I was determined to engage with more members of this audience, but the hall drained quickly. I went looking first in the cafeteria where an empty table with a single place setting memorialized American MIAs, the way a disembodied Elijah is honored at a Seder with an empty chair. No 'Nam hats, no other telltale regalia in sight. I walked along several corridors leading to medical services and entered the main waiting room. Their event was over. No VA related reason to linger? They were gone.
If I’d gotten the chance, I would have asked any one of these veterans to tell me in his own words why he’d come that day. I was curious if, outside the box of mind-deadening and infantilizing rhetoric in which we had just been captive, I’d find an individual who had reflected beyond the woes of our alleged mistreatment -- say, about what we had inflicted on the Vietnamese. Surely this shallow recognition ritual hadn’t anesthetized the memories and sealed the tongues of every one of them. Would any of them think as I did that our betrayal came, not from how we were treated on coming home – a narrative that smacks of urban myth – but from being sent to Vietnam in the first place?
Michael Uhl was a lieutenant in Army intelligence in Vietnam. He is the author of a memoir titled Vietnam Awakening: My Journey From Combat to the Citizens' Commission of Inquiry on U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam and a collection of essays titled The War I Survived Was Vietnam, both published by McFarland. With Tod Ensign, in 1970, he co-wrote GI Guinea Pigs: How the Pentagon Exposed Our Troops to Dangers More Deadly Than War He lives in Maine. He offered this piece to ThisCantBeHappening!