VETERANS DAY 2008
Veterans reading letters from veterans…
Sunday, November 9
1:00 p.m. at Peace Park
Coventry Road & Euclid Heights Blvd.
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Canon Fire Salute
Shenandoah. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . London Festival Orchestra & Choir
Oliver Wendell Holmes (reading) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Paul Roebling
Honor Him . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Hans Zimmer
Eternal Father Strong to Save . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . U.S. Naval Choir & Orchestra
(U.S. Navy hymn)
God of Our Fathers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . London Philharmonic Choir
(U.S. Army hymn)
Be Still My Soul . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Words: Katharina A. von Schlegel
Music (Finlandia): Jean Sibelius
Mansions of the Lord . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . USMA (West Point) Cadet Glee Club
(instrumental followed by
READING OF THE LETTERS
Taps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Michael McMurray
2 minutes of silence
Canon Fire Salute
Courage under Fire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . James Horner
The Dawning of the Day . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mary Fahl
Going Home . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mary Fahl
Cover art: The sculpture was created by Steve Parry
of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Veterans for Peace.
It will ultimately be cast in bronze.
Eleven bells/History of
Armistice Day John Harmon/Chad Meyers
Introduction (and short quotations) Steve Parry
General George Washington Michael McMurray
Captain Joshua T. Byers Bob Bemer
George (last name unknown) Chuck Johnson
Peter Harris Art Dorland
Captain Rodney R. Chastant Dustin Yoon
Sergeant Douglas McCormac Doug Powell
General George E. Pickett Michael McMurray
2nd Lieutenant Linda Van Devanter Mary Reynolds Powell
Sp/5 Tom Pellaton Chuck Johnson
Major General Smedley Darlington Butler Mike Ludwig
Paul Sullivan Lou Pumphrey
Corporal John Houghton Mort Epstein
Private 1st Class Al Puntasecca Walt Nicholes
Gunnery Sergeant Leonard Shelton:
The Walking Dead Leonard Shelton
Petty Officer Joseph Muharsky Gene Kotrba
Private 1st Class Jesse Givens Chad Meyers
Alyssa Robbins Brittany Holt
Eleanor Wimbish Margo Mucci
Major Terry Bell Mike Ludwig
Captain Mary Reynolds Powell:
The Human Costs of War Mary Reynolds Powell
Major Terry Bell: An Epilogue Mike Ludwig
At the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918, an agreement was
signed to stop all fighting. World War I, “the war to end all wars,” was over.
The celebration of Armistice Day on November 11th honored the sacrifices made
to ensure peace.
In 1954, Armistice Day officially became Veterans Day. By then, World War II
and the Korean War had made it obvious that peace had not been ensured. Today,
Veterans Day is used to sell everything from mattresses to coats.
The sacrifices made by those we have sent to the many wars since 1918 will be
forgotten or ignored by many. Their sacrifices are and will continue to be exploited
by some to sell more war.
Men and women who have served in war do not have the luxury of forgetting or
ignoring. We listen to their words today.
Today we are gathered to pay homage to all the military veterans of this country,
current and past, living and dead. The letters we will read represent the thoughts
and feelings of some of the millions of men and women who have served in the
United States armed forces during wartime. Some names you will recognize as
famous patriots and soldiers you learned about in school; others you will not know.
Some were generals. Some were privates. Some joined. Some were forced to serve.
Some were trained to kill. Others were trained to heal. Some survived. Some did not.
But none writes of the illusory glory of last charges, trench warfare, combat
hospitals, or hills or towns taken and lost, and taken again. As combat veterans, we
know that war is not glorious, heroic, or redeeming. It is brutal, terrifying, and the
systematic eradication of life.
No veteran walks away from a war unwounded; only the size and location of the
wounds differ. We share with you today the wounded hearts, the honor unblemished,
the anger unleashed, the grief beyond reckoning, and finally, the redemption that one
of our friends and fellow Veterans for Peace sought when he returned to Vietnam last
year to walk in peace the ground he once walked in war.
As combat veterans, we recognize the universal truths in the letters we are about to
read to you. As Veterans for Peace, we work toward the day when no American
serviceman or -woman will ever have need to write such letters again.
General George Washington to His Wife Martha
George Washington wrote this letter to his wife, whom he called Patsy, 3 days after
he was unanimously chosen to lead the Continental Army.
Philadelphia, June 18, 1775
You may believe me, my dear Patsy, when I assure you that so far from seeking this
appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, and not from my
unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from consciousness of its being a
trust too great for my capacity, and that I should enjoy more real happiness in one
month with you at home, than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad, if
my stay were to be seven times seven years. But it has been a kind of destiny that
has thrown me upon this service, I shall hope that my undertaking is designed to
answer some good purpose.
Will nations never devise a more rational umpire of differences than force?
Are there no means of coercing injustice more gratifying to our nature than a waste
of the blood of thousands and the labor of millions of our fellow creatures?
~ Thomas Jefferson
Army Captain Joshua T. Byers
2nd Battalion, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment
Captain Byers wrote this letter to his parents in June 2003.
June 5, 2003
Hey Mom and Dad,
…Not only will I soon be a Cavalry Troop Commander…but I will have the
opportunity and the incredible responsibility of commanding in combat. I have to
admit that I am really nervous and just pray that I am up to the task out here to lead
120 men in combat operations. I will give them everything I have to give. I love
them already, just because they’re mine. I pray, with all my heart, that I will be able
to take every single one of them home safe when we finish our mission here.
Captain Byers, of Anderson, South Carolina, arrived in Iraq in April 2003.
Three months later, he was killed instantly when an explosive device was detonated
under the Humvee in which he was riding. He was 29 years old.
He died on his mother’s birthday.
Beside the ship leaving port
For the hot, dry gulf
The white-haired woman says
I’m proud of my grandson
He has to go
To protect our interest.
Your interest just left on that ship.
~ Lynda Van Devanter
Army Nurse Corps
George (last name unknown), an African-American Soldier,
to His Sister, from Somewhere in France during WWII
Over one million African-American men served their country in World War II, but
they were required to eat, live, train, and fight in segregated units.
March 19, 1945
…As you know, Sis, I’m not in a combat unit so I can only write of general
conditions behind the “Lines.” I am in the Service Force. It is a very important
branch of service. Yes, the hours are sometimes very long. However, I can work
with that certain satisfaction that my work behind the “Lines” is the only direct
support that the men “Up Front” have. If that convoy with supplies is late because
it was not started promptly as ordered, the men “Up Front” may meet with capture,
unnecessary hardship or even death, because the ammunition or rations were not at
the proper place at the proper time. If that Liberty ship isn’t unloaded as soon as
possible, it may miss the convoy and sometimes cost our government the ship and
the lives of the men aboard. So you can see why the cry behind the “Lines” is,
“Work so that your Combat Buddy may live.”
All of us have many reasons for wanting to stay in the States. Yet we know the war
can’t be won by our attending dances and enjoying weekend passes. Yes, we too
are “Red Blooded Americans” and have as much at stake as anybody. Yes, we have
a share in the American Way of Life. We hope that the American People won’t
forget that if we can work and fight for the Democratic Way, that we are entitled to
enjoy every privilege it affords when this mess is over.
Your brother George
The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving
out peaceful tomorrows.
~ Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Native American Peter Harris
Native Americans fought not only against, but often for the army of the United
States. Peter Harris belonged to the Catawba tribe. He was raised among whites,
but was married and living with his native tribe when he enlisted in the Third South
Carolina Regiment in 1779. Records show that he was a wounded veteran still on
the unit payroll in 1883. He fell into poverty many years later and wrote this appeal
to the state of South Carolina.
I’m one of the lingering embers of an almost extinguished race. Our graves will soon
be our only habitations. I am one of the few stalks that still remain in the field.
Where the tempest of the revolution passed, I fought against the British for your
sake. The British have disappeared, and you are free. Yet from me the British took
nothing, nor have I gained anything by their defeat. I pursued the deer for my
subsistence; the deer are disappearing, and I must starve. God ordained me for the
forest, and my ambition is the shade, but the strength of my arm decays, and my feet
fall in the chase. The hand which fought for your liberties is now open for your
relief. In my youth I bled in battle, that you might be independent. Let not my heart
in my old age bleed, for the want of your commiseration.
The South Carolina legislators, whether moved by pity or patriotism, granted Peter
Harris an annual pension of 60 dollars. A year later, he died.
No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger that its weakest people, and as
long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold
him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise.
~ Marian Anderson
Marine Captain Rodney R. Chastant
Marine Air Group 13, 1st Marine Air Wing
Da Nang, South Vietnam
June 29, 1968
Today I received your letter in reply to my extension letter. You replied as I knew you
would—always the mother who tries to put her son’s wishes before her own, even when
she is not sure it is best for his welfare. It made me sad. I want so much to make you
proud. I want so much to make you happy. At the same time I have my life to lead with
my own dreams, goals, and outlook. And I know all these things cannot be compatible
—particularly over the short run.
Know that I dream of the day when I return home to you and Dad and hold you in
my arms again. Sometimes I get lonely. Sometimes I want nothing more than to sit
down at the dinner table, see before me roast beef, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes,
bow my head for the blessing, and look up and see my mother—pretty and smiling
—searching for any way she can to make her son more comfortable. Know that it is
hard to turn your back on these things.
It is not easy to say I opt for 6 more months of heat, sand, and shooting. I know there
will be nights that I suffer the loss of another friend. And nothing can make a man feel
so alien or alone as a walk by the seashore as he tries to adjust to the loss of another
friend in this godforsaken country….But here there is a job to be done. There are moral
decisions made almost every day. My experience is invaluable. This job requires a man
of conscience. The group of men that do this job MUST have a leader with conscience
….I am needed here, Mom. Not that I am essential or indispensable. But my degree of
proficiency is now undisputed as the best in 1st Marine Division. The young men
coming in need the leadership of an older hand. I am that hand; I am that man.
Captain Chastant, from Mobile, Alabama, was killed on October 22, 1968, 4 months
after writing this letter. He was 25 years old.
A professional soldier understands that war means killing people, war means
maiming people, war means families left without fathers and mothers. All you
have to do is hold your first dying soldier in your arms, and have that terribly
futile feeling that his life is flowing out and you can’t do anything about it. Then
you understand the horror of war. Any soldier worth his salt should be anti-war….
~ General Norman Schwarzkopf
Sergeant Douglas McCormac
Sergeant McCormac served with Company C, 5th Special Forces Group, in Pleiku
and Kontum provinces, Vietnam, from 1968 to 1969. This letter was written to his
August 13, 1968
I think perhaps this experience is changing me. Of course, it would—but it is
happening not as I expected. I have not found much opportunity to “help” people, as
I once almost romantically rationalized. But I’ve learned a little here—I’ve learned
to dislike this war more.
What I’ve seen is the superabundant American economy overflow with its war effort
into the Vietnamese peasants’ and city dwellers’ environment….The high-ranking
grab for the rake-off and black-market profits, and the rest of the crowd reap the
scraps and burdens of the casualties.
Of course, Americans are dying, and I would not belittle anyone who served “with
proud devotion” and faith in this enterprise. It may not have been a terribly wrong
theoretical idea at one time. But the foreign, introduced offensive, the consequent
corruption and then the contempt that developed between people and groups—it
makes a mockery of the “noble” words used to justify this war. It belies the phony
enthusiasm with which those words may be delivered. It’s now a war of survival….
Sergeant McCormac returned home in May 1969.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the
final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and
not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the
sweat of laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children….This is not
a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is
humanity hanging from an iron cross.
~ General Dwight David Eisenhower
Confederate General George E. Pickett
In 3 days of fighting at Gettysburg, 51,000 American men were killed, captured,
or wounded. General Pickett led the final rebel assault on the Union Army.
The following is from a letter he wrote to his fiancée Sallie, 3 days after
the combat was over.
July 6, 1863
On the Fourth—far from a glorious Fourth to us or to any with love for his fellow-
men—I wrote you just a line of heart-break. Even now I can hear them cheering as I
gave the order, “Forward”! I can feel their faith and trust in me and their love for our
cause. I can feel the thrill of their joyous voices as they called out all along the line,
“We’ll follow you, Marse George. We’ll follow you—we’ll follow you.” Oh, how
faithfully they kept their word—following me on—on—to their death, and I,
believing in the promised support, led them on—on—on—Oh, God!
I can’t write you a love letter today, my Sallie, for with my great love for you and
my gratitude to God for sparing my life to devote to you, comes the overpowering
thought of those whose lives were sacrificed—of the broken-hearted widows and
mothers and orphans. The moans of my wounded boys, the sight of the dead,
upturned faces, flood my soul with grief—and here am I whom they trusted, whom
they followed, leaving them on that field of carnage….
This is too gloomy and too poor a letter for so beautiful a sweetheart, but it seems
sacrilegious, almost, to say I love you, with the hearts that are stilled to love on the
field of battle.
The suffering that must exist in the South the next year, even with the war ending
now, will be beyond conception. People who talk of further retaliation and
punishment, except of the political leaders, either do not conceive of the suffering
endured already or they are heartless and unfeeling and wish to stay at home, out
of danger, whilst the punishment is being inflicted.
~ General Ulysses S. Grant, in a letter to his wife
2nd Lieutenant Lynda Van Devanter
Army Nurse Corps
71st Evacuation Hospital, Pleiku
67th Evacuation Hospital, Qui Nhon
Lynda Van Devanter served in Vietnam from June 1969 to
June 1970. This letter was written to her family on December 29, 1969.
…I don’t know where to start except to say I’m tired. It seems that’s all I ever say
anymore. Thank you both for your tapes and all the little goodies in the Christmas
packages. Christmas came and went, marked only by tragedy. I’ve been working
nights for a couple of weeks and have been spending a great deal of time in post-op.
They’ve been unbelievably busy. I got wrapped up in several patients, one of whom
I scrubbed on when we repaired an artery in his leg. It eventually clotted, and we
did another procedure on him to clear out the artery—all this to save his leg. Well, in
my free time I had been working in post-op and took care of him. I came in for duty
Christmas Eve and was handed an OR slip—above-the-knee amputation. He had
developed gas gangrene. The sad thing was that the artery was pumping away
beautifully. Merry Christmas, kid, we have to cut your leg off to save your life.
We also had 3 other GIs die that night.
Kids, every one. The war disgusts me. I hate it! …I’m sick of facing, every day, a
new bunch of children ripped to pieces. They’re just kids—18, 19 years old!
It stinks! Whole lives ahead of them—cut off. I’m sick to death of it. I’ve got to get
out of here….
I asked the high school students I was speaking to what they thought the toughest
job in Vietnam was. Not one had the same answer I did. I told them I thought it was
being a nurse. I saw many of my brothers hit with bullets or shrapnel or worse.
Fortunately for me, I only had to bear their misery a short time, until I could get
them to a Medevac chopper. The nurses had to live with that horror every day.
I carry some terrible memories of the war, but I would not trade mine for theirs.
~ Petty Officer Joseph Muharsky
Sp/5 Tom Pellaton
101st Airborne Division
Phu Bai, South Vietnam
November 16, 1970
I had to write to you tonight since the inevitable has happened—someone I knew
was killed yesterday. It’s all so meaningless, so horrible, that I’m having trouble
coming to grips with the situation emotionally.
Believe it or not, I met Paul only a week and a half ago. We spent the night talking.
Paul was one of those people you like immediately. He seemed to be a truly good
person. He’s a devout Mormon, married, opposed to the war, had worked against it,
but got caught in the system—like so many of us—and now he’s dead, blown up by
a booby trap—he had no chance—one day before he was to come down to visit us
on his way to visit his wife on R&R.
I just can’t express how I feel. I’m crying. I called the Episcopal chaplain in Da
Nang and had prayers offered for Paul. I felt it was at least something I could do,
consistent in a broad sense with Paul’s life and my own beliefs. I put on the Messiah
and immersed myself in the text—“The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be
raised, and we shall be changed!” “Oh death, where is they sting, where they
victory?” “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
There was no need for Paul to die. Why did he have to die for the sake of the silly
games the politicians and the Army play—why? My God, what do we do to
ourselves? Why do we hate ourselves so much that we have to kill each other? What
are we doing here! I’m losing control again—forgive me—but I seem to still be able
to feel Paul’s handshake—I had just gotten him a helicopter ride back to his unit….
I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its
brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
~ General Dwight David Eisenhower
Major General Smedley Darlington Butler
Smedley Darlington Butler was born in 1881. At the time of his death in 1940, he
was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history, twice awarded the Congressional
Medal of Honor. He served as Commanding General of the Marine Barracks in
Quantico, Virginia, from the end of WWI until 1924. The following is excerpted from
his writings after he retired from the military in 1931.
War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most
profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope, and the
profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
I spent 33 years and 4 months in active military service as a member of this
country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned
ranks from 2nd Lieutenant to Major General. And during that period, I spent most of
my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the
I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in
1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys
to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American
republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped
purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909–
1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in
1916. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903. In
China in 1927, I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested….
I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket….I might have given Al
Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate his racket in 3 city districts. I
operated on 3 continents….
I say, “To Hell with war.”
Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war
than we do about peace. We know more about killing than we do about living.
~ General Omar Bradley
U.S. Army Cavalry Scout, 1st Armored Division
Gulf War, 1991
When you see the battlefield with dead bodies as far as you can see, and there’s
smoke swirling around, and the smell from the dead bodies, the ammunition, the
fuel, the explosions, it’s overpowering. It’s sickening. You’re offered little
opportunity during wartime for any type of introspection. You are so geared toward
killing and surviving that any other type of emotion, as well as any type of reaction
to what you’re seeing, is deeply suppressed.
You see it with the soldiers. They’ll grimace their lips and tighten their eyes, and just
keep looking forward. They can drive through miles and miles of charred trucks,
tanks, blown up buildings, pieces of arms, pieces of legs every which way. Folks
may remember what they called “the Highway of Death” that led from Kuwait up to
Basra. That had to be one of the most hideous, grotesque, disgusting abominations
I’ve ever witnessed. And it’s a result of the lies. It starts when people say “That’s
mine. You can’t have it.” Or “I’m better than you.”
…When we were done there was nothing left except the charred remains: tanks,
cars, bodies, and body parts strewn all over the desert. That was the Gulf War. It’s
not like some smart bomb just went down Highway 1 and hung a left at the stoplight
and went down Highway 5….
Paul Sullivan returned home and served as Executive Director of the National Gulf
War Resource Center, a veterans aid organization.
I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more
revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness
on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a method of settling international
~ General Douglas MacArthur
Marine Corporal John Houghton
1st Marine Division
Chu Lai, South Vietnam
Corporal Houghton—“Johnny Boy”— served in South Vietnam from 1966 to 1967.
He was the friend of Terry J. Perko, a lance corporal from Maple Heights, Ohio,
who was killed on February 21, 1967, 5 months after arriving in Vietnam.
Corporal Houghton wrote this letter to Terry Perko’s mother.
Dear Mrs. Perko,
I’m sorry for not writing sooner. I received your letter when I was discharged from
the hospital on the 29th of April, then went straight to Saigon for a week or so.
What can I say to fill the void? I know flowers and letters are appropriate, but it’s
hardly enough. I’m Johnny Boy, and I’m sick both physically and mentally. I smoke
too much, am constantly coughing, never eat, always sit around in a daze. All of us
are in this general condition. We are all afraid to die, and all we can do is count the
days till we go home.
When we go to Saigon, we spend all our money on women and beer. Some nights I
don’t sleep. I can’t stand being alone at night. The guns don’t bother me—I can’t
hear them anymore. I want to hold my head between my hands and run screaming
away from here. I cry, not too much, just when I touch the sore spots.
I’m hollow, Mrs. Perko. I’m a shell, and when I’m scared I rattle. I’m no one to tell
you about your son. I can’t. I’m sorry.
Corporal Houghton returned home in October 1967.
All wars eventually act as boomerangs, and the victor suffers as much as
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Private First Class Al Puntasecca
I’m coming home! It’s official as of this morning…. That little house is going to look
like a palace to me…. Is it true some people eat three times a day, or more? And they
sit on a chair, by a table? What’s the matter, can’t they dig a hole in the backyard like
everybody else?…. There were times I would have traded my soul for a drink of cold
water, or a cup of hot coffee. But I am coming home now. Chuck isn’t. He’s listed
M.I.A. If he’s on this side of the line I hope he makes it. If he’s on their side I hope
he’s dead. He’d wish the same for me….
I am going to tell you now. You’ll need a lot of patience with me. Patience, and,
understanding. We all will.
When I first got back I just wanted to jump into a job and forget about Iraq, but
the culture shock from the military to the civilian world hit me. I was depressed
for months. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. The worst thing wasn’t the war, it was
coming back, because nobody understood why I was the way I was.
~ Nicole Goodwin
Iraq war veteran diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder
Gunnery Sergeant Leonard Shelton
U.S. Marine Corps, 1984–2004
Gulf War, Kosovo
Leonard will read his own words to you today.
The Walking Dead
My life has been changed; at times I feel I never knew who I was. Your lifeless
bodies laying on the desert floor, and we were told to keep going. I was frozen. And
something inside of me, life, my body, I could not go on. Your life was taken in front
me—how could I leave you like that? I had to continue the fight. I left you brothers.
I’m sorry I had to go fight. Where do I go? How do I fix it? I’m still afraid,
wondering where to help and find you. I want to take care of you; you should not be
laying there lifeless on the desert floor. How is your family going to know? Will
they be told the truth? Where are you? I’m trying to find you. Your lives were taken
by greedy men who never took to the time to know you. I live my life to honor the
dead —which in turn I do not live, because if I leave I betray them. I am not alive; I
am the walking dead. I would like to know, or just have a day to know, the better
side of life, and what it would be like. Death, murder, confusion, lost soul; the ghost
has left my body and it does not know how to get back in. I search every day trying
to find it, but where is it? It’s gone, teasing, never to return.
We talked about coming home. Corporal Cotto, where are you? I am lost, but you
and the others are gone. I now live my life pretending everything is okay with a
smile on my face, but everyday I am empty. Take a good look in my eyes, and tell
me what you see.
He who is the author of a war lets loose the whole contagion of hell and opens a
vein that bleeds a nation to death.
~ Thomas Paine
Navy Petty Officer Joseph Muharsky
Joseph Muharsky was a forward machine gunner on a swift boat in the Mekong
Delta, Vietnam, from 1968 to 1969. He currently lives in Mentor, Ohio.
The following is excerpted from an online posting on his website.
A Veterans Day Message to the Youth of America
On Labor Day, 1991, I attended a ceremony at John Carroll University to award a
Purple Heart and a Southwest Asia Campaign Medal to Timothy Alan Shaw, who
had served in Operation Desert Storm. Reverend and Mrs. Shaw were there.
Unfortunately, Timothy could not be; he was laid to rest at Arlington National
Cemetery a few months earlier.
When I came home that day, I opened a drawer and removed a small leather case.
Its inscription says, “United States of America.” I removed its contents and tried to
contemplate their true meaning. I picked up the medal with the bronze “V” that was
awarded for “Valor in Combat” and wondered whose son I might have killed to
receive it. Were there a Reverend and Mrs. Shaw somewhere in Southeast Asia who
received an award for the loss of their son? I picked up my Vietnamese Cross of
Gallantry and wondered what meaning it might have to the boy’s parents. I looked at
my Presidential Unit Citation and pondered the fact that the man who was president
when I received it had to resign in disgrace. And lastly, I wondered what the medal
must have looked like that was awarded to the Iraqi soldier who launched the scud
missile that killed Timothy Allen Shaw and 27 other Americans on that fateful day.
Surely it must have a bronze “V” on it, too.
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each life
sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Army Private First Class Jesse A. Givens
Private Givens wrote this letter to his family, to be delivered and opened
only upon the event of his death in Iraq. Melissa is his wife, Dakota his 6-year-old
stepson, and Bean, the nickname he gave his unborn son.
I never thought I would be writing a letter like this. I really don’t know where to
start. I’ve been getting bad feelings, though and, well, if you are reading this….
The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. I will always have
with me the small moments we all shared. The moments when you quit taking life so
seriously and smiled. The sounds of a beautiful boy’s laughter or the simple nudge of
a baby unborn. You will never know how complete you have made me. You saved
me from loneliness and taught me how to think beyond myself. You taught me how
to live and to love. You opened my eyes to a world I never dreamed existed.
Dakota . . . you taught me how to care until it hurts, you taught me how to smile
again. You taught me that life isn’t so serious and sometimes you just have to play.
You have a big, beautiful heart. Through life you need to keep it open and follow it.
Never be afraid to be yourself. I will always be there in our park when you dream so
we can play. I love you, and hope someday you will understand why I didn’t come
home. Please be proud of me.
Bean, I never got to see you but I know in my heart you are beautiful. I know you
will be strong and big-hearted like your mom and brother. I will always have with
me the feel of the soft nudges on your mom’s belly, and the joy I felt when I found
out you were on your way. I love you, Bean.
Melissa, I have never been as blessed as the day I met you. You are my angel,
soulmate, wife, lover and best friend. I am sorry. I did not want to have to write this
letter. There is so much more I need to say, so much more I need to share. A
lifetime’s worth. I married you for a million lifetimes. That’s how long I will be with
you. Please keep my babies safe. Please find it in your heart to forgive me for
leaving you alone…. Teach our babies to live life to the fullest, tell yourself to do the
I will always be there with you, Melissa. I will always want you, need you and love
you, in my heart, my mind and my soul. Do me a favor, after you tuck the children
in. Give them hugs and kisses from me. Go outside and look at the stars and count
them. Don’t forget to smile.
Private Givens was killed on May 1, 2003, when his tank fell into the Euphrates River
after the bank on which it was parked gave way. The other members of his unit
survived. His son Carson—“Bean”—was born on May 29, 4 weeks after
Jesse Givens died.
What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether
the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name
of liberty and democracy?
~ Mahatma Ghandi
Alyssa is the daughter of Chief Warrant Officer Andrew Robbins, who served in
Charlie Company, 1st Aviation Battalion, Kosovo. Alyssa was 16 years old when her
father was killed in battle on June 8, 2003.
I woke up to hear my mother crying so hard I thought she was sick. She came to tell
me that my dad was dead. I got up feeling dazed. I didn’t know what to do or say or
even think or feel. We held the funeral in Texas at the Arlington cemetery there. That
Christmas I cried the entire night. All of the things I got I didn’t want. Every time the
phone rang, I ran to it, anxiously waiting for the call saying that my dad was still
alive. A movie playing during the holidays told of a fallen soldier whose wife
thought he was dead. He came home for Christmas, though, and it turned out it was
another soldier dead. I kept thinking, “That’s what’s going to happen. My dad really
isn’t dead!” I hear his footsteps in our house. I smell him in some of the rooms.
Sometimes I think about it so much that I know he’s coming home. He promised he’d
teach me how to drive that summer. He said he was coming home. I keep thinking,
“What did I do? What did I do wrong? Why did he die?”
I keep thinking it’s my fault. I wake up every day wishing he would come home.
I wish he could come home so I could be happy again. It’s just not fair. I look at all
of my friends’ families and think how lucky they are. Some of them even have TWO
dads. I feel jealous. I feel lost. I feel unequal, because I don’t even have one
I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, “Mother, what was war?”
~ Eve Merriam
American poet and playwright
Eleanor Wimbish of Glen Burnie, Maryland
Mother of William R. Stocks
This is one of many letters that Mrs. Wimbish left for her son under his name on the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Today is February 13, 1984. I came to this black wall again to see and touch your
name, and as I do I wonder if anyone ever stops to realize that next to your name, on
this black wall, is your mother’s heart….
And as I look at your name, William R. Stocks, I think of how many times I used to
wonder how scared and homesick you must have been in that strange country called
Vietnam. And if and how it might have changed you, for you were the most happy-
go-lucky kid in the world…. And until the day I die, I will see you as you laughed at
me, even when I was very mad at you, and the next thing I knew, we were laughing
On this past New Year’s Day, I had my answer. I talked by phone to a friend of yours
from Michigan, who spent your last Christmas and the last 4 months of your life
with you. Jim told me how you died, for he was there and saw the helicopter
crash….How it was either hit by enemy fire, or hit a pole or something unknown.
How the blades went through the chopper and hit you. How you lived about a half
hour, but were unconscious and therefore did not suffer….
Oh, God, how it hurts to write this. But I must face it and then put it to rest. I know
that after Jim talked to me, he must have relived it all over again and suffered so.
Before I hung up the phone, I told Jim I loved him. Loved him for just being your
close friend, and for sharing the last days of your life with you, and for being there
with you when you died. How lucky you were to have him for a friend, and how
lucky he was to have had you.
Later that same day I received a phone call from a mother in Billings, Montana. She
had lost her daughter, her only child, a year ago. She needed someone to talk to, for
no one would let her talk about the tragedy…. She talked to me of her pain, and
seemingly needed me to help her with it. I cried with this heartbroken mother, and
after I hung up the phone, I laid my head down and cried as hard for her. Here was a
mother calling me for help with her pain over the loss of her child, a grown
daughter. And as I sobbed I thought, how can I help her with her pain when I have
never completely been able to cope with my own?
They tell me the letters I write to you and leave here at this memorial are waking
others up to the fact that there is still much pain left, after all these years…. But this
I know. I would rather to have had you for 21 years, and all the pain that goes with
losing you, than never to have had you at all.
I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt,
~ Mother Teresa
Major Terry Bell
U.S. Army, 1964 to 1979
In 1967, 3 days after his first son was born, Terry Bell deployed to Vietnam to
command a Rifle Company and serve as a Division Operations Staff Officer
of the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands. Terry is a member of
the Northeast Ohio Chapter of Veterans for Peace.
July 29, 2007
My wife Anita and I attended the Soldier’s Heart Veteran’s Return Retreat in June.
The retreat’s highlight was on the 4th day. “War, Madness and Healing” was when I
vividly re-experienced an encounter with a captured North Vietnamese soldier
during the battle of Dak To, November 7, 1967. He had been brought to my
command post—sitting bound only a few feet from me. He shook with terror,
urinated and defecated on himself. I looked into his small brown face and saw for
the first—perhaps only time of my entire tour—a human face like my own. I
recalled his helplessness, his youth and his disciplined absolute silence. Sparing his
life, as the unit commander, was the only mercy I ever gave a Vietnamese person.
The experience was an unacknowledged sacred moment for me—a remarkable
memory “forgotten” for nearly 40 years. How could I have forgotten?
Only one simple touch of this little man might have freed me from years of darkness
—but I did not reach out only a few feet to make that connection. He never looked at
me, not even for an instant.
I wept deeply as my soul showed me the full inhumanity that my war had done
within me. Yet, my meeting with him was the single solitary act of mercy I did as a
warrior in Vietnam. Our unit killed hundreds of his comrades before and after our
meeting. His unit did the same to many Americans in my command.
Today I wonder in awe: What became of that enemy soldier who had walked
hundreds of miles to meet me atop some God-forsaken hill in Vietnam? He was
probably a teenager. I was 24. Both of us were patriots. His face is often before me
now as a reminder of who we both were—warriors who had left our families and our
communities to protect them from each other—from the evil “enemy.” Before the
June Retreat I had not—could not—consider returning to Vietnam. My heart’s
memories—awakened on retreat—now call me to return.
I want to personally exchange forgiveness with Vietnamese people on the ground
where we were locked in our dances of death and mutual destruction. Perhaps, by
embracing and looking into Vietnam’s human faces, I can further my freedom from
my warriors’ darkness and suffering. Perhaps my care and intention may relieve
some Vietnamese warriors and their families from their wounds of body and soul
and will be of service to their families. I pray that this time our meeting each other
will be caring, peaceful, and charged with love and hope for our futures.
I want to play with their children and their grandchildren and share pictures of our
own with them. I want to tell them my personal life-stories and hear of their
journeys as well. With Anita my wife at my side, our journey can be a sign, a gesture
of love and respect for each of the Vietnamese whom we meet.
As I finish this letter, it has begun to rain. I remember the Highlands monsoon
season of 1967—many weeks of soaking rain that called Nature’s truce in the
mountains. This planned trip coincides with my 65th birthday on October 30. I
imagine that sharing this birthday celebration in Vietnam will be long remembered.
Our trip’s last day, November 7, is the exact date I captured the North Vietnamese
May our return give lasting freedom and peace to both of us.
Peace hath higher tests of manhood
Than battle ever knew.
~ John Greenleaf Whittier
Captain Mary Reynolds Powell
Army Nurse Corps
24th Evacuation Hospital
Long Binh, Vietnam, 1970-71
The Human Cost of War
Our parents tell us it is wrong to kill; our churches preach it is wrong to kill;
our teachers teach us it is wrong to kill; our government forbids us to kill. And then
one day the leaders of our country declare war, and tell us it is OK to send our young
people to kill on our behalf; it is OK to rain destruction on mothers, fathers and
children in a foreign land; it is OK to do whatever it takes to win, for we must win.
IT IS ALL SO SIMPLE
From its rationale, to its language, to its execution, the selling of war is
simple. It is slogans and flags, music and gold stars, abstract principles, clean
uniforms, smart bombs, and enemies who are less than human. We are good and the
enemy is bad.
BUT WAR IS NOT SO SIMPLE
It is vaporized and burned men, women and babies; people just like us. It is
homes turned to rubble and weddings turned to bloodbaths. It is the cries of a hungry
infant in its dead mother’s arms, and a wife carried in the arms of a keening
It is the end of faith for old people and the destruction of hope for the young.
It is a young soldier who dies calling for his mother and a surviving soldier
with a “thousand yard stare” who is condemned to a lifetime of hell no one
It is the medic who can’t wash the blood off his hands.
It is the theft from those who are hungry who will never be fed, those who are
homeless who will never be housed, and those in need of care who will never
receive it. It is the theft of a family’s future generations and a society’s future
leaders. It is the loss of a country’s soul.
It is misery and pain, destruction and degradation that sow the seeds for more
of the same. It is evil, and there are no winners.
This, then, is the human cost of war—the cost kept hidden when our leaders
tell us it is OK to kill.
Major Terry Bell
November 5, 2008
This Veterans Day, I want to call attention to the hope of healing—to a testimony
from each American warrior who sacrificed to serve the nation that he or she can
both endure and be renewed after so much suffering. The scars on our hearts and
minds are interior badges of honor, of wisdom gained at great risk and personal cost.
That we bear hidden, unseen scars is a separate burden. For this, we are united
as Veterans for Peace. It is enough. As in battle, community is needed to obtain
success. It is our role as veterans, bound together, to witness to the otherwise hidden
human costs of wounding our younger generations in wars. Let us bear witness to
our renewed hope for wholeness as well as to our suffering, that we may bless, and
not curse, our community with our collective wisdom. Let us bear witness to the
courageous work of healing.
God bless you and yours.
Let us think no more
of the “war to end all wars”
for only in complete destruction of all
would that be possible
So let us think
of the Peace to end all wars
finally, working with the right tool
We can create the goal.
~ Norma J. Griffiths
Army Nurse Corps