen to them and consider their point of view.

Second, I would be able to serve my fellow American citizens in times of local disaster.

I was fortunate in that I was able to achieve both of these goals by joining and actually serving my two years active duty and four years reserves over a six-year period during the never declared Vietnam War.

I was stationed in Biloxi, Miss., in 1969, during Hurricane Camille. Back then we wore fatigues and carried shovels, brooms, mops and other cleanup equipment.

We dug holes and buried refrigerator contents to prevent disease. We distributed food and clothing to our fellow Americans. We cleared the streets and private property of dangerous trees and debris. We did not confiscate citizens' weapons, which they could have used to protect their families from looters.

We stood guard in fatigues with flashlights not guns.

In 1970, I was stationed at Karamursel Air Station, Turkey. When we landed at the Istanbul Airport, we were told that a group of protesters were waiting for us and we were to disembark in civilian clothes and not to interact with anyone. We were the ugly Americans, yet, when I was in Bursa and Yalova and I interacted with the locals, my experiences were different.

At a tea room, I communicated with the men even though we did not speak each other's language. I took a photograph of these men (one proud grandpa had a baby girl on his lap) and when I got back to the United States, I had a poster made up and I mailed it to them with a thank you note for their hospitality. I wanted them to think well of the American who had the privilege of visiting their country.

I bought a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread and I handed the baker the smallest paper money I had - thinking it might cover the cost. It was way too much. He had me wait while he closed up his shop so he could go to another shop to get me the correct change. This man was an honest man.

All the people I met were good, decent people. They had hopes and dreams just like you and me. The point is we tried to communicate together and find common ground. I respected their culture and their beliefs.

In the United States, because I was not a combat troop in Vietnam, I was considered a coward by some folks.

One of my high school friends chose to live in Canada rather than kill people. He was called a draft dodger.

Another of my high school friends joined the U.S. Army as a warrant officer in charge of flying and repairing helicopter gunships. I am 63 years old now, but I recall he told me he had to clean human flesh, hair and blood off the skids of some choppers because they sometimes came in contact with human beings, who were walking down the road minding their own business.

He also told me he refused to follow an order to pull the triggers on his gunship because he did not think the men, women and children on the ground were "Viet Cong Gooks."

Remember they needed the body counts back then to prove we were winning the war.

He was called a "baby killer" by some people.

One time on leave, I was in a Worcester bar called Tammany Hall and met a friend of my younger brother. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was in a U.S. Army combat unit. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was National Guard.

He said, "I hope you get your f---in' legs blown off."

It was said he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

If you spoke out against the Vietnam War, you were un-American, a dirty hippie, or a Commie sympathizer because you did not support our troops, who were getting killed. Better to have them killed or wounded than bring them home.

We finally "won" the war by evacuating the U.S. Embassy with helicopters, leaving our supporters to die. We do not hear anything in the news about what is going on in Vietnam today.

Why was it so important then that we had to send our children there to die and to kill others when it isn't important today? What was the point?

My experience was that no matter what you did as a young American you were wrong. Maybe me - "the coward" - and my friends the draft dodger, baby killer and the person with PTSD were not typical of how others experienced that war, but after Vietnam we never spoke to each other about how each of us dealt with a situation our government put us into.

I thought it could never happen again. After all, the baby boomer generation would now be in charge. We would elect government officials who would know we didn't want to invade a sovereign country to inflict our political ideas and values on people who disagreed with our government.

I thought every one must now know that the civilians in America do not want to kill the civilians in other countries, no matter what the color of their skin, the way they dress, what their religions are, their political ideology, or what natural resources they owned. Make love not war ... remember?

I was wrong.

It is my opinion that our government should not force our children to have to make the horrible choices my friends and I had to make. I do not think they should come home in coffins that are not shown on the nightly news because it would "hurt the war effort."

I do not think our children should kill people who our nightly news does not show with their arms and legs blown off, their skin burned, the bloody wounds and their lifeless eyes.

War is not neat, clean and sanitary. It is not humane. It is horrific and we should have the courage and human decency to see what our "smart bombs" do to a human body, what our high tech weapons do to a human being. Maybe then we might find a way to get along with other people rather than kill them.

How could this have happened again? Haven't we learned anything? I have seen the enemy and it is us. I am ashamed I can not stop the death and destruction of my government.

Learn how we have let this happen again. Please view the recently released DVD documentary "No End in Sight," directed by Charles Ferguson. If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it again and again.

Paul R. Goodness is a resident of Shrewsbury.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 13, 2008
Words:2449
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