I made it through our 15th wedding anniversary and the third anniversary of Michael’s death. What can I say?
Yesterday Kathy Faith, Selkie and I went up to Butte Meadows and wandered around before going up to Humboldt Summit. I’m going to stick some photos in here because the world is beautiful and I want to honor and extol it at every opportunity.
I didn’t get great shots of Kathy but we both share the same deep and immense Love for Mama Tierra so this was a sweet time for me.
The Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Vietnam series has taken up my evenings for the last two weeks. I listened to what Kathy said yesterday about her experience and realized I really did want a forum, no matter how tiny for my experience of that time. The series did nothing to shed light on what it was to come of age during that war and I think our lives matter even if history wants to discard the 60s.
Here is what I wrote near the end of the series after realizing our sincere efforts to stop the war were never going to be really acknowledged:
Vietnam. This last Ken Burns/Lynn Novick saga had me up all night, plus the fact that it is my husband’s death date. (He was exposed repeatedly to Agent Orange in Vietnam in his role as a Green Beret and we believed it killed him.) Burns showed protesters as a huge milling block of faceless people he could over-dub with story line, cutting back into “baby killers” three times at my count, featuring the Weathermen violence but nothing about the riots of 67-68 in American cities and only one person talking for the countless millions of us who were in the streets.
I was flooded with memories of my formative years—the Cuban Missile crisis while we lived close so New York City, JFK’s death, the Civil Rights movement. The horror and pain of Bobby Kennedy’s and Dr. King’s assassinations. The unrelenting angst of those years that should have been my joy-filled youth.
For me Vietnam started in 1965. I was at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo and I attended a teach-in at a professor’s home. The war, which had been on the periphery of my 18 year old awareness, now came into sharp relief. It was obviously wrong for the US to be imposing its will there and sending troops.
I started vigiling and marching against Dow Chemical’s napalm which was used indiscriminately in Vietnam. The first personal trauma for me was when one of my fellow post office vigilers had his head split open by someone wielding an axe. The next was when friends started to be drafted and disappeared into basic training.
After two years of horrifying nightly news and not being able to find inspiration at college I went into VISTA and was assigned to Newark, NJ. Within months the rebellion started a few blocks from the apartment I shared with two other women. We were in the middle of a war zone with civilians trapped by the violent response of the National Guard and the racist State Police for days.
After the rebellion I continued to go to New York city and Washington DC for demonstrations against the war on the weekends. We Vista folks were all discouraged and fantasized about burning down a napalm factory. Demonstrators were arrested and beat up and called communists and told to get a job dozens of times (but no one I knew ever referred to a service member as a baby killer although we definitely considered our government to be that and worse. I only heard that expression after I had lived in California for some years from a veteran who was livid at me over it despite the fact I did not know of it.)
I left Newark an embittered person. I had charges of resisting arrest and assaulting an officer (having been grabbed from the back by a plains clothed male who almost broke my arm and did nothing other than throw me into a paddy wagon for standing at the edge of a demonstration where police were using night sticks against demonstrators they had pinned against a fence at Whitehall Place, a conscription center.) I’d also witnessed the military at the Pentagon wait for press to leave after dark as we encircled the building in a non-violent sit-in. I watched them smash their rifle butts down on row after row of protestors then drag them off against the white glare of the lights. When it came time for me to face the experience the person next to me, who I had locked arms with, threw himself over me and saved me from harm. I don’t know what happened to him. Males and females were dragged to different buses.
By 1970 I’d started back in school at CSU Humboldt when Nixon sent troops publicly into Cambodia. At that point I went door to door to discuss the war in the old style of grass roots organizing but was shocked to hear, the oft repeated belief of how the bible says there will always be “wars and rumors of war” and this was why this passive population did not activate. That was it for me.
I was in a check-out line in a grocery store in 1975 when I saw the war had finally ended. I did not see it through. It was Hell and I’d stepped away from it while I completed nursing school.
So, when Ken Burns and Lynn Novick gloss over the thousands of protests and millions of protesters here in the U.S. The truth is each fought their own war here. It wasn’t as bloody and horrible but we were all there for the soldiers and the Vietnamese against what the Generals and Administration were doing for years and years– to our marrow. I hope history will record our efforts better elsewhere—the countless meetings, demonstrations, vigils, marches not to mention the police violence. We did the right thing and we did the best we could in a system that was as unresponsive and corrupt then as it is now.
I just wonder how we can make the changes that are needed to bring down the despotic, obscenely rich and powerful now? It seems that they only fall under their own weight and hubris. I’m old now but I fear for the planet and for the young. Hard times. I’m glad Michael does not have to witness it.
(Some of Michael’s ashes went into the wind at the top of Mt. Lassen, viewed here. Peace to his memory. Such a Good Man!)