Three Meter Zone | JD's Bunker | Poetry | Chapel | American Journal
J. D. Pendry
O beautiful for heroes proved, in liberating strife. Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life! -from O Beautiful for Spacious Skies - Katherine L. Bates, 1893
I just read an excerpt from your interview with Oprah. In it, you expressed regret for posing in a picture surrounded by North Vietnamese soldiers and sitting in the gunner's seat of an enemy anti-aircraft gun. You even acknowledged and regretted that your actions hurt American Soldiers while explaining that the picture was out of context. I suppose your acknowledgement should mean something after 28 years of missed opportunities to make amends.
In church on Sunday - the Sunday before the greatest day in our country's history - the first hymn we sang was O Beautiful For Spacious Skies. Jane, do you get a little tingle up your spine when you hear the words of that hymn? You know, it's odd, but one of the images that popped into my mind while singing it was you sitting there on that gun smiling happily midst North Vietnamese soldiers. Do you know what else is odd? I didn't feel the anger toward you that I felt for all of these years. Instead, I felt some pity because I fear that you won't ever know the exhilarating feeling that comes from serving others. Maybe you won't ever know what it feels like to sacrifice a little of your freedom so that others may enjoy theirs. Even if those others are living somewhere in the middle of a hostile, unforgiving jungle.
Today Jane, we celebrated the independence of the freest nation on the face of this earth. Maybe you should take some time to sit and think about that. Think of the freezing soldiers at Valley Forge who chose to sacrifice so that I could sit in the comfort of my home in this great nation and write you a letter. Think of the things that you cherish most and ask yourself if not for the sacrifices of these men would I have them. I recommend that someday you visit the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg. Go sit on Little Round Top. While there, think of Joshua Chamberlain and the men of the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment. Jane, they repelled five attacks from determined Confederate soldiers. Then, when nearly out of ammunition, they fixed bayonets and charged down the hill taking the fight out of the rebels. What you need to understand Jane is that this act of bravery perhaps more than any other during that war may have saved our country. You see the 20th Maine held the flank of the union army, if they had not refused the line the Confederates could have rolled up the union lines producing a much different outcome for that battle. If not for the duty of those soldiers on that day, our country would likely be different today. Read sometime about the battles of World War I. Imagine living in a trench and dreading the time that you'd have to leave the muck and mire of it so you could charge across no man's land into the face of machine guns. Contemplate then what motivates soldiers to do such things. Think about the beaches of Normandy. Consider how those men ended Nazi tyranny and shaped the world with their service and sacrifice. Think about the rugged hills, bitter winters and an enemy in Korea determined to end freedom for those who wanted it. Think of the tortured Americans held for years in solitary confinement by their North Vietnamese captors. Think about the siege at Khe San. Picture the confused, dirty face of an 18 year-old American Soldier when he saw the image of one of his country's rich and privileged embracing his enemy, but not him.
Jane, soldiers are uncomplicated people. Often, the political desires of the world thrust them into unpopular situations. Vietnam is probably the most memorable and regrettable in recent history. No war is popular, especially with soldiers. Most soldiers, however, are willing to carry out that dreadful duty in the name of preserving freedom, yes, and even the freedom of the citizens of another country. More importantly, each one of them will put it all on the line so that you can have the freedom you enjoyed in 1972 and still enjoy today.
There is one final place I'd suggest that you visit Jane. Visit Arlington National Cemetery. Don't bother with the main tourist's attractions there. Go find a quite place to sit in the middle of that field of heroes. I used to go for walks there when I lived at Fort Myer. One of my favorite places to contemplate what is important in this life is a section of stones all labeled Union Soldier Unknown. Find a silent spot on the grass and sit with those valiant souls known only to their God. They won't shun you and they will listen to your words. If you really regret your actions in 1972 Jane, that's the place to begin making your amends. Not on Oprah.
© 2000 J. D. Pendry