Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day 2011 / Starting to go home again

While Richard was in U.S. Army basic training in Fort Lewis, Washington, I was excited to see the cover of Time magazine of June 20, 1969, with its banner of STARTING TO GO HOME. Naively, I thought that this might mean that he would not be sent to Vietnam after all. Richard was my world. He was my present and my future.

Richard was drafted into the U.S. Army in spring of 1969, three years after we had met on the beach in Half Moon Bay, California, as 17-year-olds. He strongly considered applying for conscientious objector status but in talking to a draft resistance counselor in Oakland, California, became convinced that he would not be granted that. He did not want to go to Canada or prison. He went to Vietnam as a helicopter mechanic in January of 1970. He returned from Vietnam on December 8, 1970. He had not been in direct combat, but something happened in Vietnam that he could never talk about. He said that there are some things that a person needs to keep to himself. He referred to himself as a veteran of the anger wars.

We never spent a Veteran's Day together, although he called me on the telephone from California on Veteran's Day evening in 1990, during the First Gulf War. Previous to that call, he had been talking about the possibility of visiting me in Washington. There seemed a possibility of a reconciliation for us. I was not immediately aware that he was drunk. As I became conscious of that, I am sure he could hear fear entering my voice. He sounded the way he had sounded during his first few months home from Vietnam, the way he had sounded just before he hit me in early May of 1970. He was enraged, terrifying, threatening. I froze and then began shaking so hard that I could barely hold the telephone to my ear. In a deeply menacing drunken voice, he kept repeating, "Tell me what you really think of me."

I struggled to find words. When the words arrived, I told him that I loved him, and hung up the phone in anguish, and then I called back a few minutes later in regret for hanging up on him. His mother answered. I told her what had happened. She said that he had passed out and suggested that I call back in the morning. She said that he didn't start drinking until later in the day. I have amnesia beyond that. I don't know if I talked with him the next day. I do know that he did go to A.A. after that, and that he did send me an amends letter in March of 1993, apologizing for his behavior on Veteran's Day 1990. He was sober for 1 year but left A.A. and didn't find sobriety again until the last 6 months of his life.

In 1990, twenty years after returning from Vietnam, he was working as a carpenter, living on and off with his parents, struggling with alcoholism, drug addiction, and PTSD. I have since learned that the First Gulf War was a breaking point for many Vietnam veterans. It was a breaking point for me as well. I began to remember, with fear and acute distress, the year that Richard was in Vietnam and the months we lived together after his return.

Now we hear again that our soldiers will be returning home. That it will all be over on December 31, 2011.

Despite extreme duress, the love that Richard and I shared did not die. Richard's ashes were buried on June 20, 2008, thirty-nine years after that Time magazine cover. In his last days, when he could no longer speak, Richard wrote on his notepad to his sister, "I just want to go home."

I've been going through all my belongings, letting go of what I don't need anymore, and in the last few days I came across the Time magazine I had saved since 1969. Until this morning at 4 a.m. when I woke up, I was wondering what I was going to write for Veteran's Day 2011.

This Veteran's Day, especially, I am thinking of those whose beloveds didn't live to become veterans, the new generation of war widows. Thinking, too, of the handful of war widowers, about whom I have heard nothing so far and who are surely grieving today.

Veteran's Day 2011 is a good day for sending love to all soldiers, veterans, and their beloveds, as well as the widows, widowers, girlfriends, boyfriends, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, friends, all relations. We are all in this together.

(The above is supposed to be a video with birds singing, but for some reason it uploads as a image only. Imagine birds singing on a November day)


Anonymous said...

I saw a reference somewhere that said Veterans's Day was first commemorated as the day to end all wars. Wouldn't that be a compelling way to honor all veterans? I hadn't thought about the impact the gulf war would have on veterans of earlier wars, such a tragedy.

(About videos uploading as still photos, I had that happen a few times and realized that when I export a video from my iPhoto folder, I have a choice of formats (Kind: original; current; jpeg; tiff; ping), and it defaults to jpeg. I have to click on original to get the video to export as video, otherwise it exports as a still. Not sure if that's what is happening with your video, but thought I'd share that info.

am said...

I will remember that from now on when Veterans Day comes around. That sheds new light on it for me.

Thanks so much for the video suggestion. It worked!