Anti-war is not anti-soldier

Mandy Pyle is a mother of one, step-mother of three, 30-year resident of Butte County, currently involved in ecological land development.

We learned something from the Vietnam era. Back then, I didn’t understand the difference between anti-war and anti-soldier. The guys I was in high school with were the ones who went. I stuck out my thumb and headed for Haight-Ashbury. It was either-or then.

War divides society. My two best friends were conscientious objectors who did alternate service in mental hospitals. I supported them. Mom and I had a fight over it. She called my buddies cowards and asked why we couldn’t be like her friend’s brave son who was defending his country. I said, “You’ll sing a different tune when he comes home in a box.” He came home in box, and the whole country sang a different tune.

What I know about war, I learned later. Whispered in the night. Shouted in the night. David. Buddy. Tom. Carl. My own wall of names. They were the ones who made it back alive.

The potter tells me about the old man, the young woman he killed. We smash his pots against the wall.

Carl was a medic stationed at a small field hospital in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of nowhere. Triage. Don’t waste your time with those who will die anyway. He took his turn on patrol. He said, “Imagine terror every night and every day for a year.”

Tom and Buddy, gifted young men, were picked out of the ranks of the draftees to attend Officer Candidate School. They talked about other young lieutenants who were shot in the back by their own men. Friendly fire.

Buddy was artillery. Fighting in a rubber plantation, covering the troops, he had to call Saigon to get permission if one of his shells might damage a tree. Rubber trees (owned by which corporate giant?) were more valuable than the men. Which will be more important this time, oil wells or the boys we send to fight?

David was an air traffic controller. Late at night in the fog, a pilot became disoriented. He was flying in for a landing upside down. Orders were when that happened, let them be. If he tried to talk him in, David would be responsible. He would not break the fragile tie his words held for the pilot. When the plane crashed, David was court marshaled.

These were the warriors I knew, all of them broken in some way by their experience. I do not want this for my stepson, the blue-eyed boy I raised for seven years who is now a master sergeant. My idealistic young man believes many things he will later know not to be true. I write this for him, but I will not send it to him. To him, I send my love and hope. May it shield him as best it can.